Supermarket giant Woolworths has scrapped its long-running push to open a large-scale Dan Murphy’s outlet near Darwin’s airport, but has not ruled out a development at another location.
The company said a review found Woolworths had not done enough to engage with Aboriginal groups concerned the store would worsen the region’s already high rates of alcohol-related harm.
The outlet was to be built on airport land in Darwin’s northern suburbs, close to three dry Aboriginal communities.
In a statement issued on Thursday morning, Woolworths said the review, led by commercial lawyer Danny Gilbert, recommended the development near the airport should not go ahead.
In a shareholder briefing on Thursday morning, Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci did not rule out the prospect of a Dan Murphy’s outlet opening elsewhere in Darwin.
“What we have announced today is that we will not be proceeding on the current location,” he said.
“As to whether there’s a future Dan Murphy’s in Darwin that would be up to [Woolworths subsidiary] the Endeavour Group but certainly in any engagement process going forward we will take on board the Gilbert Review findings and adjust how we consult on those matters.”
Woolworths Group chairman Gordon Cairns said the company had commissioned the review to ensure no community concerns about the project had been “overlooked”.
“The Gilbert Review has made it clear that we did not do enough in this community to live up to the best practice stakeholder engagement to which we hold ourselves accountable,” he said.
“In particular we did not do enough stakeholder engagement with a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations.”
The company said the process would “create a platform” for better engagement with Aboriginal groups in the future.
The announcement was welcomed by Darwin’s Danila Dilba Aboriginal Health Service, which had launched a legal challenge to the development, calling on the Woolworths board to abandon the project.
Chief executive Olga Havnen said she commended the company on its decision.
“We absolutely welcome the decision by Woolworths not to proceed with the Dan Murphy’s in Darwin,” she said.
“We think that’s the right thing to do and it was certainly more than just the lack of appropriate consultation.
“It actually goes to the question of public health issues, the public health concerns that we raised consistently and the potential for increased harm as a result of alcohol.”
The proposed store was awarded a liquor licence late last year after Labor pushed amendments through parliament that sidelined the independent Liquor Commission, which had knocked the development back.
In a statement on Thursday, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the government had provided “certainty”.
“We respect the decision of the NT Liquor Licensing director. We also respect Woolworths’ decision not to proceed,” he said.
“The Northern Territory government has positioned itself as a leading jurisdiction when it comes to alcohol reforms in Australia.
“Despite Woolworths’ decision people remain able to enjoy a drink responsibly in the Darwin and Palmerston area and enjoy choice. There are several hundred licensed liquor outlets across the region.”
Mr Gunner said all future liquor licence applications would go through the Liquor Commission.