Sue was born in Prahran and grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne. As a child, she was fascinated by the natural world, and loved camping and going on day trips to the country. Growing up on a State Electricity Commission housing estate in the shadow of the Newport coal-fired power station, she witnessed the pollution of the air and waterways in her local environment. This sparked her passions for conservation and justice which remain core in her political career today.
After studying bachelors of Arts and Applied Science, Sue worked as a Phys Ed teacher for many years. She returned to Monash University to study a Masters in Environmental Science, motivated by a concern for what was happening to the planet, and then became an Environment Officer at the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the first position of its type anywhere in Australia.
Sue was the national coordinator of the Occupational Health and Safety Unit at the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), developing national standards and campaigns on issues as diverse as stress and workplace bullying, safe working hours and asbestos. She represented workers at the International Labour Organisation in 1999 and later worked for the Australian Drug Foundation developing resources on alcohol and work.
In 1996, Sue became a member of the Greens, joining because her values aligned with the party's four pillars – democracy, ecology, peace and social justice. She was a founding member of the Port Phillip branch and has held various offices within the party.
Sue was preselected by her fellow members to run for the newly-reformed upper house at the 2006 state election. She was successfully elected along with colleagues Colleen Hartland and Greg Barber, and was re-elected at the 2010 and 2014 elections. Since entering parliament, Sue has been the Greens’ parliamentary whip and spokesperson for arts, justice, education and animal welfare.