By Tanya Plibersek

28 September 2020


SUBJECT: Susan Ryan.
WENDY HARMER, HOST: Well Senator Susan Ryan, we lost her over the weekend, a champion of justice, a feminist hero, a trailblazer, courageous, warm, wise, caring and well, lots of fun too, who just did not mind a sing around the piano, Just some of the tributes paid to former Senator Susan Ryan, who died yesterday age 77. We have got a few grabs of her speaking and here she is speaking to The World Today's Stephen Sailor on Friday the 27th of May in 1983, ahead of her opening of the Labor Party Women's Conference. 
HARMER: Well there she was saying, yes, the Labor Party should do a little bit better. So she's not being afraid of talking to her own party about the representation of women. As Labor's first female Minister, she pushed through the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984 and the Equal Employment Acts in 1986 and 1987, as well as major reforms to higher education. After Parliament, she went on to fight for justice and equality with the Human Rights Commission as both the Aged Discrimination Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner. Among those who have paid tribute is Member for Sydney and Federal Shadow Minister for Education, Tanya Plibersek, and we welcome her to the program. Firstly, condolences to you and the Labor movement, Tanya, and thanks for joining us.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Oh, thanks Wendy. And thanks Robbie. Susan Ryan really was a mentor to many of us, a trailblazer, and the outpouring of affection for her is, it's a very sad time for us, but very expected that so many people would want to highlight her many firsts - the way that she made everything that came easier for the women who came after her a little bit easier.
ROBBIE BUCK, HOST: Tanya, take us back to some of her earlier, well, achievements and I guess experiences in politics. She was first elected to the Senate back in 1975, one of the first representatives for the ACT after it was granted two seats in the Senate. Tell us about those early days Tanya?
PLIBERSEK: Well, she was a 33 year old single mum, which at that time was pretty controversial and she ran on a slogan that the "Woman's Place is in the Senate". She had been one of the founders of the Women's Electoral Lobby and she said that that really encouraged her to think that knocking on the door of the place that decisions were made was very important, but being in there while the decisions were being made, sitting at the table, was a great opportunity and it was one that she pursued and she, you know, a career of so many firsts. She was, as you say, the first Labor Senator from the ACT, the first female senator from the ACT. She, when the Hawke government was elected, she became the first female Minister and a Cabinet Minister at that. She's best known, of course for her incredible work on the Sex Discrimination Act and related equality legislation for women, but she held the Education portfolio and she was also instrumental in taking our high school Year 12 graduation rates from three in ten to much, much higher than that. And, I mean, she would look back, she often said that the Sex Discrimination Act was the most useful thing she did and it was such a lesson because she started that work during the long years of Opposition. The Sex Discrimination Act came out of the Private Member's bill that she drafted and fought to get through the Parliament against all sorts of opposition. And then when she became a Minister she was able to push through the Sex Discrimination Act and it seems uncontroversial now to say that when you're, for example, an employer offering a job,  you shouldn't be able to say "I only want men to apply for this" or you know, I only want women to apply. The Sex Discrimination Act was incredibly controversial at the time. She in fact had protests organised against her by Fred and Elaine Nile and even her Labor colleagues were saying to her "This is so controversial. It's killing me in my electorate. Do we really have to do it? Can you please drop it?" It was incredibly controversial and we forget how difficult some of these big changes are because once they're made you look back and think well, of course, you know, men and women shouldn't be treated differently in the workplace. It wasn't, it wasn't a given at the time. It was the end of civilisation as we knew it according to many people.
HARMER: Hmm. And where do you think that she found that the determination from someone who knew her, Tanya. Where did that come from?
PLIBERSEK: Well, she was a really interesting mix of determination and fun, Wendy. So she was incredibly determined, her politics was very clear. She would never tolerate discrimination, and not just gender discrimination that you see from her later work as Age Discrimination Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, her dedication to making sure there was no discrimination in our community and that all people were treated fairly. But that came from, she was taught by the Brigidine nuns, perhaps that had something to do with it, a strong Irish Catholic tradition, but she also found solidarity with other women and with other political activists through the organisations like the Women's Electoral Lobby, you know, it was that really strong time of awakening feminism during the 70's that really inspired her feminism and her political activism on women's issues, but she, she was so much fun. You know, I remember going to ALP national conferences when we used to still have them in Tasmania and at the end of a long day of fighting on the conference floor she would, you know, sit in the bar and talk to the young activists and have a drink with us and just always had time for people, to encourage them, support them.
HARMER: And of course, Tanya, still a way to go? We've got a gender pay gap sitting at, what is it, 14 per cent plus, the super gap at 30 per cent. Only 17 percent of CEOs are women and the workplace participation gap is at 10 per cent, so plenty of work to be going on with.
PLIBERSEK: Plenty of work to be going on with and sadly Wendy, this Covid-19 crisis will make things worse for women. The economic impact of Covid-19 is already being unequally felt with more women losing jobs and more women losing hours of work. The economic inequality will widen unless we tackle it really seriously and methodically as Susan Ryan would have done.
BUCK: Yeah.
HARMER: Okay. Thanks for joining us this morning, Tanya.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.