Vale Susan Ryan AO

28 September 2020

Message from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brian P. Schmidt

On behalf of The Australian National University (ANU), I express our deep sadness at the passing of one of our University's most distinguished alumna, The Hon. Susan Ryan AO.

Susan Ryan achieved many firsts. She was the first woman Senator for the ACT when, as a 33-year-old single parent, she was elected in 1975. Susan was also the first woman to hold a Cabinet role in a federal Labor Government, as Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women in the Hawke Government, and later as Special Minister of State. Susan was also Australia's first Age Discrimination Commissioner from 2011-16.

Susan blazed many trails and showed extraordinary leadership. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which Susan introduced into the Parliament of Australia, gave Australian women equal rights in the workforce for the first time. It took exceptional political and personal courage for Susan to demand change and bring it about. We at ANU continue to follow her lead in championing equity and striving for gender equality. In that respect, and in so many others, Susan Ryan was an exemplar for every ANU student, and everyone who wants to change their world.

Speaking with our former Chancellor, the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC, he reflected on his experiences with Susan. 

"A wrenching loss. Susan was a wonderful Cabinet and Senate colleague, a great supporter of ANU, and a great Australian. Her contributions to ending discrimination against women and other vulnerable Australians were legion and legendary, and will be long remembered". 

Susan continued to engage with our community as a proud alumna. In 2017, I had the great privilege of conferring upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa, for her exceptional contribution to the advancement of human rights, particularly in the areas of ageing, disability discrimination and equal opportunity.

In the following year, she was recognised by our alumni community as the ANU Alumna of the Year for her pioneering work. And in 2019, adding to her long list of firsts, she helped to launch the inaugural ANU Women's Alumni Network (WAN), speaking about the journeys of women overcoming obstacles.

Susan was, and remains, a giant in our community and although a terrible loss, her passing does give us the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the remarkable legacy of someone who genuinely did change our world. In Susan's own words, "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."