Senate debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020


Ryan, Hon. Susan Maree, AO

4:06 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

I, too, rise to speak. I rise representing the Minister for Women, the Hon. Marise Payne, who's unable to be here today. I would also like to have my remarks associated with others in this place and with the remarks that were made by the Prime Minister in his condolence motion for the Hon. Susan Ryan AO.

In the 45 years since Susan Ryan was elected, much has changed for the representation of women in this place. When Susan Ryan entered this house in 1975, she became just one of six women in the upper house. As has been said by those before me, her election slogan at that time was, 'A woman's place is in the Senate.' Today, that is absolutely true. It was very much an early pronouncement of the passionate advocate for women that Susan Ryan would become. Whilst I didn't know Susan Ryan, I have no doubt that she would be very pleased with the representation that we see in this place today, with more women than men now representing the Australian people in the Senate. At the time Susan was elected, there were no women in the House of Representatives. Not only that; there were no women leaders or ministers in any state parliament in Australia. From what I hear, there was constant confusion about who Susan was. Most young women in Parliament House were secretaries and assistants, and people would often ask Susan which senator she worked for. I can't imagine the kind of response that they might have got to that question! Susan focused on the job at hand and learning the ropes, ignoring the commentary, and has become known as one of the great trailblazers for women in this Senate.

She was also clearly someone who was determined never to become a single-issue politician. During those early years, she spoke on an incredible range of topics during her speeches, questions and Senate committee work. She talked about the environment, Indigenous issues, telecommunications, tax reform and urban planning, amongst many other things. She had an extraordinarily broad range of interests and, clearly, a focus on the community. She was rightfully proud and excited when she was sworn in as a minister in 1983—the first woman in a federal Labor cabinet. Many of us have seen the group photos of Susan with all her male colleagues at the time. I think it absolutely a true reflection of what this place was like back in those days.

She combined her 12 years here in the role of senator for the ACT with her role as a mother. She managed to balance these two roles, as many people now do these days, without even a thought. So her trailblazing as a mother and a senator delivering on behalf of the Australian people is certainly a great accomplishment that she should always be recognised for.

As Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, she had many, many significant achievements, not the least of which was the significant increase in year 12 retention rates. She was also the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women for almost half a decade—a position proudly held today by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, the Hon. Marise Payne, whose remarks today are being delivered by me as well.

Susan was the architect of the Sex Discrimination Act, which made sexual harassment illegal for the first time and outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status and pregnancy. Characteristically, after leaving this parliament Susan kept on looking for ways that she could make Australia a better place for everyone. She became our first-ever Age Discrimination Commissioner and also served as the Disability Discrimination Commissioner. From 2000 to 2007 she was the President of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, and she was the Chancellor of the University of New South Wales for over a decade. These roles in postpolitics life allowed Susan to follow her passion for helping people transcend limitations and overcome constraints, with a focus on all people equally.

Susan was a powerhouse, a lively and energetic part of Australia's national story and absolutely a true groundbreaker. Susan's sudden death was a shock to many. While I did not know Susan personally, I know that in the parliament the memory of Susan as a woman leader will be honoured well into the future. I know the Minister for Women would have liked to be here today to make remarks and associate herself with the condolence motion being given today, because I know that Susan played a very, very important role in Minister Payne's life, as she did for so many other women in this parliament. Without a doubt, every one of us here today is a beneficiary of the legacy that she leaves us. To her partner, her children, her friends and her close ones we offer our heartfelt condolences. To Susan: we give you our thanks.


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