Senate debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020


Ryan, Hon. Susan Maree, AO

5:09 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I would like to rise and add my voice to this condolence motion for the Hon. Susan Ryan AO, and I'd like to associate myself with the many wonderful remarks in this condolence motion. As a senator, as the first woman to hold a cabinet role in a federal Labor government, as Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women in the Hawke government and, later, as Special Minister of State, Susan Ryan was indeed a trailblazer. I remember the mark that she made when I was a young girl and a young journalist during the time she successfully steered through the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act.

Of course, much has changed in the Australian Senate since Susan Ryan was elected in 1975. My swearing-in as a senator in October last year marked the first time that the number of female senators reached 50 per cent. When Susan Ryan was elected, there were only a handful of women senators. In the wake of the tumultuous dismissal of the Whitlam government, she was elected as one of the ACT's two senators. Observing her from afar, as I did, I always got the impression that she was much more of a warrior for women and education than for party politics. I think this was to her great credit and also, of course, very much to her legacy. Her election pitch, as we've heard so often in this debate, was, 'A woman's place is in the House and the Senate and everywhere that decisions are made.'

I want to particularly acknowledge Susan Ryan's work in the area of sex discrimination. In November 1981, Susan introduced a private senator's bill to outlaw sexual discrimination. The bill did not pass, but it did pave the way for the Sex Discrimination Bill, which was passed eventually in 1983. The Sex Discrimination Bill embodied half of Susan Ryan's 1981 private bill, seeking to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status or pregnancy. It also contained provisions outlawing sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational institutions and provided for redress against individual acts of discrimination. It is, of course, quite difficult to imagine an era where sex discrimination was not actively prohibited. It was a time, of course, when there was very substantial systemic discrimination levied against women in all sectors of Australian society, whether it be a situation where women were refused a bank loan because they were women, or whether they lost a job because they became pregnant, or whether they were refused entry to or service in a hotel. Even joining the Nippers movement as a young surf lifesaver was not an option for girls. Surf lifesaving clubs did not even allow women to join as members until 1980, which is now something that young girls and women could not possibly comprehend.

Susan Ryan was a successful champion of causes, and her achievements were very considerable. Apart from combating sex discrimination, she oversaw increased funding for women's refuges and for child care, as well as an increase in the retention rate of year 12 from 35 per cent to 53 per cent during the first four years of the Hawke government.

After leaving parliament, Susan Ryan took on a number of private sector roles before she served as pro-chancellor for the University of New South Wales. She went on to be deputy chair of the Australian Republic Movement. In July 2011 she was appointed Australia's first Age Discrimination Commissioner, and in 2014 she was appointed Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

I wish to convey my sincere condolences to her family and friends. I wish to acknowledge the wonderful contribution that Susan Ryan made to this place and to the betterment of our country, particularly for Australian women. Vale Susan Ryan.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.


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