Our state today mourns one who gave the larger measure of his life to make this a fairer, kinder and better community. A man who dedicated his life to ensuring government would focus on social justice, equality and building a free society. We have lost a champion.
We celebrate his life today so his example will burn brightly as an inspiration for those who work for a fairer tomorrow. On his passing it was said of Jeff Shaw that he had a great legal mind, and a great sense of justice. This is true. They have said was a great legislator. This is true. They have called him an eminent jurist. This is true.
But to praise Jeff’s mind and forget his heart is to miss the point. It is to miss the light of his story and the gift of his life. Jeff was first and foremost a man of politics in the finest meaning we can give to that word. He was a man drawn to the art of politics because politics is how we unite to improve the world.
He was drawn to social change through activism which had brought us the vote, the eight hour day, universal education and healthcare. He practiced a politics reminiscent of Lionel Murphy, Doc Evatt, Edward McTiernan and Clarrie Martin, employing the golden threads of law to strengthen the fabric of society.
His early work in the Public Service Association was formative and I know the union holds him proudly in their hearts for the work he did there and for all that he went on to do for working people. He then excelled in private practice making his living in the defence of workers and their interests.
And so it is not surprising that a young Bob Carr came calling looking for a fine mind to join him in opposition with a view to winning government. Jeff was determined to uphold what he called “the three pillars of our protections”: awards, unions and an independent workplace tribunal.
Taking office in 1995 he immediately began to work on legal reforms to create a strong, fair and productive industrial framework that would protect NSW workers and their families. He was committed to pay equity, legal aid support, as well as protection from violence and support for non-English speaking women.
Jeff despised prejudice. He acted on the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody and eliminated the ‘trifecta’ offences recognising that the fortunes of Aboriginal people could not be improved without addressing their interaction with the law.
As Attorney General he was deeply involved in the restoration of the NSW Police Force following the Wood Royal Commission which has restored the role and dignity of policing in our communities.
At all times before, during and after his career in parliament Jeff was first and foremost a political activist. Everything he did as an activist, lawyer, legislator and judge was guided by a deep and consuming determination to stand up, speak up and step up for those who could not.
This is an edited version of NSW Premier Kristina Keneally’s eulogy at the state funeral of former NSW Attorney General and Supreme Court Judge, Jeff Shaw QC.