Senate debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020


Ryan, Hon. Susan Maree, AO

4:16 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters) Share this | Hansard source

As a senator for the ACT, I want to pay special tribute to the Hon. Susan Ryan and send condolences to her family and to her loved ones. As has been pointed out, Susan Ryan, like a few of us in this chamber, had a background in what was a precursor to the ACT Legislative Assembly, as Senator Gallagher and I did, before going on to represent the ACT in the Senate. Susan Ryan had the great honour to represent the ACT as a senator from 1975 as one of the first two senators representing the Australian Capital Territory. It's great that we can now follow in the footsteps of others.

We talk about the legacy of Susan Ryan in terms of being a trailblazer for women. We've seen that, obviously, in the ACT Legislative Assembly, which has had a number of female chief ministers from both sides of politics, with Labor's Rosemary Follett, Liberal Kate Carnell and now-Senator Katy Gallagher, and a number of women in senior positions. I make a similar point to one that was made in terms of female representation, as we celebrate the fact that females are in a majority in the Senate. In the ACT Legislative Assembly we see the same thing. We see that both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party have a majority of women as we speak, but we've gotten there using different paths. The ACT Liberals have chosen to get there not through the use of quotas, but we do believe that we have outstanding representatives one way or another. It's been a great privilege to see that evolution, and in Canberra I think we see it most particularly.

Susan Ryan had the opportunity to serve in the Hawke ministry, first as the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women and then as the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. Some of her achievements in both of those portfolios have been touched on, but I think Susan Ryan was most proud of one of her achievements in education, and that was changes to the year 12 retention rate. I commend that work. She had a very distinguished career after politics, after leaving this place, when she held very important positions, a number of which have been mentioned, including positions at universities, in superannuation and as the Age Discrimination Commissioner.

Susan Ryan was a senator when I was growing up here in Canberra, along with the great Margaret Reid, former President of the Senate, so we were well represented. As a young boy growing up in the 1980s, I didn't know Susan Ryan in her role as one of the senators representing the ACT, but I did have the opportunity to meet her in her later role as Age Discrimination Commissioner. I found her to be a thoroughly decent, highly engaging, highly intelligent and very impressive human being. But I also found that, given her reputation, I was quite struck by the great humility which she displayed in the way that she dealt with those around her.

Of course, there are a couple of those great contributions that have been mentioned that are worth reiterating: the Sex Discrimination Act and making sexual harassment illegal for the first time—a great step forward—and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act. Susan Ryan once reflected that politics is like diving into the surf. She said: 'You don't linger at the edge; you jump in and fight your way through the breakers. Finally you get to the still, deep water beyond. You see if you can catch a wave and ride it to the shore. Few things in life are as exhilarating. When the wave has finished, it's not the end of the story.' I pay tribute to Susan Ryan's life and to her public legacy, and I send my condolences to her loved ones, her friends and her family. May she rest in peace.


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