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Issue No. 247 19 November 2004  

In Defence of Jeff
Those of us who know and have worked with Jeff Shaw over the years have found the unfolding spectacle of his very public fall from grace profoundly distressing. Surely they have the wrong guy.


Interview: The Reich Stuff
Robert Reich has led the debate on the future of work – both as an academic and politician. Now he’s on his way to Australia to help NSW unions push the envelope.

Economics: Crime and Punishment
Mark Findlay argues that the present psychological approach to prison programs is increasing the likelihood of re-offending and the threat to community safety.

Environment: Beyond The Wedge
Whether the great forestry divide can ever be overcome or whether it is best sidestepped for the sake of unity and sustainability in other areas is up for debate, writes Tara de Boehmler.

International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews show us How To Kill A Country

Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Nick Lewocki from the RTBU lifts the lid on the shonky science behind RailCorp testing

Politics: Labo(u)r Day
John Robertson lets fly at this years Labor Day dinner

Human Rights: Arabian Lights
Tim Brunero reports on how a Sydney sparky took on the Taliban and lived to tell the tale.

History: Labour's Titan
Percy Brookfield was a big man who was at the heart of the trade union struggles that made Broken Hill a quintessential union town writes Neale Towart.

Review: Foxy Fiasco
To find out who is outfoxing who, read Tara de Boehmler's biased review of a subjective documentary about corrupt journalism.

Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
Brothers and sisters! Praise the Lord! Brother George has saved the White House from an invasion by infidels, writes resident bard David Peetz.


 Activists What's On!

 Union Baiter on Charges

 Commuter Champ Backs Workers

 Late Night Threats in Perth

 Corporates Gobble Apprentices

 Fleas Get Thumbs-Up

 Packer Perishes in Blue

 $5000 Bill for Teen

 Miners Plunge Before The Beak

 Cops Raid Press

 Christmas Sack at Broken Hill

 Admin Staff Exposed

 Teachers Swallow Lolly


The Locker Room
In Naming Rights Only
Phil Doyle has Gone to Gowings

The Soapbox
Homeland Insecurity
Rowan Cahill tells us how the Howard Government’s appointment of Major-General Duncan Lewis to head up the national security division of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has received little critical comment, until now.

The Westie Wing
New proposed legislation in NSW provides a vital window of opportunity for unions to ensure they achieve convictions for workplace deaths, writes Ian West.

 Backbone Derail Causes Paralysis
 Shawly we’ve heard enough
 Decline of The American Empire
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In Defence of Jeff

Those of us who know and have worked with Jeff Shaw over the years have found the unfolding spectacle of his very public fall from grace profoundly distressing. Surely they have the wrong guy.

With media coverage moving from the salacious to the downright malicious as a conspiracy is conjured from a stuff-up, Jeff's reputation seems to have become collateral damage in a ritualised scandal story.

The tragedy is that few of those indulging in this orgy of denigration have made any attempt to understand the man they toying with, as if his years of public service count for naught.

There is a context to the Jeff Shaw story - and it lies in his decade in politics - where he achieved more for working people than most of his colleagues achieve in a lifetime.

It is these achievements I want to record, not to minimise his current problems, but to at least place them in some sort of context.

Jeff Shaw became NSW Industrial Relations Minister at a time when conservatives had won power federally and held office in every other state and territory, inheriting the first attempt to deregulate industrial relations, an unworkable system that had lost the confidence of unions and employers.

Patiently and systematically, consulting with all the stakeholders over 18 months and drawing on his own extensive industrial expertise, he drafted the first re-regulated industrial relations system.

Unlike the perversion of industrial relations which is the federal system; the NSW system was based on the principles of fairness and equity alongside productivity, making the Commission a meaningful umpire with the power to settle disputes, deliver wage decisions and improve the social wage through test cases and Ministerial references.

Despite the bleatings of some employers, the sky never fell in and the Act has delivered a thriving economy and profitable businesses hand in hand with basic union rights.

Alongside the IR laws, Jeff rewrote occupational health and safety laws, creating significant powers for workplace safety representatives and a duty for employers to consult, opportunities unions are still grappling to realise.

Having established this legal framework, Jeff went about dealing with emerging issues - tackling gender pay equity and video surveillance at work, delivering ground-breaking laws through a consensus process,

And then there was asbestos; a little reported prequel to the James Hardie scandal was Jeff's commitment to ending the inhumane practice of limiting liability by dragging out mesothelioma claims until victims were dead.

Jeff pushed through laws that allowed the claim to survive the death, taking away one of the main weapons immoral insurers had employed to minimise their exposure.

None of this was simply a matter of coming up with a bright idea and bowling it up to Parliament; each was navigated painstakingly through the layers of bureaucracy that Premier Carr has always wrapped himself.

And when a piece of legislations was open to challenge, Jeff would actually put on the QC wig and front the court, giving a first hand run down of the legislative intent.

Jeff not only managed to formulate a positive agenda, in his other role as Attorney General, he did much to soften the knee-jerk populist law and order posturing of the first term, razor thin majority Carr Administration.

Jeff wouldn't put up the barricades, he would analyse proposals, take expert advice and fashion legislation that actually was useful, workable and consistent with legal principles.

Along the way he reformed administrative law, updated the evidence laws and introduced youth conferencing; he also gave gay law reform and defamation law a red hot shot, before being scotched by the nervous nellies in Cabinet Office.

And he did it all with a quiet under-statement and almost absence of ego; confident in his command of his brief yet never prepared to put political point-scoring ahead of achieving a good legislative outcome.

When Jeff left Parliament, Bob Carr lost one of his best assets; his brief return to the Bar and then the Bench was welcomed by both sides of politics where he continued his productive working life.

None of which seems to count for much as the media has a field day with the knock on effects of a night on the turps and a health problem that was probably graver than even Jeff realised.

So what am I trying to say here? Good people can make mistakes; and the mistake does not stop them being good people.

While Jeff, of all people, is accepting that justice will now take its course, there seems something unjust that this most private of public figures is being subjected to such an ordeal.

Then again, as one colleague noted: "This is Sydney, everyone is forgiven - look at Harry M Miller!"

The circus will move on, Jeff will get better and get on with his life; the only things that will endure are his substantial achievements as a lawyer, judge and, above all, a legislator.

Peter Lewis



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