Susan Ryan

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Susan Ryan

Susan Ryan 2015-02.jpg
Ryan in 2015
Age Discrimination Commissioner
In office
30 July 2011 – 29 July 2016
Preceded bynew Commissioner
Succeeded byKay Patterson
Special Minister of State
In office
24 July 1987 – 19 January 1988
Prime MinisterBob Hawke
Preceded byMichael Tate
Succeeded byFrank Walker
Minister for Education
In office
13 December 1984 – 24 July 1987
Prime MinisterBob Hawke
Preceded byHerself (Education and Youth Affairs)
Succeeded byJohn Dawkins (Employment, Education and Training)
Minister for Education and Youth Affairs
In office
11 March 1983 – 13 December 1984
Prime MinisterBob Hawke
Preceded byPeter Baume (Education)
Succeeded byHerself (Education)
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women
In office
11 March 1983 – 19 January 1988
Prime MinisterBob Hawke
Preceded byNew title
Succeeded byMargaret Reynolds
Senator for the Australian Capital Territory
In office
13 December 1975 – 29 January 1988
Succeeded byBob McMullan
Personal details
Susan Maree Ryan

(1942-10-10)10 October 1942
Camperdown, New South Wales, Australia
Died27 September 2020(2020-09-27) (aged 77)
Randwick, New South Wales, Australia
Political partyLabor
(m. 1963; div. 1972)
Alma materUniversity of Sydney,
Australian National University

Susan Maree Ryan AO, FAICD (10 October 1942 – 27 September 2020) was an Australian politician and public servant. She was a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and held ministerial office in the Hawke Government as Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women (1983–1988), Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (1983–1984), Minister for Education (1984–1987), and Special Minister of State (1987–1988). She was the first woman from the ALP to serve in cabinet, and was notably involved in the creation of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunities in Employment) Act 1986. Ryan served as a Senator for the Australian Capital Territory from 1975 to 1987. After leaving politics she served as the Age Discrimination Commissioner from 2011 to 2016, within the Australian Human Rights Commission.[1]

Early life[edit]

Ryan was born on 10 October 1942 in Camperdown, New South Wales. She was the daughter of Florence Ena (née Hodson) and Arthur Francis Aloysius Ryan; her mother worked as a sales assistant and her father was a public servant. Ryan grew up in the suburb of Maroubra and attended the Brigidine Convent. She enrolled at the Sydney Teachers' College in 1960, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1963. In the same year she married future diplomat Richard Butler.[2]

Ryan worked as a schoolteacher until the birth of her first child in 1964, later running a small business, the Living Parish Hymn Book Publishing Company, from her home in Cremorne. In 1965 the family moved to Canberra for her husband's career. She enrolled as a postgraduate at the Australian National University (ANU), studying English literature. In 1966 the family moved to Austria, where Butler was second secretary at the Australian embassy in Vienna. They returned to Australia in 1969 and Ryan resumed her studies at ANU, also tutoring part-time at the Canberra College of Advanced Education. In 1970 they moved to New York for another of Butler's diplomatic postings; however, the marriage broke down and Ryan returned to Australia the following year. They divorced in 1972.[2]

In 1973, Ryan graduated from ANU with a Master of Arts degree. In the same year she was appointed national executive officer of the Australian Council of State School Organisations. Ryan was also a foundation member of the Belconnen branch of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Women's Electoral Lobby. She unsuccessfully stood for ALP preselection in the Division of Fraser prior to the 1974 federal election.[2]

Political career[edit]

In 1974 Ryan was appointed to the non-governing ACT Advisory Council and elected to the non-governing ACT House of Assembly, serving briefly between 1975 and 1976 as the member for Fraser.[2]

In 1975 she was elected as one of the first two Senators for the ACT, on the slogan "A woman's place is in the Senate".[3] She was the ACT's first female senator and first Labor senator.[2] When the Hawke Labor government was elected in March 1983, Ryan was appointed Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. She was Minister for Education in the second Hawke Ministry and opposed the re-introduction of fees for tertiary education despite strong support in Cabinet for the user-pays principle. She lost the education portfolio in the third Hawke Ministry and was instead given a much reduced role as Special Minister of State, with responsibility for the ill-fated Australia Card.[4] Subsequently, the Higher Education Contribution Scheme was introduced to partially fund higher education.[5] Ryan resigned from the Senate on 29 January 1988.[6]

Ryan had a strong focus on gender equality in politics. A private member's bill introduced by her in 1981 was crucial to the development of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986, the Public Service Reform Act 1984 and the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Act 1987. She was also a founding member of the Women's Electoral Lobby ACT branch.[5]

After politics[edit]

Ryan at the 2013 Human Rights Awards.

Following her resignation from politics, Ryan worked as an editor and in the insurance, plastics and superannuation industries.[7] In November 1998 Ryan was appointed one of the first two pro-chancellors of the University of New South Wales,[8] a position she held until 2011. She was president of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees from 2000 to 2007. Ryan campaigned for an Australian bill of rights[5] and was deputy chairman of the Australian Republican Movement from 2000 to 2003.[2] In 1999 Ryan published a political autobiography, Catching the Waves: life in and out of politics.[9]

In July 2011, Ryan was appointed as Australia's inaugural Age Discrimination Commissioner with the Australian Human Rights Commission for a 5-year term.[10] She was also the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, from 2014 to 2016.[11][12]

Honours and awards[edit]

Ryan was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in June 1990.[13] She received honorary doctorates from the Australian National University, University of Canberra, Macquarie University and the University of South Australia.[5]

In April 2018 Ryan was awarded the Australian National University's Alumni of the Year award.[14]


Ryan died on 27 September 2020 in Sydney.[15][16] She had fallen ill after going for a swim on 25 September, and had been in intensive care at Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick since then.[17]

Former prime minister Paul Keating said Ryan's greatest achievement was lifting school year 12 retention from three in 10 to nine in 10. Current prime minister Scott Morrison called her a "ground breaker". ACT Senator Katy Gallagher said Ryan campaigned that a woman's place was in "all the places where decisions were being made".[15]


  1. ^ "Age Discrimination Commissioner The Hon Susan Ryan AO". President & Commissioners. Australian Human Rights Commission. 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Langmore, Diane (2017). "Ryan, Susan Maree (1942–2020". The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate. 4. Department of the Senate.
  3. ^ Burgess, Katie (27 September 2020). "'A woman's place is in the Senate': Former ACT senator Susan Ryan dies". Canberra Times. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  4. ^ Woolford, Don (27 September 2020). "Hawke government feminist dies". The Guardian News. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d "Hon Susan Ryan AO Citation" (PDF). University of South Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 September 2007. Retrieved 17 December 2007.
  6. ^ "Biography for Ryan, the Hon. Susan Maree, AO". ParlInfo Web. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 2 August 2008. Retrieved 17 December 2007.
  7. ^ Ryan, Colleen (28 January 2012). "Age won't weary Susan Ryan". Financial Review. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  8. ^ "Pro-Chancellor position creation, 1998". University Timeline. University of New South Wales. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  9. ^ Ryan, Susan (1999). Catching the waves : life in and out of politics. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins. p. 308. ISBN 0-7322-5959-2.
  10. ^ "Susan Ryan appointed Australia's first age discrimination commissioner". The Australian. AAP. 30 July 2011. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  11. ^ "Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner The Hon Susan Ryan AO | Australian Human Rights Commission". Australian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  12. ^ "Commissioners". Australian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  13. ^ "The Honourable Susan Maree RYAN". Australian Honours Search Facility. Australian Government. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  14. ^ "ANU honours distinguished alumni". ANU. 6 April 2018. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Pioneer of Sex Discrimination Act Susan Ryan dead aged 77". 27 September 2020. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  16. ^ Henriques-Gomes, Luke (27 September 2020). "Susan Ryan, pioneering Labor senator and campaigner on discrimination, dies aged 77". Guardian Australia. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  17. ^ Ritchie, Emily (27 September 2020). "Former Hawke minister Susan Ryan dead at 77". The Australian. Retrieved 27 September 2020.

External links[edit]

  • Ryan, Susan in The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia
Legal offices
Preceded by
Elizabeth Broderick
as Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination
Age Discrimination Commissioner
Succeeded by
Kay Patterson
Political offices
Preceded by
Peter Baume
Minister for Education (and Youth Affairs)
Succeeded by
John Dawkins
New title Minister assisting the Prime Minister
for the Status of Women

Succeeded by
Margaret Reynolds
Preceded by
Michael Tate
Special Minister of State
Title abolished
Parliament of Australia
New seat Senator for the Australian Capital Territory
Served alongside: John Knight, Margaret Reid
Succeeded by
Bob McMullan