Susan Ryan who died this week aged 77 was highly regarded as a feminist, a human rights campaigner, the first woman minister in a Labor cabinet and a Labor giant.
Susan Ryan was a Minister in Bob Hawke’s cabinet, taking on the role first as Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and the new portfolio of Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, a role she held until she left Parliament in 1988.
Susan Ryan‘s policy wins were often excruciating compromises as she fought for gender equality, as far back as the 1980s. The Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 has been singled out as her signature achievement but it was full of compromises. It was not fully accepted until the #Me too movement really made sexual harassment a red-hot issue in 2019 when this early pioneering aspect of Ryan’s legislation was given recognition and the credit it deserved.
The Sex Discrimination Act required Ryan to do battle with business and right-wing groups who contended the legislation would destroy the family and wreak havoc in society. A number of her own cabinet colleagues also opposed the Act.
What courage and resilience she showed to steer this Act through Parliament? As Malcolm Turnbull stated this week ‘Susan Ryan was a passionate feminist and republican, her keen intellect matched by disarmingly wry good humour’. After retiring from politics Susan Ryan returned to the fray as the inaugural Age Discrimination Commissioner which later expanded to include the Disability Discrimination Commissioner when the two roles merged in 2014.
The final word comes from Susan Ryan herself in her memoir Catching the Waves. In her memoir she stated that she was driven by the view that ‘women should be able to pursue opportunities unencumbered by stifling stereotypes’.
Susan Ryan was a woman ahead of her time who inspired other women to enter politics, and was the first politician in the world to make sexual harassment unlawful….the first jurisdiction in the world to do so.
Susan Ryan was a pioneer whom women can now salute as someone who could foresee a future where women were equal to men.
Ref: Anne Sommers and Lisa Visentin (The Age)
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