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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5600

Mr MELHAM (7:35 PM) —I propose to read a statement issued on behalf of the friends and colleagues of Jeff Shaw, at the time of his death on 11 May 2010, and headed ‘New South Wales loses a legal and political heavyweight’:

New South Wales lost one of its finest legal minds and most effective reformist legislators, the friends and colleagues of former Supreme Court Judge and New South Wales Attorney General Jeff Shaw said.

Jeff Shaw died age 60. Jeff Shaw served as Attorney General between 1995 and 2000 and served as a Supreme Court judge between 2003 and 2004.

Jeff Shaw’s legislative legacy covers nearly all aspects of life in New South Wales including: fair workplace laws via the New South Wales Industrial Relations Act, strengthened New South Wales workplace safety laws, enacted gender pay equity laws, reformed asbestos compensation law to end the inhuman practice of death-bed hearings, introduced ground-breaking gay law reform, pioneered youth conferencing in the criminal law, strengthened anti-domestic violence laws, introduced shield laws for journalists when all other states opposed them, strengthened anti-discrimination laws banning discrimination against transgender people and championed drug law reform and legal aid.

Jeff Shaw was an activist Attorney General who remained true to his principles throughout his political and legal life. Prior to his political career he was a respected barrister, a QC, who fought some of the nation’s most significant industrial cases, arguing cases at all levels including the High Court, and one of the last Australian lawyers to argue in the Privy Council. Jeff was a contributor to legal journals and an inveterate reviewer of books on labour history and industrial relations.

As a politician, Jeff was unique. He was an old-fashioned Whitlamesque type of politician. He said his agenda was change. He wanted to do things—the right things—not to be popular. In the end, he achieved both, contributing much of the legal, industrial and social fabric of New South Wales but at great personal cost.

He was not there when Gough Whitlam, in a speech delivered at New South Wales Parliament House, declared him the best Attorney General in Australian history. He was working. For those who did not know Jeff personally, this is what he was like: brilliant but totally self-effacing. Committed and loyal—unusual again for politics—he stood by his staff and did not succumb to careless political expediency. He had a great sense of humour and of fun. He laughed at jokes at his own expense, and made them too. He will be missed by all who worked with him and were inspired by him.

I was also privileged to attend a state funeral at the Sydney Town Hall on 19 May 2010 where between 800 and 900 people also attended. Tributes were given by Rodney Cavalier, a friend of Jeff’s and former New South Wales education minister, and Kristina Keneally, the Premier of New South Wales. James Shaw, his son, gave a wonderful tribute, as did Michael Walton, Vice-President of the Industrial Relations Commission. The state funeral was emceed by Adam Searle, a former chief of staff of Jeffrey’s.

Three former premiers—Wran, Unsworth and Rees—were present, as were the current Chief Justice of the New South Wales Supreme Court, Jim Spigelman, and the former Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Anthony Mason. Barry O’Farrell, the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, was present, as were a number of other New South Wales opposition MPs. Also present was a vast number of present and past cabinet ministers for New South Wales and also past and present members of parliament. There were members of the judiciary and numerous members of the bar, many trade unionists and many rank and file ALP members. It was a worthy tribute to Jeff. It was a worthy send-off.

I give my condolences to his wife, Elizabeth, and sons, James and Jonathan. Jeff was a terrific bloke. He believed in public service, and the turnout and the way the state funeral was conducted was the testimony of people acknowledging the contribution that he made. Significantly, there were contributions across the political spectrum in terms of acknowledgements, and I understand there were wonderful tributes by the New South Wales Premier in the state parliament and also the New South Wales opposition leader. So it transcended politics. That is what Jeff was recognised for. He was there for issues, not personalities, and he had a lot of respect across the spectrum, and I think that it is appropriate that we place on record our respect for the contribution that he made to public life.