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Shaw, Jeffrey William (Jeff) (1949–2010)

by Malcolm Brown

from Sydney Morning Herald

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Jeff Shaw, by Louie Seselja, 1998

Jeff Shaw, by Louie Seselja, 1998

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an20141711

Jeff Shaw was a brilliant student, a left-wing radical with great ideas about improving the lot of ordinary people — which he was privileged as a minister of the Crown and a judge to put into effect — and but for the devastating consequences of a relatively minor incident in his prime of life would no doubt have ended his career as a widely respected jurist.

He could have been a politician much longer had he wanted to, but with his restless intellect he wanted to move on. Even after that incident, and the lengthy court battles that followed, he was still able to get up and found a legal firm, The People's Solicitors, and continue to pursue the idealism of his youth.

Jeffrey William Shaw was born in Sydney on October 10, 1949, son of a printer, William Shaw, and his wife Gladys. He was educated at Boronia Park Public School, Hunters Hill, Chatswood Public School and Hunters Hill High. He won a scholarship to Sydney University where he studied arts/law.

As a student, he was known for his fondness for music, particularly jazz, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. He joined the Labor Party in 1968 and absorbed radical ideas, including opposition to the Vietnam War.

In 1973 he was appointed a Young Labor delegate to the ALP national conference. While in Young Labor Shaw met Bob Carr, who was attracted to Shaw's raffish but sophisticated manner.

Shaw, who graduated in arts and law in 1973, went to work as an industrial officer. In 1974 he married Elizabeth Bryant, with whom he went on to have two sons. In 1975 he was admitted as a solicitor of the NSW Supreme Court, and in October 1976 went to the Bar. Shaw took a wide variety of briefs, taking in industrial law, administrative law, occupational health and safety and constitutional law. He appeared regularly before industrial tribunals, the NSW Supreme Court and the High Court. In 1981 he appeared in a test case before the Privy Council in London.

In 1984 he stood unsuccessfully as the ALP candidate for the NSW state seat of Eastwood. The following year he and his wife bought their home in Birchgrove and in 1986 he was appointed a Queen's counsel.

In 1990 Bob Carr invited several Labor lawyers to go into Parliament. Shaw took up the offer in May 1990, filling a vacancy in the Legislative Council. In January 1991 he took up a British Council scholarship to study industrial and economic issues in Britain.

In the election that year he retained his seat. Carr brought him onto the opposition front bench as spokesman on industrial relations and local government. In 1994 Shaw became shadow attorney-general, and when Labor won government in March 1995 he took that portfolio, as well as industrial relations. He set about rewriting the state's industrial relations law.

As attorney-general Shaw stood firmly against proposals to introduce mandatory sentencing on a "three strikes, you're in" policy adopted elsewhere. He also stood firm on the principle of upholding the independence of courts and tribunals. In 2000 he resigned from Parliament and went back to practising law. He had established himself in academia and had co-edited books on industrial relations. He was a visiting professor at the University of NSW, and adjunct professor at Sydney University and the University of Technology, Sydney.

On February 4, 2003, on his appointment as a Supreme Court judge, Shaw said judges must never allow the vagaries of politics to undermine the independence of courts. But Shaw had a hidden problem: he was drinking too much. When on October 13, 2004 he crashed his Alfa Romeo near his home, his life came apart. He was well over the blood-alcohol limit. Somehow he walked out of hospital carrying a vial of blood meant to go to the police.

The Police Integrity Commission began an inquiry, and eventually Shaw surrendered both samples to police and resigned from the bench. There was a legal challenge to the commission's right to investigate his case. He was convicted for negligent driving, fined $3000 and disqualified from driving for a year.

Shaw went back into private practice, his image tarnished, but the bright young man who started out with so much promise, and fulfilled a lot of it, was never vanquished. He is survived by his widow, Elizabeth, and sons Jonathan and James.

Original Publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 2010, p 22

Other Entries for Jeffrey William (Jeff) Shaw

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Shaw, Jeffrey William (Jeff) (1949–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/shaw-jeffrey-william-jeff-15974/text27206, accessed 23 November 2017.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012