Phi Finney McDonald has a vibrant and innovative public interest practice reflecting its deep commitment to social and environmental justice. We look for opportunities to use our litigation skills to fight for systemic change. We do not seek to silo this work into a small social justice practice, and we don’t need to use pro bono work to offset the harms caused by our regular work. Instead, we make pro bono work a meaningful and recurring part of our everyday practice.

We have developed particular experience in fighting systemic discrimination, the mistreatment of asylum seekers, and the destruction of First Nations’ cultural heritage.

Black Lives Matter

Phi Finney McDonald represents former Australian Football League player, Heritier Lumumba, in his legal claim against the Collingwood Football Club, and his broader campaign against systemic racism within the AFL.

Having endured racism during his time as an AFL player, Lumumba had fought for over decade to have his claims taken seriously. His efforts resulted in Collinwood commissioning an internal review into his allegations. This culminated in a damning independent report that found serious systemic failures within the Collingwood Football Club.  Phi Finney McDonald is proud to represent Lumumba in his efforts to have the truth acknowledged, and in his efforts to achieve lasting systemic change as to how racism is dealt with and responded to within professional sports.

Djab Wurrung Birthing Trees

 Phi Finney McDonald represents Djab Wurrung elder Ms Marjorie Thorpe in her efforts to preserve the cultural heritage of her people. In October 2020, following the shock felling of the sacred ‘Directions Tree’ on Djab Wurrung country, Ms Thorpe instructed the firm to file an urgent injunction restraining the State of Victoria from felling more culturally significant trees, including those associated with birthing rituals.

Ms Thorpe’s claim seeks to prevent the State from going ahead with a proposed highway through traditional land, and to protect the precious Djab Wurrung heritage that remains. Ms Thorpe claims not only that construction of the road would be unlawful, but that it would also breach her basic human right to enjoy her culture.  The final determination of the case could have significant ramifications for the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria.

Offshore detention

Phi Finney McDonald is deeply committed to standing up for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. We have represented those who have languished in crowded, moldy and pest-ridden offshore detention centers and been denied basic medical treatment. Our lawyers have fought for asylum seekers detained on Manus Island and Nauru, but also detainees going back to the era of Woomera, Baxter and Christmas Island. We have sought compensation for what was avoidable pain and suffering, and brought medical evacuation claims to ensure our clients can access necessary treatment.

While not every claim has been successful, each has been hard fought. We have sought to place the spotlight on the cost of offshore detention, and to create an impetus for a humane policy change.