Tiwi Islanders again claim victory over Santos, as Barossa appeal dismissed by Federal Court

Environmental Defenders Office

Pictures and footage available for use here. New images from the Tiwi Islands today will be available on this link later this afternoon. (credit: Rebecca Parker)

Tiwi Islanders are rejoicing today after the Full Federal Court upheld a landmark ruling that invalidated Santos’ approvals to drill for gas in Tiwi Sea Country.

The Federal Court had earlier found Santos failed to consider Tiwi People as part of its consultation about the drilling project, as required by law.

Santos’ appeal, heard by a full bench of the Federal Court in November, came on the heels of Tiwi Senior Lawman Dennis Tipakalippa’s historic September victory.

Mr Tipakalippa argued that NOPSEMA, the federal offshore gas regulator, should not have approved Santos’ plans to drill the Barossa gas field because the company had not properly consulted the Munupi Clan.

In an historic decision, the Court, presided over by Justices Kenny, Mortimer and Lee, dismissed Santos’ arguments that Tiwi Islanders are not required to be consulted about potential impacts to their sea country.

“..we consider that Santos was required by reg 11A(1)(d) to consult Mr Tipakalippa and the Munupi clan because they had interests that may be affected by Santos’ proposed activities under the Drilling EP,” the judgement read.

The court’s decision to reject Santos’ appeal will have significant implications for the Barossa gas project, with drilling stalled since early October and Santos now required to go back to the drawing board on their plans.

Santos has been ordered to pay Mr Tipakalippa’s costs.

Tiwi Senior elder Dennis Murphy Tipakalippa said:

“We want the whole world to hear our voice. We want the whole world to see our power.

We have fought to protect our sea country from the beginning to the end and we will never stop fighting. Our sea is like our mother – we are part of the sea and the sea is part of us. Santos and every other gas company must take note that this is our country and we must be consulted.

Tiwi mayor and Senior elder Pirrawayingi

“This decision shows that the spirits of our people are always with us. Their spirit is stronger than anyone can comprehend. Because of our belief in that, we have always maintained a positive spiritual existence and a connection to the sea and everything within it.”

Environmental Defenders Office Special Counsel Alina Leikin said: “This is a historic victory — David has slayed Goliath. It is a testament to the courage and determination of Tiwi people to protect their sea country. The Court has confirmed unequivocally that Tiwi people have a direct and immediate interest in their sea country and that they must be consulted. These interests arise from traditional cultural connection with the sea. Mr Tipakalippa and his community are vindicated once again.

Dr Kirsty Howey, Director Environment Centre Northern Territory

“Today’s decision sends a message to all gas companies that they cannot sideline First Nations peoples.

“Gas companies are not above the law. This case was only ever about making sure Dennis, and his clan had their say as the law requires.”

Background

Tiwi Senior Lawman Dennis Tipakalippa launched the lawsuit in June 2022, arguing that NOPSEMA, the federal offshore gas regulator, should not have approved Santos’ plans to drill the Barossa gas field, because Santos failed to properly consult the Munupi Clan.

Traditional Owners told the court that Santos’ Barossa offshore gas project posed a risk to food sources and continuous spiritual connection to Sea Country that has endured for millennia.

In August 2022, the Federal Court made a historic journey to travel to the Pitjamirra beach homeland on Melville Island of the Tiwi Islands to take on-Country evidence from Traditional Owners including in the form of song and dance.

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