Australian commander lashed over bikini gaffe

CANBERRA Thu Jan 15, 2009 9:35am IST

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - An Australian navy submarine skipper who suggested female sailors wear bikinis to help reverse a recruitment crisis has been criticised by lawmakers but supported by superiors, local media said on Thursday.

Commander Tom Phillips, appointed to the Australian navy's HMAS Farncomb last year, also joked in a men's magazine interview that the submariner equivalent of the notorious "mile-high club" for people having sex in aircraft was the "going down club".

Asked by Ralph magazine "if female sailors all had to be hot and had to wear bikinis, would that help recruitment?", Phillips responded: "It would certainly get the right demographic of young men in. I'm not sure how feasible it is, however."

Australia's Minister for Defence Personnel Warren Snowden told the mass-selling Daily Telegraph that the comments were "utterly unacceptable", while conservative opposition lawmakers said the skipper should be sacked.

"If these comments are to be attributed to this newly appointed commander, I think it will go down as one of the shortest careers in naval history," MP Bob Baldwin said.

Australia's navy is suffering a recruitment crisis and had to stand down for two months over Christmas due to lack of available sailors. The navy last year said it had only enough sailors to man half its six-boat fleet of Collins-class submarines.

Real Admiral Davyd Thomas, the deputy navy commander, said Phillips had been asked a "flippant question", rejecting women's rights group accusations that the navy valued "bodies rather than brains".

"The commanding officer's response was not intended to be serious," Thomas said.

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