Being safe, being heard, being free, being equal.
With a proud history of standing up for the rights of everyday Australians, Maurice Blackburn has become the country’s leading social justice law firm and a true champion in the fight for fair.
PaTH - a pathway to poverty
“The new PaTH initiative is nothing more than a pathway to poverty. Why would an employer bother employing someone on award rates when they can employ them on a government-subsidised internship?
"We’ve already seen how easy it is for employers to take advantage of vulnerable workers with a series of high profile exposes, including 7-Eleven.
"Under the new PaTH initiative, companies such as 7-Eleven would be easily able to employ people at $4 an hour. In essence, it has legalised wage theft.”
Giri Sivaraman, Principal, Employment and Industrial Law.
A life changed by Silicosis
As a young bricky, Chris had no idea silica dust rising from the Sydney sandstone and bricks he worked with would cost him his health.
Now aged 49, Mr Parmangos is on oxygen and rarely leaves his house in Port Macquarie. His hands are clubbed and he has frequent stays in intensive care.
"I didn't even know what silica was till I got sick," he said. "Being young, you always think you are young and healthy and nothing is going to happen to you."
The re-emergence of industrial diseases - like silicosis and black lung – has alarmed Australian doctors.
Your right is my right
Fairness is a universal right, not just for the chosen few.
If the right to be heard, be free, be safe or be equal is compromised for one person, then we risk everyone’s rights, too. Because a society that’s unjust to others, is a society that’s unjust to all.
That’s why we’ve been fighting for the rights of everyday Australians since 1919, and it’s why we’re the country’s leading social justice firm today.
Challenging the unethical patenting of human genes
In 2010 Maurice Blackburn began legal action to challenge a patent over human genetic material. On 7 October 2015 the Australian High Court ruled that the gene BRCA1 cannot be patented, ending a five year legal battle. The case was on behalf of Brisbane woman Yvonne D’Arcy with cancer and was run by Maurice Blackburn’s Social Justice Practice.
Maurice Blackburn argued that the patent held by companies including Myriad Genetics Inc and Melbourne-based Genetic Technologies Ltd was invalid. The case raised philosophical and ethical issues about the commercialisation of the human body. It also exposed practical concerns around gene patents including access to the gene mutation for research and testing purposes.
Freeing the wrongfully detained
In 2007, Dr Mohammed Haneef was arrested and charged with a terrorism-related offence and detained for four weeks. The charge was later withdrawn. During a 2008 inquiry, Maurice Blackburn fought to establish Dr Haneef’s innocence. It was concluded he should never have been charged or detained.
Dr Haneef was issued a formal public apology and declaration of innocence by the Federal Government and Maurice Blackburn assisted him in gaining compensation.
Landmark lawsuit filed against pokies industry
In October 2016 Maurice Blackburn filed a landmark pro-bono legal action in the Federal Court that alleges that pokies are misleading and deceptive.
The case is the first of its kind and centres on the design of machines contributing to players being deliberately deceived on their prospects of winning. In particular the case focuses on the ‘Dolphin Treasure’ machine, and allegations that the machine misrepresents the true chances of winning due to deliberate design features in the machine’s reels and symbols.
The legal action is an important step in keeping up the fight against the poker machine industry in seeking a fairer go for consumers, and is being brought by lead applicant Shonica Guy against Crown Melbourne Limited, which has the machines within its casino, and Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd, which manufacture the Dolphin Treasure machine.
If successful, the litigation will have ramifications for the design of all poker machines in the industry.
The fight for equal rights for Australia's workers with disabilities
In 2012, two workers, both with an intellectual disability, brought a case against the Commonwealth that provide that the tool used to set the wages of disabled workers was discriminatory. Today their fight continues as with a class action to fight for fair pay for all.
Pro bono advice for same-sex marriage plebiscite vilification
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers will provide pro bono advice in cases of vilification that stem from next year’s same-sex marriage plebiscite. The firm holds deep concerns about the impacts of any same-sex marriage plebiscite for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) community, particularly in relation to potential vilification that may ensue during the campaign.
Maurice Blackburn Principal Kamal Farouque says “Our firm remains a strong supporter of same-sex marriage in Australia and we also remain firmly of the view that the best way to achieve this is through a free vote in the Parliament.”
“Like many people across Australia, we have genuine concerns about the potential divisiveness of such a plebiscite. While we hope it does not come to this, we are concerned at the very real possibility that a plebiscite will fuel hostile and unacceptable behaviour towards the LGBTI community.
“With the Federal government now confirming the date and funding for a plebiscite our firm is today again re-affirming our commitment to stand with the LGBTI community, including offering pro bono legal advice to people who have clearly suffered some form of vilification.
“In some states and territories, there are laws which prohibit vilification on grounds of sexuality. Some people may think that the plebiscite will give them cover to engage in acts of vilification, but such vilification may breach these state and territory laws.
“This will include instances of vilification in the workplace, in public places, in obtaining goods and services and in sporting and other clubs.
“The LGBTI community have already had to endure too many years of vilification, when all they are seeking is equality.
“As Australians, we can be better than this. Our firm is proud to continue to stand with the LGBTI community in pushing for equal rights under the law for all,” he said.
To seek free legal advice, call 1800 810 812 or register here.
Discrimination case: Trans teacher loses job
Blaise Harris, a qualified teacher, was discriminated against by the NSW Department of Education because of her gender identity. Associate lawyer Alana Heffernan was shocked when she heard about the case and wanted to take the matter on. "This case involves pretty serious discrimination," Ms Heffernan stated.
"Blaise is a qualified teacher who had performed work for the Department of Education across the state system for quite some time prior to transitioning.
After starting the process of transitioning in 2014, Blaise was offered casual work at Cessnock High School - a school she had previously taught at. When she notified them that she was transitioning, the school decided not to continue the offer of employment and has not offered employment since. Blaise raised the issue with the area manager who told her "to think of the children".
"That was obviously very offensive to Blaise and the fact that it still happens in a modern society made me really want to take this matter on," Ms Heffernan said.
The matter is now in the hands of the Anti- Discrimination board after the Department of Education refused to respond to the complaint.
Muckaty Station nuclear waste dump
On behalf of traditional owners, Maurice Blackburn began proceedings against the Federal Government and the Northern Land Council (NLC) over plans for a nuclear waste dump on Indigenous land. By law, traditional owners must be adequately consulted and give their consent before a site on Aboriginal land can be nominated by government. The owners alleged this had not occurred.
In 2014, the Commonwealth agreed not to act upon the nomination of the site by the NLC, which meant the plan to build the nuclear waste dump would not go ahead.
Winning freedom for asylum seeker babies born in detention
Maurice Blackburn took up the fight for the rights of baby Ferouz, an Australian-born baby who spent his entire life in immigration detention with his asylum seeker family who are from a persecuted minority group in Myanmar that are not recognised as citizens by the Government there. The complicated legal case was run on a pro bono basis.
Federal Court Judge Michael Jarrett ruled that baby Ferouz was an “unauthorised maritime arrival”, and was therefore ineligible to apply for a protection visa. Subsequently the Coalition announced in December 2014 that baby Ferouz and 30 other babies born to maritime arrivals would be allowed to apply for short-term visas. A month later, baby Ferouz and his family were finally released from detention at Darwin into the community.
Who advocates for children in the justice system?
The case of CIDnAP (the Children in Detention Advocacy Project) fought for the right of children caught up in the Australian justice system. It demonstrates the need to protect the rights of our youth - even those who have been accused.
The project provides pro bono legal representation to minors on cases of false arrest, unlawful detention, malicious prosecution and/or the use of excessive force by police, transit authorities and private security companies.
Treatment of asylum seekers on Christmas Island goes under the spotlight
Maurice Blackburn is running a pro-bono class action for people that suffered physical or psychological injury while in detention on Christmas Island.
It is believed that the Commonwealth Government has breached its duty of care by failing to provide adequate health care for asylum seekers. The class action is for any asylum seekers injured or pregnant on Christmas Island between 2011-2014.
Evidence given to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Nation Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention revealed a systematic failure to provide detained asylum seekers with the health care that they required — Maurice Blackburn contends that there is no excuse for failing to provide basic health care to people in detention.
Maurice Blackburn is committed to taking all necessary legal steps to enable these people to be safe.
Exploitation and underpayment of workers
Maurice Blackburn announced free legal advice to any 7-Eleven workers trying to recover wages and other entitlements as a result of systemic exploitation and underpayment of the workers by 7-Eleven across its network of 600 stores. Many of the workers were on student or other visas and feared they would be cancelled if the workers came forward and spoke out about the way they were being treated.
In conjunction with the SDA, Maurice Blackburn lobbied the Federal Government for an amnesty for affected workers to ensure their visas would not be cancelled if they came forward.
Maurice Blackburn continues to assist hundreds of underpaid and exploited 7-Eleven workers nationwide.
Ashok fled a war torn country in search of freedom in Australia. As a proud supporter of the House of Welcome program – which supports asylum seekers most in need – Maurice Blackburn welcomed Ashok into its Sydney office, where he worked in the IT department.
Not only did the placement provide paid work experience to help him pursue a successful career in Australia, but Ashok also made a huge impact on the office, making lifelong friends along the way.
Enough pokies in Castlemaine
Maurice Blackburn represented Enough Pokies in Castlemaine (EPIC) in its fight against more poker machines being allowed in the Victorian country town. The council had adopted a policy against further gaming venues. But the Maryborough Highland Society, about 40km away from Castlemaine in a different shire, attempted to convert Castlemaine’s historic Railway Goods Shed into a venue which would triple the number of pokies in the town. The move was seen as an attempt to circumvent council policy by leasing a building on State Government land that sits outside the local planning restrictions.
EPIC represented 1,500 people from a broad cross-section of the Castlemaine community. The case was successful at VCAT in what was a significant win for EPIC and community groups throughout Australia.
Legal Right to Protest
In 2011, McDonald’s Australia lodged a planning application for a 24-hour outlet with drive thru in Tecoma — a small village in the Dandenong Ranges. Locals lodged 1,170 objections to the proposal, raising concerns about local amenity and neighbourhood character impacts, proximity to the National Park, the demolition of the Hazel Vale Dairy building, and the fact that there are no 24 hour fast food outlets with drive-throughs in the entire Dandenong Ranges.
Maurice Blackburn acted for a group of protesters known as the ‘Tecoma 8’ and a much broader group who were deemed to be representatives. Maurice Blackburn represented the ‘Tecoma 8’ pro bono because we believe peaceful protest is fundamental to civil rights and democracy.
The fight for Muckaty
Land is very sacred in Aboriginal culture. So when the Commonwealth Government and the Northern Land Council had plans to build a nuclear waste dump at Muckaty without all the traditional owners’ consent, what followed was an eight-year legal battle for not only the land, but also the right to be heard.
Whilst the battle was long, and many Aboriginal elders passed away during the fight for Muckaty, what they left behind truly is a treasure for future generations.