Australian political figures have paid tribute to the pioneering former Labor senator Susan Ryan, after her death was reported on Sunday, praising her efforts to achieve equality and declaring that the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 would stand as her legacy.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said Ryan, 77, had achieved “historic firsts” in a life “dedicated to women’s rights and equality”.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Albanese described Ryan as a “generous, warmhearted, committed progressive who made Australia a better country”.

The Sex Discrimination Act had “changed Australia in a way that was very radical at the time”, he added.

Albanese recounted a conversation he had with Ryan about a month ago, saying she had been concerned about “the ongoing attacks against the 12% legislated increase in superannuation”.

“We had a great discussion, as we always did. She was positive, as she always was.”

Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, joined in the tributes on social media, saying she was “shocked and saddened” that the country had lost a feminist hero and Labor giant.

“She blazed the trail for Labor women, including me,” said Gillard, who was prime minister from 2010 to 2013.

The former Liberal party prime minister Malcolm Turnbull credited Ryan with being “a champion for justice all her life”.

Another former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, described Ryan as “a great reformer”, tweeting: “Without Susan Ryan, there would have been no Sex Discrimination Act. The conservatives would never have done it.”

ACT senator Katy Gallagher, who is also Labor’s finance spokesperson, said it was “a really sad day”.

“It was a life dedicated to public service, but also a life of firsts in many ways,” Gallagher told the ABC, noting that Ryan was also the first senator to ever represent the ACT after the territories gained Senate seats.

“In many ways not only did she pave the way but she built the road that many of us have followed. And she stuck around and has been a support for so many of us who have followed in her footprints.”

Gallagher said Ryan was a formidable person who was “energetic, articulate, a fierce debater”.

“I don’t think you could be in a room where she was and not know she was there,” she said. “When she took up a cause you knew she was going to see it through.”

Gallagher said Ryan’s life after politics was still dedicated to public service, including in tackling discrimination against older Australians.

“Where she saw inequality, where she saw discrimination, she set about working out how she was going to deal with that.”

The opposition’s health spokesperson, Chris Bowen, said the Labor caucus had only recently decided to honour her and other pioneering women with photos on the caucus room wall.

Labor’s shadow minister for women, ageing and seniors, Julie Collins, said it was “awful news” and noted that Ryan had become a powerful advocate for older Australians in recent years.

The former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said the Sex Discrimination Act would not have been possible without Ryan, who would be missed “enormously”.

Labor’s Tony Burke said “we all live in a more just Australia because of her”.

Peta Murphy, the Labor member for Dunkley in Victoria, tweeted that today’s women “owe a debt of gratitude to this trailblazing leader”.

The former host of the ABC’s Insiders program, Barrie Cassidy, said Ryan had left an impressive legacy. He noted that Ryan’s election slogan in 1975 was “a woman’s place is in the Senate”.





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