The Hon Susan Ryan AO is Australia’s first ever Age Discrimination Commissioner. We were fortunate enough to host her at our annual conference on 20 July this year and have posted two videos below.
In this 5 minute Q&A Susan Ryan discusses the prevalence of age discrimination, whether or not Australian law adequately protects older people and the lack of media coverage of age discrimination. She also talks about the need for a society-wide change in focus from age to competency.
Ms Ryan notes that elder discrimination is the most common form of discrimination in the workforce, and that it is often subconscious discrimination. “Sometimes employers think there’s nothing wrong with it”, she says. “They say…’you’ll be thinking of retiring [soon], why don’t you take a redundancy?’ without giving that person the chance to say ‘what about my performance? Can I have some more training? Is it possible to negotiate part time work?’”
More generally on the topic of age discrimination in the workforce, Ms Ryan concedes that “not everyone is fit for everthing all the time”, but adds that “the mere fact that someone has reached a certain age should not of itself be the cut off, the cut off should be when you are longer competent to do whatever the task is”. She concludes by commenting that “the Australian population is getting older but it is getting healthier in old age…so what might have been justified back in the 1950s isn’t justified now”.
This longer piece is the full video of Susan Ryan’s talk at our annual conference.
Abstract: Commissioner Ryan gives a brief outline of the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth) and how it operates. She discusses gaps in the ADA and other laws and policies which discriminate on the basis of age. Commissioner Ryan outlines opportunities to address these issues, including the federal government’s consolidation of anti-discrimination laws and the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into barriers to work for older persons.
Bio: Susan Ryan was appointed as Australia’s first Age Discrimination Commissioner on 30 July 2011 for a five year term.
Up until her appointment as Commissioner, she had been Women’s Ambassador for ActionAid Australia and chaired the Australian Human Rights Group since 2008. She had also chaired the Australian Human Rights Act Campaign Inc. since 2005.
Immediately prior to commencing as Commissioner, Susan was also the Independent Chair of the IAG and NRMA Superannuation Plan and had been President of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees from 2000 to 2007, a member of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors from 2001 to 2007, a member of the ASX Corporate Governance Council from 2003 to 2007 and CEO of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia from 1993 to 1997.
Susan has also held a number of positions at the University of New South Wales. She was Pro-chancellor and Council member from 1998, Chair of the UNSW Risk Committee from 2002 and Chair of the Advisory Council FASS UNSW since 2010.
From 1975 to 1988, Susan was Senator for the ACT, becoming the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in a federal Labor Government. She served in senior portfolios in the Hawke Government as Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women and Special Minister of State. As Education Minister, Susan saw school retention rates double and universities and TAFEs grow significantly without the charging of tuition fees. She also pioneered extensive anti-discrimination and equal opportunity legislation, including the landmark Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Affirmative Action Act 1986.
In 1990, Susan was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia for her contribution to Parliament.
She published her autobiography, Catching the Waves, in 1999 and has been a frequent media commentator on her areas of expertise.