Susan Ryan was a pioneer in the fight for Australian women. I was proud to help her | Anne Summers
3 min read
With no other women around the cabinet table, Ryan delivered legislation that made sexual harassment unlawful, and it was a world first
In mid-1983 I received a phone call from Susan Ryan. Would I be interested, she asked me, in applying for the job of head of the Office of the Status of Women?

This was the women's policy advice unit that had languished in low-status and non-powerful bureaucratic backwaters under the Fraser government, but which the newly elected Hawke government had given a boost in power and prestige by placing it within the top federal Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

OSW, as it became known, became Ryan's vehicle for pursuing the agenda to improve women's status – as we put it back in those days before "equality" became our preferred language – across a range of policy fronts.

Ryan was Labor's first-ever woman cabinet minister.

Feminist trailblazer Susan Ryan remembered as a 'champion for justice' in Australia Read more

She was in a hurry to implement a wide-ranging feminist agenda developed by women's groups over the past decade and which the Hawke government seemed ready to embrace. I was proud to assist her in getting it done.

But our early euphoria quickly ran into the brutal realities of politics. Ryan had remarkable policy wins, they were often more hard won than is appreciated today, and seldom achieved without what were often excruciating compromises.

For instance, the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 – which has rightly been singled out since Ryan's unexpected and untimely death at the weekend as her signature achievement – was a pale shadow of the private member's bill that Ryan had developed in opposition and used to popularise the notion of federal anti-discrimination legislation to her colleagues and the electorate.

The Hawke cabinet had not been prepared to accept its…
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