Australian political figures have paid tribute to the pioneering former Labor senator Susan Ryan, after her death was reported on Sunday, praising her efforts to achieve equality and declaring that the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 would stand as her legacy.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said Ryan, 77, had achieved “historic firsts” in a life “dedicated to women’s rights and equality”.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Albanese described Ryan as a “generous, warmhearted, committed progressive who made Australia a better country”.
The Sex Discrimination Act had “changed Australia in a way that was very radical at the time”, he added.
Albanese recounted a conversation he had with Ryan about a month ago, saying she had been concerned about “the ongoing attacks against the 12% legislated increase in superannuation”.
“We had a great discussion, as we always did. She was positive, as she always was.”
Susan Ryan achieved historic firsts – as the first female Labor minister and the first female Minister for Women. But in a life dedicated to women’s rights and equality, Susan achieved something even bigger – that while she was the first, she would never be the last.— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) September 27, 2020
Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, joined in the tributes on social media, saying she was “shocked and saddened” that the country had lost a feminist hero and Labor giant.
“She blazed the trail for Labor women, including me,” said Gillard, who was prime minister from 2010 to 2013.
I am shocked and saddened that we have lost feminist hero and Labor giant, Susan Ryan. 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.— Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) September 27, 2020
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, issued a statement saying the government extended its “heartfelt condolences” to Ryan’s family.
Morrison said Ryan was “a ground breaker who spent her life advocating for Australians who had been excluded from full participation in our national life”.
“Susan Ryan will be remembered as someone who sought to make our country bigger and more open to every citizen,” Morrison said. “She leaves a legacy that will endure.”
The former Liberal party prime minister Malcolm Turnbull credited Ryan with being “a champion for justice all her life”.
Farewell Susan Ryan - a champion for justice all her life. 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. https://t.co/mISN4h5xa1— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) September 27, 2020
Another former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, described Ryan as “a great reformer”, tweeting: “Without Susan Ryan, there would have been no Sex Discrimination Act. The conservatives would never have done it.”
ACT senator Katy Gallagher, who is also Labor’s finance spokesperson, said it was “a really sad day”.
“It was a life dedicated to public service, but also a life of firsts in many ways,” Gallagher told the ABC, noting that Ryan was also the first senator to represent the ACT after the territories gained Senate seats.
“In many ways not only did she pave the way but she built the road that many of us have followed. And she stuck around and has been a support for so many of us who have followed in her footprints.”
Gallagher said Ryan was a formidable person who was “energetic, articulate, a fierce debater”.
“I don’t think you could be in a room where she was and not know she was there,” she said. “When she took up a cause you knew she was going to see it through.”
Gallagher said Ryan’s life after politics was still dedicated to public service, including in tackling discrimination against older Australians.
“Where she saw inequality, where she saw discrimination, she set about working out how she was going to deal with that.”
The opposition’s health spokesperson, Chris Bowen, said the Labor caucus had only recently decided to honour her and other pioneering women with photos on the caucus room wall.
Very, very sad at the death of Susan Ryan, Labor’s first female minister.— Chris Bowen (@Bowenchris) September 27, 2020
The Caucus recently resolved to honour her & other female pioneers with photos on the wall of our Caucus Room. Alas, she won’t be at the unveiling. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 will stand as her legacy. pic.twitter.com/k9YOpPGmY5
Labor’s shadow minister for women, ageing and seniors, Julie Collins, said it was “awful news” and noted that Ryan had become a powerful advocate for older Australians in recent years.
This is awful news. Susan was a trailblazer for Australian women and has lately been a powerful advocate for older Australians. My condolences to her family and loved ones. https://t.co/H8kGVeHm5s— Julie Collins (@JulieCollinsMP) September 27, 2020
The former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said the Sex Discrimination Act would not have been possible without Ryan, who would be missed “enormously”.
I am so deeply sad to hear the news. Without Susan we would not have the Sex Discrimination Act, our key piece of gender equality law. She fought for human rights for everyone, everyday. We will miss her enormously. #myhero #NeverForgotten #ripsusanryan https://t.co/rnNvNt7mhQ— Elizabeth Broderick (@LizBroderick) September 27, 2020
Broderick’s successor as sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, called Ryan “graceful, wise and caring”.
Pioneer, mentor, colleague. Political pathbreaker, mother of the Sex Discrimination Act, Australia’s first Age Discrimination Commissioner. Always graceful, wise & caring. Already sadly missed. Vale Susan Ryan. @AusHumanRights pic.twitter.com/sXRcuFR4Pg— Kate Jenkins (@Kate_Jenkins_) September 27, 2020
Labor’s Tony Burke said “we all live in a more just Australia because of her”.
I never knew Susan Ryan during her time as a minister, but came to know her later as a friendly and really smart individual who always wanted to talk policy with a wonderful optimism.— Tony Burke (@Tony_Burke) September 27, 2020
But whether you knew Susan or not, we all live in a more just Australia because of her. https://t.co/rtWet4JtK4
Peta Murphy, the Labor member for Dunkley in Victoria, tweeted that today’s women “owe a debt of gratitude to this trailblazing leader”.
The former host of the ABC’s Insiders program, Barrie Cassidy, said Ryan had left an impressive legacy. He noted that Ryan’s election slogan in 1975 was “a woman’s place is in the Senate”.
In fact the first female Labor minister. Her election slogan in 1975 was “a woman’s place is in the senate.” She spent a lifetime advocating for women to be accepted equally whether in parliament or anywhere else. What a legacy. https://t.co/W2PATt38PE— Barrie Cassidy (@barriecassidy) September 27, 2020