This ABC story says:
- Ms Ryan served as a minister in Bob Hawke’s Labor government, holding titles including special minister of state, minister for education and minister assisting the prime minister for the status of women.
She was the first woman to hold the portfolio relating to women’s affairs, and the first female minister from the Labor Party.
Key laws enshrining opportunity and rights for women were legislated on her watch, including the Sex Discrimination Act.
She would later be quoted as calling the Sex Discrimination Act “probably the most useful thing I’ve done in my life”.
Luke Henriques-Gomes at The Guardian gives a sensitive outline of Susan Ryan’s life-work in Susan Ryan, pioneering Labor senator and campaigner on discrimination, dies aged 77.
Her work continued after leaving parliament:
- Upon leaving parliament, Ryan remained involved in human rights causes, headed the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, served as a pro-chancellor of the University of New South Wales, and was briefly deputy chair of the Australian Republican Movement.
She was made an officer of the Order of Australia in 1990.
Ryan returned to public life in 2011 when she was headhunted to serve as the age discrimination commissioner, and then added disability discrimination to her roles at the Human Rights Commission in 2014.
Last year, she was appointed as a fellow at the Whitlam Institute leading research into gender inequality.
The ABC story conveys a number of tributes including from ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher, who said:
- “Not only did she pave the way, she built the road that many of us have followed.”
And Penny Wong:
In that ABC link there is a reference to what Paul Keating said, which I heard in full, when spoke with Geraldine Doogue. Apart from gender and equality issues, he said she made a major contribution to education.
When I went to university in the 1960s only about 10% of young people going to secondary school graduated with eligibility to go on to university, if they could afford it, with the most able assisted by a ‘Commonwealth scholarship’.
After the Whitlam reforms 3 in 10 completed secondary school, and university was free. Keating said most of the 3 of 10 were boys. He said that under reforms carried by Susan Ryan amplified the opportunity to complete secondary school to 9 out of 10, transforming the educational opportunities of all Australians. With university reforms carried by John Dawkins, 40% of those went on to tertiary education. keating said that while governments paid for the expansion of schooling, the vast expansion of tertiary study made HECS loan funding necessary. Keating said, then we tipped in an extra $1 billion pa to boost TAFE.
That was back when politicians concentrated on making Australia great.
However, in truth the ALP back then was no kindergarten playground. Ryan’s friend, Jesuit priest Michael Kelly relates how Ryan handled the reality she faced:
Politics was her chosen field and the Australian Labor Party was her chosen platform. Politics in general and the Labor Party in particular are nothing if not also magnets for hatred. The ALP breeds haters and they can do their damage in spreading what is a social disease that thwarts human potential and chokes possibility.
Susan would have nothing of it. She was no hippy of the ‘60s and ‘70s but she refused to be caught in the vortex of hate. And where that was most evident was in the way she dealt with people who had done everything to thwart her purposes in the endless struggles of Labor Party factions and personalities.
For people who had done their best to hurt and impede her, all Susan could do was park her anger, look forward and take the next step as if the dark misbehavior had not happened. Susan was – in ways I had never seen in the ALP or elsewhere – nothing if not a forgiving soul whose generosity extended even to enemies.
Father Kelly says of her that she was Catholic to the core. Her:
Catholicism – [which] for better and for worse – was tribal Irish Australian in its complexion.
Her introduction to the Irish Australian tribe was through the Brigidine Sisters in Maroubra where the most influential figure in Susan’s life was Sister Helen Connolly. Helen died young of cancer – in her 50s. But the impact on her life was something Susan returned to regularly. The essence of the Brigidine spirit is captured in the Latin phrase they used as the motto in many of their schools – fortiter et suaviter in Latin or strength and gentleness in English.
Are there any two better words to capture Susan Ryan?
Vale Susan Ryan. You made a real difference to all our lives.