Senate debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Condolences

Ryan, Hon. Susan Maree, AO

4:02 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to express condolences on behalf of the Australian Greens to the family, friends and colleagues of the Hon. Susan Ryan AO. I'd like to associate our party with the remarks that have been made already about this remarkable woman. As has been said, former Senator Susan Ryan was a trailblazer for women's representation in parliament and for gender equality in all workplaces. I imagine she would have been pleased to see that, just this week, the Senate has finally reached the point of being majority women with the arrival of Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, a proud First Nations woman, on Tuesday to this place.

Susan Ryan once said of her motivation for entering politics:

I felt from the youngest possible age that it was unfair, intolerable really, that females were regarded as second-class citizens. That was going to be the big thing that I wanted to change.

And so she did. She helped establish the Women's Electoral Lobby. She was elected to parliament as a single mother and became the first woman in the ALP cabinet. She was the first minister for the status of women and she set her sights on dismantling gender inequality. She introduced the first women's budget impact statement in 1984, which persisted until 2014 when former Prime Minister and one-time minister for women Tony Abbott axed it. Her work to introduce the Sex Discrimination Act was a crucial reform that has continued to shape Australian society. In abuse that will be familiar to many women in this place, conservative sectors called Susan Ryan 'radical' and targeted her as 'Australia's feminist dictator'. Yet these are the things she was trying to change: making it unlawful to sack a woman because she got married or pregnant, making it unlawful to sack someone because they were a woman, making it unlawful to sexually harass your staff, providing paid parental leave, allowing women to get home loans and increasing women's participation in university. Today, it would be completely unacceptable for those basic inequalities to persist. The change in that attitude is a testament to the work that Susan did.

Anne Summers's tribute to Susan noted the brutal reality of politics, noting that Susan's remarkable policy wins were often more hard-won than is appreciated today and seldom achieved without what were often excruciating compromises. Again, this is something with which many in this place are familiar. Too often women are expected to compromise. While much remains to be done to achieve gender equality, Susan's pioneering efforts built the platform for progress to continue to be made. I and the Australian Greens pay tribute to her fortitude, resilience and determination and thank her for opening the door for a better Australia for women and girls. A woman's place is in the House, the Senate and the cabinet.

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