Seasoned advocate to tackle ageism

The newly created position of Age Discrimination Commissioner has gone to a former Labor Minister who was one of the architects of Australia’s equal employment opportunity legislation.

Above: Hon Susan Ryan AO, the first Age Discrimination Commissioner

By Keryn Curtis

The Commonwealth government has appointed former Labor senator and education minister, the Hon Susan Ryan AO as Australia’s first Age Discrimination Commissioner, commencing in the role on Monday 8 August.  
The role, which was established following the passage of the sex and age discrimination legislation amendment in late May this year will focus on raising awareness of age discrimination, educating the community about the impact of age discrimination and monitoring and advocating for the elimination of age discrimination across all areas of public life.

In a statement on the announcement, federal Attorney General, Robert McClelland, said in her new position of Age Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Ryan will be a dedicated advocate not only of older Australians, but also young people who might be affected by age discrimination.”

The Attorney General also thanked Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, who has been handling age discrimination issues in addition to her current role.

“Ms Broderick has been at the forefront of bringing the issue of age discrimination to the attention of the community and government. However, the Government believes the issue of age discrimination deserves the advocacy of a dedicated commissioner,” Mr McClelland said.

Another ‘first’

It’s not the first ‘first’ for 68 year old Susan Ryan. In 1984 she became the first woman to serve in the cabinet of a federal Labor government and played a pivotal role in developing the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 when she was minister assisting the prime minister on the status of women.

Ms Ryan said that the role fitted perfectly with her. “It involves all the things I care about … from my early feminist work, equal opportunity and a sense of being engaged with a big issue I understand very well.”

A slightly overwhelmed Ms Ryan told Australian Ageing Agenda that she was delighted with all the interest and media coverage of her appointment which she said reflected the growing acknowledgment of age discrimination and the importance and value of older people in the community.   

“I think it is a big issue of our time and it has well and truly arrived,” she said.

“The timing is perfect. Sometimes it is hard to advocate on an issue when there isn’t enough awareness or understanding in the community.  But with this issue, people are realising now that older people do have a lot to contribute and want to contribute and as a society we can give them a lot more recognition.”

She said, while she was yet to formally commence in the role, she already had a ‘great big to-do list’ in her head.

“I’ve just been in to meet my colleagues and I start on Monday.  I want to develop my role in collaboration with what the commission is doing and see how we can advance all of our causes together as a team.”

However, Ms Ryan said the rights of older people in the workforce would be a key priority.

“There is an urgent need to advocate for the rights of older people in the workforce. There was a report [released earlier this year] that showed that older workers are discriminated against across every area of work – in promotion and not getting access to promotion; in recruitment where people might say, oh we don’t want anyone over 55! It’s widespread  across so many areas, this idea that younger workers are better.”

“I’ll be discussing the superannuation issue with Government and looking at things like the caps on voluntary contributions.  But the thing about super is the only way you can earn it is by having a job.  And as good as the superannuation scheme is, for a lot of people it will leave them short because they just haven’t spent long enough in the workforce,” Ms Ryan said.

An optimistic outlook

Despite the workforce challenge, Ms Ryan said she felt “particularly optimistic, because it is a challenge for which there are many solutions.”

“Some challenges seem to elude solutions, but in this case a lot of the problem comes down to a need for education. Many employers just don’t understand the issues and would be amenable to advocacy and changing their views.

“With ageism, people are frequently unaware of it and will deny it. Often people can’t give any rational response to why they have a particular view but it always comes down to an unthinking prejudice and it must be tackled. The good thing is that most people will be reasonable and amendable if you get the discussion going.

“Why throw away the skilled workers you need?  It was same when arguing the case for equal employment opportunity a generation ago.  You have to ask, is this person capable of doing this job? Do they have the skills and knowledge?  If the answer is yes, then age is irrelevant,” said Ms Ryan.

“Employers will sometimes have to be flexible and enable older workers to work fewer hours or part time if that’s something they want to do, for example. But I feel hopeful that, looking at the facts of the matter, there will be solutions.  The facts are on our side,” she said.

Ms Ryan she was looking forward to meeting with consumer peak groups like COTA and National Seniors, with aged care provider groups, employers, state governments and all the relevant Commonwealth Ministers and was particularly looking forward to the release of the Productivity Commission’s final report into Caring for Older Australians next Monday.

Biography: The Hon Susan Ryan AO

Ms Ryan is currently the Independent Chair of the IAG & NRMA Superannuation Plan. She was previously President of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees and has often been sought as a public commentator on the superannuation sector. Ms Ryan is honorary chair of the Australian Human Rights Group and is Ambassador for Women ActionAid Australia. Ms Ryan was elected Senator for the ACT from 1975 to 1988, during which time 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 also served for thirteen years as Member of Council and Pro Chancellor at the University of NSW

Tags: age-discrimination-commissioner, cota, human-rights-commission, mature-workers, national-seniors, sex-discrimination, susan-ryan,

4 thoughts on “Seasoned advocate to tackle ageism

  1. Congratulations Ms Ryan on your new role as Age Discrimination Commissioner.
    Coinsidering the ageing population in the workforce, and the so-called skills shortage affecting productivity, this announcement is a timely boost for older workers looking to up-skill and seeking the opportunity to do so.
    It makes sense too that financial security will also impact on the future needs of older people who will be increasingly called upon to fund their own aged care support.

    Well done to the Commonwealth Government for recognising the need for this role.
    cheers
    Di

  2. Hopefully Ms Ryan will work with Australias best job search web site in Australia for mature age Australians over 45 Olderworkers.com.au to increase awareness of the skills we have to offer employers.

    I was really down having been overlooked on job applications for the past 2 years. I’m starting with Masters Home Improvement this year thanks to Olderworkers and I can’t wait.

    Ms Ryan you really have a BIG job to do Austrlian employers don’t like employing us oldies, but all the older Australains out there are right behind you. Good Luck

  3. Hopefully Ms Ryan will work with Australias best job search web site in Australia for mature age Australians over 45 Olderworkers.com.au to increase awareness of the skills we have to offer employers.

    I was really down having been overlooked on job applications for the past 2 years. I’m starting with Masters Home Improvement this year thanks to Olderworkers and I can’t wait.

    Ms Ryan you really have a BIG job to do Austrlian employers don’t like employing us oldies, but all the older Australains out there are right behind you. Good Luck

  4. Hopefully she can fix the problem that is there in this area. I am still working but can no longer salary sacrifice or contribute to my Super fund and I am employed by a Govt Dept. Shame on the Govt. for not upping the age. Why does it stop at 75. If you are willing to work and I might add saving the govt in pension many and also contributing tax money, what does age have to do with it I ask you. My husband is also working (or trying to get a job) once again age discrimination. Where does it stop.
    All we want is to be able to work if we want to. My boss had the hide to ask me if I was going to retire. I work 5 and a half days a week never or rarely ever sick so dont take sick days and am always on time. Fair dinkum what a cheek///// and this is from a Govt Dept.

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