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Susan Maree Ryan AO (born 10 October 1942) is an Australian educator who served as a Senator for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) 1975-1987. Her legislative contributions to the Australian political landscape include the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunities in Employment) Act 1986.

Ryan was born in Sydney and educated at the Brigidine Convent in Maroubra.[1] She graduated from the University of Sydney in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts and worked as a school teacher. She married Richard Butler in 1963 and they have one son and one daughter—they divorced in 1972.[1] 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 Australian Labor Party from 1973 to 1976.

Political career

In 1974 she was elected to the ACT Advisory Council (predecessor to the ACT Legislative Assembly). 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.[2] Ryan resigned from the Senate on 16 December 1987.[3]

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.[2]

After politics

Following her resignation from politics Ryan has worked as an editor and in the insurance, plastics and superannuation industries. She was President of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees from 2000 to 2007. She has also campaigned for an Australian Bill of Rights.[2] She was deputy chairman of the Australian Republican Movement from 2000 to 2003.[1] She has published a political autobiography, Catching the Waves: life in and out of politics.[4]

Ryan was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in June 1990.[5] She has received honorary doctorates from the University of Canberra, Macquarie University and the University of South Australia.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Who's who in Australia. North Melbourne: Crown Content. 2008. p. 2303. ISBN 1-74095-160-3.  
  2. ^ a b c d "Hon Susan Ryan AO Citation" (PDF). University of South Australia. Retrieved 2007-12-17.  
  3. ^ "Biography for Ryan, the Hon. Susan Maree, AO". ParlInfo Web. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2007-12-17.  
  4. ^ Ryan, Susan (1999). Catching the waves : life in and out of politics. Pymble, N.S.W.: HarperCollins. p. 308. ISBN 0732259592.  
  5. ^ "Ryan, Susan Maree". It's an Honour. Government of Australia. Retrieved 2007-12-17.  
Political offices
Preceded by
Peter Baume
Minister for Education (and Youth Affairs)
1983 – 1987
Succeeded by
John Dawkins
New title Minister assisting the Prime Minister
for the Status of Women

1983 – 1988
Succeeded by
Margaret Reynolds
Preceded by
Michael Tate
Special Minister of State
1987 – 1988
Title abolished


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