The Hon. Susan Ryan
Women in Federal Parliament

The Hon. Susan Ryan

Senator for the Australian Capital Territory

ALP, 1975–1988

The Hon. Susan Ryan (centre) as Minister for Education at the launch of the report of the Aboriginal Women’s Task Force, Women’s Business, in 1986.

Image courtesy of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Before entering politics the Hon. Susan Ryan was a teacher, a member of the ACT Legislative Assembly, and an active member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby. A member of the Australian Labor Party, she moved into federal politics when she was elected to the Senate in 1975 as one of the first two senators for the ACT.

From the start of her parliamentary career she was a strong advocate for the ACT and supported programs designed to eliminate disadvantage and discrimination of all kinds.

When the Hawke government came to power in 1983 Senator Ryan was appointed as the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (1983–87) becoming the first woman member of a federal Labor cabinet. In this role she was responsible for achieving a number of equity initiatives, introducing industry involvement in education and encouraging increased rates of student retention.

As Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women (1983–88) she promoted equal opportunity and economic independence for women, initiating and implementing the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which she had first introduced as a private senator’s bill in 1981, and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986.

After also serving from 1987 to 1988 as Minister Assisting the Minister for Community Services and Health, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Bicentennial and Special Minister of State, Ryan left politics in 1988 to be publishing director of Penguin Books Australia. In 1990 she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.