Senate debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020


Ryan, Hon. Susan Maree, AO

4:11 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

As Leader of The Nationals in the Senate, I rise today to acknowledge the passing of former senator and minister the Hon. Susan Ryan and associate the National Party with the comments of senators and leaders here today.

Whilst we can argue the toss on structural change or cultural change when it comes to women's changing and evolving role in society and in parliament as one of the key institutions of our liberal democracy, I think all of us in this chamber can be very proud—albeit our different approaches—of increasing women's involvement in parliamentary life and public debate and how that will actually have flow-on benefits to the broader community. But for Senator Susan Ryan to be the first meant that the burden was heavier and you needed to get it just right so that there would be successive women after you. I think it's amazing, what she was able to achieve. The slogan that I think Senator Wong mentioned, 'A woman's place is in the House and the Senate,' was a T-shirt I also was given on getting preselected, so I think that slogan resonates with a lot of us who get here.

I think being the first woman to hold a ministerial office is something to note, and also that she championed education. To that point, it is the National Party constituency that really benefited from that increase in higher education places and that increase in year 12 attainment. Previous to the Hawke government's reforms, the percentage of Australian young people that headed off to university was incredibly small and predominantly came from elite families in capital cities. So opening that up really increased the enfranchisement and inclusion of people who don't go to grammar schools, which is also a good thing—and I say that as a proud grammarian. It was a great reform.

Her lasting legacy, though, is the landmark Sex Discrimination Act and the affirmative action act. Senator Waters stood up and proudly proclaimed how many female senators the Greens have, and I know the Labor Party have some structural mechanisms to ensure that they get a certain number of female senators and House of Representatives members in this place. The National Party is proud that 80 per cent of our senators are female. We did not have structural readjustment but had a grassroots full enfranchisement of our membership voting for every single one of the strong, articulate, intelligent women our divisions have sent here. I think that speaks more broadly to what we can all do, on both sides of the chamber, to increase the diversity of our parliament. We come here with different value systems, obviously, and therefore represent the broader Australian public, but we can all do better in our own way.

When Susan Ryan came to the Senate in 1975, there were just six women senators. I think Senator Ruston made great comments about how this chamber really reflects the work of Susan Ryan and all who've come after her, on both sides of the chamber, to increase the inclusion of women. Also, being a single mum and a minister is pretty tough, and I think it is an incredible feat to be the first woman to do so before partners might have chosen to look after kids or there was even childcare available. That speaks to her strength and her determination to represent her community and her government. Sympathies to her family and friends. Vale, Susan Ryan.


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