New Whitlam Institute Distinguished Fellow Susan Ryan to Lead Event on the Whitlam Legacy for Women

The Whitlam Institute has announced the appointment of its newest Distinguished Fellow, the Hon. Susan Ryan AO.

Ms Ryan served as Australia’s first Age Discrimination Commissioner and later as Disability Discrimination Commissioner, and has been Chair and Board member for numerous financial, legal and academic institutions.

From 1975 to 1988, Ms Ryan was a Labor Senator for ACT. She was the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in a Federal Labor Government, where she served as Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women and Special Minister of State. She pioneered extensive anti-discrimination and equal opportunity legislation, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Affirmative Action Act 1986. Ms Ryan has five honorary doctorates from Australian universities.

Susan Ryan will lead new Whitlam Institute research that will take a contemporary look at the revolution in Australian women’s rights that took place during the Whitlam era. Brought about in partnership with a generation of feminist advocates, the transformation in the rights and status of women is one of the least recognised achievements of the Whitlam Government, and is as pertinent today as ever.

The landmark Forum, Revisiting the Revolution: Whitlam and Women, will be the first time that such an extensive group of leading women advocates and contributors from the Whitlam era comes together to consider the impact of Whitlam era reforms, for today and tomorrow’s women. Speakers will include: Elizabeth Reid, Advisor on Women’s Affairs in the Whitlam Government; Elizabeth Evatt, the first Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and the first female judge of an Australian federal court; and Iola Mathews, author and co-founder of the Women’s Electoral Lobby.

Ms Ryan said, “This seminar is an opportunity to revisit the revolution of the Whitlam era for women. We will evaluate the landscape for women before Whitlam and track what changed, how and why. We will ask what of those changes endures today. We have an opportunity to examine an area where Australia once led the world in terms of social progress, and where we could again.”

Director of the Whitlam Institute Leanne Smith said, “The Australian delegation to the United Nations’ World Conference of the International Women's Year in 1975, which was led by Margaret Whitlam and Elizabeth Reid, inspired the world to action. This past leading role is worth celebrating and aspiring to again. That’s why we will invite women leaders of today, and emerging leaders, to join this Forum. It’s a great privilege to welcome Susan Ryan to the Whitlam Institute as Distinguished Fellow to pursue this important issue.”

The seminar, Revisiting the Revolution: Whitlam and Women, will take place at Old Parliament House in 25 November 2019. For more details contact Holly Corpe 02 9685 9202


24 May 2019

Lyndal Howison, Communications Manager, Whitlam Institute