Vale Susan Ryan: Tributes paid as first female Labor minister dies aged 77

Sep 28, 2020
The female politician was responsible for creating a safer space for women in the workplace. Source: Getty.

Australia’s first female Labor minister and pioneering feminist Susan Ryan has died aged 77. Ryan served under the Hawke government where she quickly made her mark through being responsible for landmark sex discrimination and affirmative action laws.

The Sydney-born politician was elected to one of the two newly created ACT senate seats in 1975 after campaigning under the slogan: “A woman’s place is in the Senate”. She was then elevated to the frontbench after Gough-Whitlam’s Labor government lost the 1977 election.

In 1979, she became responsible for women’s affairs where she introduced a private member’s bill to ban discriminatory acts based on gender or marital status in 1981. Once Bob Hawke came to power in 1983, Ryan then rose to be education minister and women’s minister marking her place in history as Labor’s first ever female minister.

Her bill eventually passed which lead to the creation of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984. Ryan then remained in politics for 12 years before quitting in 1987 after being demoted.

With an impressive resume and a reputation as one of the nation’s pioneering feminists, politicians on both sides mourned the loss. Online tributes flowed with fellow female trailblazer in Australian politics Julia Gillard leading the pack calling Ryan a “feminist hero”.

“I am shocked and saddened that we have lost feminist hero and Labor giant, Susan Ryan,” Gillard tweeted. “Every Australian’s life has been improved by her leadership on gender equality. She blazed the trail for Labor women, including me. I honour a woman of courage and true believer.”

Meanwhile, the current leader of the opposition Anthony Albanese also praised Ryan for her long list of historic firsts adding that “while she was was the first, she would never be the last”. While former labor prime minister Kevin Rudd tweeted his own kind words.

Without Susan Ryan, there would have been no Sex Discrimination Act. The conservatives would never have done it. Let’s honour one of the great heroes of our processive movement. A great woman. A great reformer.”

On the other side of the bench, former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull remembered Ryan as a “champion for justice all her life” adding: “A passionate feminist and republican, her keen intellect matched by disarmingly wry good humour. Lucy and I send our love to her family at this sad time.”

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