Thursday, 8 October 2020
Ryan, Hon. Susan Maree, AO
Today I rise, along with many others, to make some personal remarks and to pay tribute to the wonderful Susan Ryan. The strength of her legacy is immeasurable and it is indelible in my own life as I reflect on being a young woman completing her high school education in the 1980s, with that lift in retention rates across the country for girls—and, indeed, young working-class men—in particular. Along with that came a much greater diversity of subjects which we could study and a greatly improved quality of education that indeed has had a long-term legacy. My mother had great respect for Susan Ryan. My mother, Sandra, was also an early member of the Women's Electoral Lobby. As a woman, she struggled with being unable to get a home loan in her own name and being paid less than men, at a lower hourly rate within the same profession.
For me as a woman in the Labor Party—as someone who joined in the early 1990s, at the end of Susan's parliamentary career—she was indeed an inspiration for me to join the great Australian Labor Party. But my own knowledge of Susan comes through my work in this place, in particular from her work at the Australian Human Rights Commission as the Age Discrimination Commissioner. Her enormous capacity to understand intersecting human rights debates has been of great benefit to the nation right from her participation in these debates in the 1960s and 1970s through to her work as Age Discrimination Commissioner.
She made some remarks while she was the Age Discrimination Commissioner at an event called the Australian Homosexual Histories Conference back in 2014. She said there, in good humour:
I am in some senses an unlikely candidate as an advocate for homosexual law reform. As a young heterosexual woman coming of age in post war Australia, educated in a strict and conservative catholic environment, I really didn't know much about homosexuality until well into adulthood. In fact we were not taught much about sexuality in general (our own or anyone else's). In this sense I was very much the product of my generation.
She went on to talk about how she became involved in debates in gay law reform here in the ACT in very early votes in the 1970s to decriminalise homosexuality—and, indeed, also in abortion law reform debates here. So she was active not just in sex discrimination but in disability discrimination and in sexuality and gender identity discrimination throughout her career.
As the Age Discrimination Commissioner, she was at the Human Rights Commission at a very important point in time for the LGBTI community, when this parliament, under the Labor government, considered the reforms to the Sex Discrimination Act, to amend the Sex Discrimination Act so that it not only covered sex discrimination but covered sexuality, gender identity and intersex discrimination. I'm very grateful that Susan was the Age Discrimination Commissioner at the time because she was really able to help see the enabling of the exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act being lifted out of aged care so that you can no longer discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in aged-care services and facilities here in Australia. This is a principle that needs to extend across all Commonwealth and community services so that there aren't exemptions to any primary service that should be someone's right to access.
I am profoundly grateful for the inspiration of Susan Ryan's life. As I have listened to people today talk about her colour and vibrancy as a person, I'm also reminded how deep she had to dig to continue that work. It's great inspiration to me in a tough week and on a tough day in politics in this chamber to know that you can really see what a difference one person can make to our national fabric.