ANU Alumna Susan Ryan AO recognised with honorary degree

15 December 2017

This marvellous university, the ANU, has done me a great honour. I feel huge gratitude and somewhat overwhelmed.

Former Cabinet minister and ANU alumna Susan Ryan, who changed the lives of Australian women forever by introducing equal opportunity and affirmative action laws, has been honoured by ANU for her contribution to advance human rights in Australia.

The Hon Susan Ryan AO was the ACT's first female senator and Australia's first Age Discrimination Commissioner, has been formally recognised with an honorary doctorate from ANU.

Ms Ryan was the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in a federal Labor government, coming into service when the Hawke Government was elected in 1983.

She served as Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Special Minister of State and as the inaugural Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women.

As a minister, Ms Ryan introduced the landmark Sex Discrimination Act of 1984, which for the first time gave women equal rights in the workforce.

During her term as Minister for Education, school retention rates doubled and universities and TAFE colleges grew significantly, without charging tuition fees.

Following her Ministerial career, Ms Ryan has served as Australia's Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Women's Ambassador for ActionAid Australia, and as chair of the Australian Human Rights Group.

Ms Ryan was awarded an Honorary degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa by Chancellor Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC, who served in cabinet alongside her under Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

In her acceptance speech, Ms Ryan reflected on the progress Australia had made in human rights and urged the ceremony's new graduates to use their careers to guard against discrimination.

"This marvellous university, the ANU, has done me a great honour. I feel huge gratitude and somewhat overwhelmed," Ms Ryan said.

"Nothing is more important than ensuring, as far as laws can, that people are not discriminated against or unfairly denied the opportunities that most of us enjoy.

"I urge you to think very carefully when you are exposed to the view, which you will be, that such laws are unnecessary and indeed a waste of space."

Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said the recognition for Ms Ryan was thoroughly deserved.

"Ms Ryan has made an exceptional contribution to the advancement of human rights, particularly in the areas of ageing, disability discrimination and equal opportunity.

"Throughout her political career she was instrumental in delivering landmark policy changes, such as the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984.

The full citation, that was read out before Ms Ryan received her honorary doctorate, can be read here.