Vale Susan Ryan

29 September 2020
Sydney pays tribute to Australia’s first age discrimination commissioner
Following the recent passing of Susan Ryan, the University of Sydney community pays tribute to Australia's first female minister who was an alumna of the University.

Born in Sydney in 1942, Ms Ryan graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney in 1963. After graduating, she served as a delegate to the ACT Labor Party from 1973 to 1976.

She served as a senator for 12 years and was the first woman to be appointed to cabinet in a Labor government. In 1983, she was appointed as Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women.

Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Belinda Hutchinson, got to know Ms Ryan during her two-year term as President of Chief Executive Women and said: “Susan Ryan was a trailblazer for women and equal opportunity in every endeavour she undertook. Her passing is a huge loss, which many in our community feel deeply.”

Susan Ryan at the 2013 Human Rights Awards, Sydney, Australian Human Rights Commission.

Credit: Australian Human Rights Commission

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said, “Ms Ryan’s pioneering leadership and commitment to making Australia a more equitable society are sure to influence the actions of our future leaders. Her contribution to Australian life was extraordinary. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this difficult time.”

Ms Ryan was pivotal in passing the landmark Sex Discrimination Act and Equal Employment Opportunity and the Affirmative Action Act. She drafted the private member’s bill in 1981 that was critical to the Sex Discrimination Act, which was passed in 1984.

Co-Director of the Women & Work Research Group at the University of Sydney Business School, Professor Marian Baird said: “We owe so much to Susan. Her vision and advocacy, first for women, and later for mature citizens, were critical to designing more equitable workplaces and a better Australia. On a personal level, she was so warm, genuine and fun to be with.”

Professor Rae Cooper, Co-Director of the Women & Work Research Group, said: “Susan Ryan was a warrior for Australian working women. She made a huge impact in her decades of intelligent activism and leadership. We need many more like her in government, the women’s movement and in academia.”

Susan Ryan was a warrior for Australian working women.
Professor Rae Cooper

After resigning from the Senate in 1987, Ms Ryan was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in June 1990 for services to the Australian Parliament. She went on to become Australia’s first Age Discrimination Commissioner in 2011, serving in the role for five years. She was also the Disability Discrimination Commissioner from 2014 until 2016.

Professor Tim Soutphommasane, Director of the Culture Strategy, served as Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission at the same time as Ms Ryan and said it was a privilege to have served with her.

“She was a wonderful colleague, friend and mentor. She was always armed with wisdom, humour and kindness. She was universally respected and admired,” said Professor Soutphommasane.

“She will be missed, and be remembered as a pioneering champion of human rights and social justice. The tributes for Susan this week are testament to her enduring achievements in Australian public life.”

Former Premier of Western Australia, Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Gallop, said: “Susan’s core beliefs centred around human rights and education. She fought hard for both, her lively mind and even livelier spirit making her a formidable advocate.

“She argued strongly for free access to higher education, the republic and a bill of rights when others in the centre-left of politics shifted their priorities. Not to be held back she took up the cause of the elderly and their rights in recent years. In all of these endeavours she was positive, her cheerful disposition and insightful commentary making her a friend to many. 

“To the end a champion for an independent, educated and respectful nation underpinned by rights for all.”

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