Australian Army soldier is facing discharge from a result of not being clean shaving. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Australian Army soldier is facing discharge from a result of not being clean shaving. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Defence force faces beard review

THE Australian Defence Force has issued an immediate stop to medically discharging soldiers with beards amid a proposed reversal of the ­controversial policy.

The Townsville Bulletin ­revealed on Monday the plight of two long-serving Townsville-based soldiers whose ­careers have been in jeopardy over their facial hair, despite wearing a beard under long-term medical recommendations.

An internal email, seen by the Bulletin, has revealed Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr will now have the final say on the future of the beard policy after the head of army's medical review board raised concerns about the number of soldiers affected by the crackdown.

The potential backflip comes just two years since the medical policy was introduced under Lt-Gen Angus Campbell's reign.

The internal email, circulated to all army units with affected members, also said the rule review meant it was likely that soldiers would no longer be prevented from deploying if they had a medical reason for wearing a beard.

"I have paused your ­members cases with the medical review board until we get further direction as to whether the Chief of Army has agreed to the proposed changes," the internal email read.

The proposed changes could also extend to personnel who have been discharged on grounds of a medical condition that prevents shaving, with an option for them to now return to the army.

"I have engaged selections and appointments to see if it is feasible to streamline a return to army if the member wants to and if their only reason for a medical separation was related to the beard policy," the internal email read.

The Department of ­Defence refused to release ­figures on how many soldiers have been caught up in the controversy since the policy introduction and proposed ­reversal. The Bulletin yesterday sought confirmation that Lt-Gen Burr had received an ­official request to review the beard policy.

The Bulletin also asked why the army was now consider inviting members back, after deeming them not fit to serve for medical reasons under the current rule. Both questions were not answered.

"The army continually reviews all matters in relation to the Army Dress Manual," a Defence official said.

"The reviews are conducted in consultation with different areas of the Department of Defence, the other services and within the Army structure.

"Any changes to the Dress Manual are considered by a committee before being presented to the Chief of Army."