Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has raised the prospect of giving fathers parental leave entitlements equal to those of mothers to overcome the career penalty suffered by women who have a family.
Speaking at an International Women's Day function, Senator Reynolds lamented that many women in the Australian Defence Force were being forced to shorten or abandon their military careers because of their choice to have a family.
The minister said this was costly both to mothers and to armed forces and had to end.
"Defence, like all organisations, must ensure that dads are able, and encouraged, to share equally in parenting, so men and women have the same opportunities to contribute in all aspects of their lives," Senator Reynolds said.
"The challenge is to make it okay for both partners, both working parents, and almost making it expected that if you're having a baby in the family you don't just automatically expect the woman is going to take six or 12 months off."
The minister said there were "great" programs in Scandinavia under which parents receive equal paid parental leave, encouraging men to shoulder a greater share of child care responsibilities.
In Sweden, each parent is entitled to 240 days of paid parental leave, including 90 days reserved exclusively for each partner which cannot be transferred. Men currently take 30 per cent of all paid parental leave.
Under Iceland's scheme, mothers and father each have access to three months dedicated paid leave, plus an additional three months that can be shared. In a decade average parental leave accessed by fathers more than doubled from 39 to 84 days.
There was no need to automatically adopt the Swedish scheme in Australia, Senator Reynolds said, but indicated it was something she would like the government to consider.
Under current arrangements in Australia, primary care givers are entitled to 18 weeks paid parental leave and secondary carers two weeks, both at the minimum wage.
The take up of paid parental leave by Australian fathers is very low by international standards, according to researchers, with just one in 20 taking primary parental leave.
Deputy Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Governance, Dr Belinda Townsend, said Australia lagged behind other developed countries in primary caregiver leave, dedicated father and partner leave and income replacement.
Parents at Work founder Emma Walsh said that without a nationally legislated shared parental leave approach, fathers were generally considered as secondary carers.
Ms Walsh said this divide was reinforced by entrenched attitudes regarding the role of men as breadwinners and women as homemakers, and men also faced stigma and bias around taking extended leave.
Senator Reynolds said instituting shared parental leave arrangements could eliminate many of these barriers.
"Those great programs in Scandinavia...changed that situation really quickly...so all of a sudden all of the issues of bias and issues in the past about blokes [taking parental leave]...went away because they just had to do it," the minister said.
"It was a fundamental change and it steamrolled through all of those issues."
Dr Townsend said options included lifting the length of leave and government payments to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average, or increase dedicated leave entitlements for fathers.
Ms Walsh said that in the absence of government movement on the issue, many employers were taking it upon themselves to offer "Rolls Royce-type" leave arrangements.
While this was good for the workers involved and their families, she said it exacerbated existing inequalities in the system.