Opponents of the large-scale Dan Murphy’s outlet planned for Darwin are targeting shareholders and board members of supermarket giant Woolworths, urging the parent company to abandon the continued push against the rejection of the required liquor licence.
An open letter timed to coincide with the company’s annual meeting on Thursday is signed by National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation boss Pat Turner, as well as the heads of NT health and social groups and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.
The letter says the proposed outlet, which was rejected for the location currently proposed on public health grounds, risks undermining progress made since the introduction of government reforms to tackle the NT’s high rates of alcohol-related harm.
“The Dan Murphy’s you want to build will be one of the biggest bottle shops in Australia,” the letter reads.
“We know that the more alcohol you sell, the more harm it causes in our community.”
“We ask you to stop this plan to profit from people who are at their most vulnerable.”
The campaign comes as NT Parliament is expected on Thursday to pass “urgent” amendments announced by the Labor government on Tuesday to fast-track a fresh decision on the application, with the requirement to consider community impact suspended.
AMA criticises ‘corporate lobbying’
Neither Woolworths nor its liquor retailing arm Endeavour Drinks Group responded to questions about signs an alternative site for the outlet might be on the table.
In a 103-page decision in 2019, the independent Liquor Commission said building the outlet on land between the inner-northern suburbs and airport was too close to vulnerable Aboriginal communities.
The government’s amendments would give the Director of Licensing the power to remake a decision on the company’s licence application and expressly allows consideration of a new location.
On Wednesday, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the liquor giant had not had a hand in drafting the government’s legislation.
But the head of the Australian Medical Association’s NT branch, Robert Parker, said it appeared the government had been lobbied “to the detriment of the health of Territorians.”
“[The proposed amendments] mean corporations obviously can get access to the fifth floor of Parliament, the plush carpeted areas, and have access to policy,” Dr Parker said.
“Whereas the poor individuals who wear that policy don’t seem to have the access the big corporations do.”
Olga Havnen from Darwin’s Danila Dilba Health Service said the government had not explained why public interest and community impact considerations should be suspended.
“This matter is not urgent,” she said.
“No harm is done to the Darwin community by waiting for the [appeal] process to conclude and for the potential harms to be considered.”
The government says its action, which requires the licensing director to make a decision within 30 days, is warranted to deliver a resolution on an application lodged four years ago.
On Wednesday, Mr Gunner said he accepted responsibility as Chief Minister “for how we got here”.
The licence application was first blocked by a Labor policy that introduced a limit on bottle-shop floor-size, which closely mirrored a suggestion from Dan Murphy’s competitors and was later repealed because of a lack of evidence.
The development has the backing of Darwin business groups and would serve as the anchor tenant for a $17 million retail precinct proposed by NT Airports.
Woolworths having ‘meaningful conversations’
In response to the points raised in the open letter, Woolworths gave a statement it said should be attributed to an EDG spokesperson.
It said two out of the three communities considered at risk from the proposed development, Minmarama and Kulaluk, had both expressed support for the application.
“We have spent a lot of time having meaningful conversations with local communities in Darwin to understand their views, listen to any concerns they may have and to address them,” the spokesperson said.
The company was rebuked in the Liquor Commission’s rejection of its licence for failing to consult the communities before deciding on the location of the development.
But Kulaluk resident Helen Secretary, who gave evidence against the proposal at the Liquor Commission, told the ABC by phone her concerns had since been satisfied.
She declined to say how until a final decision is made, but said members of her community were entitled to drink alcohol like anyone else.
The EDG spokesperson said the company had committed to measures to mitigate the risk of harm, including “appropriate pricing” and a traffic management plan.
The commission’s ruling highlighted potential risk to pedestrians crossing the multi-lane Bagot Road, as well as informal drinking camps near the airport, and considered the company’s business model would drive Darwin’s price of beer down close to the NT’s floor price.