Rights advocate mourned

Rights advocate mourned

Gay and lesbian rights advocates have mourned the death of former NSW Attorney General Jeffrey Shaw, a man with a reformist agenda dedicated to the rights of same-sex couples.

Shaw died yesterday morning, aged 60, from pneumonia complications.

Appointed attorney general in 1995, he is remembered as an activist committed to pushing through a raft of legislative changes with a human rights bent.

To the GLBT community he will be remembered for the first steps towards same-sex relationship recognition, and protections for transgender people.

Tributes: Post your tributes to Jeff Shaw under the story

“He had an extraordinary commitment to social justice, something you hope for in an attorney general but don’t often see,” former NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby convenor Stevie Clayton said.

In 1996 Shaw widened the scope of anti-discrimination legislation to include transgender people and made changes to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act to allow trans people to change their names on birth certificates.

In 1999 he introduced the Property (Relationships) Legislation Amendment Act to provide same-sex couples de facto status, property rights and the power to be involved in health decisions should their partner become ill.

“Given the conservative political climate of the time it was groundbreaking,” current lobby policy coordinator Sen Raj said.

“There were very few countries at the time — and virtually none outside Scandinavia — which had recognition for same-sex couples.

“In a legislative sense, providing same-sex couples de facto recognition meant they had access to property division after the breakdown of a relationship.

“It also entrenched particular legal rights and responsibilities that brought a practical and symbolic change to the way people saw their relationships.”

Clayton said the reform process started as early as 1992.

“We now have generations of younger people growing up in a context of rights. They can assume that they have rights, that do exist and are there,” she said.

“They come into this world knowing they have these rights, so they won’t have the fear that some of us grew up with.”

Pride History Group president Dianne Minnis recalled the introduction of the laws as “significant”.

“It was the first broad recognition of same-sex couples to ever happen in Australia that had a real build-up effect on people’s self-esteem, to see their relationships really recognised under the law,” she said.

NSW parliamentarians marked Shaw’s death yesterday with a condolence motion.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who also campaigned to see same-sex couples recognised under the law in the ’90s added her condolences.

“As attorney general he was a significant reformer, protecting and advancing human rights in NSW, particularly the rights of lesbians, gay men and people of transgender,” she said.

Tributes: Post your tributes to Jeff Shaw below

Remembering Jeff Shaw

Still a community advocate


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10 responses to “Rights advocate mourned”

  1. It is easy for us Generation Y’s to forget the courage and commitment shown by those before us to bring about social change and the equalities and rights we enjoy today. Thank you Jeff Shaw, for the part you played.

  2. I have just returned from an industrial relations conference, Jeff Shaw was correctly described as a ‘giant’. In the at times waffly world of gay rights, Jeff Shaw was responsible for the greatest progressive change since decriminalisation. The way he was treated was appalling.

  3. This is indeed a sad passing…Jeff Shaw had a brilliant legal mind and a great social responsibilty…and believed in getting things done for all people. Vale Jeff

  4. We’ve covered such great distance in NSW since 1999 and Jeff Shaw as Attorney General made a very important contribution, combining great intellect with compassion.

  5. I can still remember being in the public gallery on the night the Propery Relationships bill was debated. When it got passed, Jeff Shaw turned to the gallery with his dishevelled suit, looked up and gave a double thumbs up sign with a big wide grin, then we all applauded

  6. The passing of Jeff Shaw is incredibly sad and a huge loss. He was a great supporter of GLBT rights and key to many significant reforms in NSW including those that now benefit same sex couples. He definitely was one of the good guys.

  7. Reading what Stevie said made me think. We have a generation, including maybe some of our current community leaders and activists, who have never known life without rights and who just expect to be equal. As they should. Isn’t that great?

  8. Sad news indeed. Relationship recognition in 1999 was truly groundbreaking. The legislation Jeff introduced gave same sex couples comprehensive recognition in all sorts of areas for the first time in Australia. It paved the way for relationship recognition in every state and federally (even super reform while Howard was still PM!). It was also tremendously important to individuals. No more phone calls to the Lobby by distraught gay men and lesbians who couldn’t visit their partner in hospital or had been locked out of their home by homophobic family members whilst at their partner’s funeral. No, I’m not kidding.

    I don’t think we could have done it if we hadn’t had such a committed (and canny) AG. Jeff Shaw achieved a great deal in his life but we’ll remember him for helping us finally get our rights. Thanks Jeff.

  9. This is sad news. Jeff Shaw had a genuine social conscience and prepared to work with the gay community to address social injustices. I hope another reformer like him can take his place sometime soon.