Tiwi Islanders to give evidence in legal challenge to Santos’ Barossa Gas Project

August 19, 2022
Dennis Tipakalippa and other Tiwi Islanders are challenging the energy regulator's approval of Santos’ Barossa Gas Project. Photo: Environmental Centre NT

The Federal Court will travel to the Tiwi Islands on August 22 to take evidence from Traditional Owners on Country over the federal offshore energy regular’s approval of Santos’ Barossa Gas Project.

The Court will travel to Pitjamirra on Melville Island to hear from witnesses who, in a momentous occasion for both the Tiwi people and legal challenges to fossil fuel projects, will give evidence on Country in accordance with cultural protocol, including in song and dance.

Senior Tiwi Lawman Dennis Tipakalippa is suing the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) for approving Santos’ plans to drill the Barossa gas field.

It is the first time on Country evidence will be heard in a judicial review challenge. It’s also the first time First Nations peoples have initiated a challenge to an approval for an offshore project over its lack of consultation.

Plaintiff and Tiwi Elder Dennis Tipakalippa said: “Santos should have respected us and consulted in the proper way. They think they can just go ahead with drilling our sea Country without even talking to us. It feels like a big back stab. Enough is enough.

“We spend a lot of time out in the water — hunting, fishing. We only ever take what we can eat in a day, no more. We respect our homelands, our sea Country and it looks after us.”

The court’s decision to allow Tipakalippa to give cultural evidence on Country, on the coastline closest to the drilling site, is a huge relief to him and his community: the Munupi have been fighting long and hard for their voices to be heard on this gas project.

Jason Fowler, energy campaigner at the Environment Centre NT said: “The case being brought by Tiwi Traditional Owner Dennis ‘Murphy’ Tipakalippa is of immense historical, cultural, and environmental significance.

“The on-Country hearing will provide a way for Mr Tipakalippa and other Munupi witnesses to communicate the cultural and spiritual impacts that will be caused by Santos’ fossil fuel project if it continues.”

Tipakalippa lost an injunction application last month to prevent the drilling from starting until after his case is heard.

Santos is now currently drilling up to eight wells in Tiwi Sea Country, despite opposition from Tiwi people and Tipakalippa’s Federal Court challenge.

Alina Leikin, Special Counsel for the Environmental Defenders Office said: “Mr Tipakalippa will argue that Santos failed to provide him, and his community, with the opportunity to have a say about this drilling, despite the stakes for their culture and way of life.

“The decision of the Federal Court to hear evidence on the Tiwi Islands in this case means a great deal to the Munupi community. The Munupi witnesses will be able to tell their story on their own terms, including in the form of song and dance.”

After the on-Country hearing, the Federal Court will relocate to Darwin, where the remainder of the proceedings will be heard from August 23–26. Tipakalippa is being represented by the Environmental Defenders Office.

A solidarity action with Tiwi people is being organised in Darwin on August 24. Community members, Tiwi Elders, as well as federal and local MPs will gather in front of Parliament House.

[You can join the hearings in Darwin from 10.15am ACST via Teams here. Meeting ID: 491 409 109 186 and Passcode: iypmUY]

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