Susan Ryan

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Susan Ryan

Susan Ryan 2015-02.jpg
Ryan in 2015
Age Discrimination Commissioner
Assumed office
30 July 2011
Preceded bynew Commissioner
Special Minister of State
In office
24 July 1987 – 19 January 1988
Prime MinisterBob Hawke
Preceded byMichael Tate
Succeeded byFrank Walker
Minister for Education and Youth Affairs
Minister for Women
In office
11 March 1983 – 24 July 1987
Prime MinisterBob Hawke
Preceded byPeter Baume
Succeeded byJohn Dawkins
Senator for the Australian Capital Territory
In office
13 December 1975 – 16 December 1987
Succeeded byBob McMullan
Personal details
Susan Maree Ryan

(1942-10-10) 10 October 1942 (age 77)
Sydney, New South Wales
Political partyLabor
Spouse(s)Richard Butler (m 1963; d. 1972)
Alma materUniversity of Sydney,
Australian National University

Susan Maree Ryan AO (born 10 October 1942) is an Australian public servant and former politician who has been the Age Discrimination Commissioner since 2011, within the Australian Human Rights Commission.[1] She previously served as a Senator for the Australian Capital Territory between 1975 and 1987, representing the Labor Party. Ryan became the first female Labor minister and served in several ministerial roles in the Hawke Government – most notably as the inaugural Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. She was involved in the creation of the Sex Discrimination Act, 1984 (Cth) and the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunities in Employment) Act 1986 (Cth).


Ryan was born in Sydney and educated at the Brigidine Convent in Maroubra.[2] She graduated from the University of Sydney in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts and worked as a school teacher.[3] She married Richard Butler in 1963 and they have one son and one daughter. Ryan and Butler divorced in 1972.[2] From 1966 she was a residence officer at the Australian National University in Canberra while studying and tutoring in English literature. In 1969 she helped to establish the Labor Club in Belconnen. She graduated with a Master of Arts in English Literature from the ANU in 1972. Following graduation she served as a delegate to the ACT Labor Party from 1973 to 1976.

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.

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". She was the ACT's first female senator and first Labor senator. 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. Subsequently, the Higher Education Contribution Scheme was introduced to partially fund higher education.[4] Ryan resigned from the Senate on 16 December 1987.[5]

Ryan had a strong focus on gender equality in politics. A private member's bill written 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.[4]

After politics[edit]

Ryan at the 2013 Human Rights Awards.

Following her resignation from politics, Ryan has worked as an editor and in the insurance, plastics and superannuation industries. In November 1998 Ryan was appointed one of the first two Pro-Chancellors of the University of New South Wales,[6] a position she held until 2011. She was President of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees from 2000 to 2007. She has also campaigned for an Australian Bill of Rights.[4] She was deputy chairman of the Australian Republican Movement from 2000 to 2003.[2] She has published a political autobiography, Catching the Waves: life in and out of politics.[7]

In July 2011 she was appointed as Australia's inaugural Age Discrimination Commissioner with the Australian Human Rights Commission for a 5-year term.[8] Susan Ryan was also the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, from 12 July 2014.[9]

Ryan was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in June 1990.[10] She has received honorary doctorates from the Australian National University, University of Canberra, Macquarie University and the University of South Australia.[4]

In April 2018 Ryan was awarded the Australian National University's Alumni of the Year award.[11]


  1. ^ "Age Discrimination Commissioner The Hon Susan Ryan AO". President & Commissioners. Australian Human Rights Commission. 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Who's who in Australia. North Melbourne: Crown Content. 2008. p. 2303. ISBN 1-74095-160-3.
  3. ^ Ryan, Susan (2018). "Catholic social justice and parliamentary politics". Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society. 39: 164–170.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Ryan, Susan (1999). Catching the waves : life in and out of politics. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins. p. 308. ISBN 0-7322-5959-2.
  8. ^ "Susan Ryan appointed Australia's first age discrimination commissioner". The Australian. AAP. 30 July 2011. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Ryan, Susan Maree". It's an Honour. Government of Australia. Retrieved 17 December 2007.
  11. ^ "ANU honours distinguished alumni". ANU. 6 April 2018. Retrieved 26 July 2018.

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
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