Tiwi Traditional Owner asks Federal Court to protect Sea Country from Santos pipeline

November 1, 2023
Simon Munkara (left), a member of the Jikilaruwu clan. Inset: Senior Jikilaruwu Elder Molly Munkara Photos: Tymunna Clements

STOP PRESS: Santos was ordered by the Federal Court on November 2 to stop its Barossa pipeline work after Tiwi Traditional Owner won an injunction. Justice Charlesworth found in favour of the court hearing the case, bought by Jikilaruwu man Simon Munkara, to stop work on the pipeline work because it would breach environmental regulations.

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A Tiwi Traditional Owner is heading to the Federal Court in a bid to prevent Santos from building its Barossa gas export pipeline through ancestral burial grounds and songlines.

Simon Munkara, a member of the Jikilaruwu clan, filed proceedings on October 30 for an urgent injunction to prevent Santos starting its pipeline while the case is being heard.

Munkara said Santos has not undertaken a proper assessment of the significant risks to cultural heritage. The Barossa export pipeline would run within seven kilometres of Cape Fourcroy on Bathurst Island.

“We are going to court because we can’t let Santos build a pipeline through our songlines and our ancestor’s burial grounds.

“I don’t want it to be destroyed. We have kept our stories alive for thousands of years and I want to be able to share this with future generations, with my kids and grandkids and their kids.

“Santos doesn’t want to hear this story, so we are going to court. My Country, both the land and sea, it’s everything to me and my kids. The sea is part of us.”

Munkara said Santos is relying on the approval of its environment plan in March 2020 by the offshore regulator, National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), but that did not include an assessment of the risks to underwater cultural heritage.

It was also approved before another case, brought by Munupi man Dennis Tipakalippa, established Traditional Owners’ consultation rights in relation to the Barossa Gas Project and other offshore developments.

Tiwi Traditional Owners commissioned reports from independent experts, who confirmed that, if installed in the current proposed location, the pipeline would damage Sea Country, songlines and areas of cultural significance.

Munkara said that, under these circumstances, building the pipeline would breach environmental regulations.

He will ask the Federal Court for an injunction to prevent Santos from proceeding until it submits a new environment plan approved by NOPSEMA.

Alina Leikin, Special Counsel for the Environmental Defenders Office, said Tiwi Elders and senior knowledge holders have worked with experts to “map their connection to their Sea Country”.

Six Jikilaruwu senior elders asked Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek on October 23 to enforce the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act and protect underwater cultural heritage.

The group asked Plibersek to provide emergency protection to prevent serious and immediate harm to the sites. The application is under consideration.

Tiwi Islanders have been in a long-running battle to protect Sea Country. The Federal Court travelled to the Tiwi Islands in August last year to take evidence from Traditional Owners for a judicial review challenge of Santos’ lack of consultation.  It invalidated Santos’ approval to drill for gas in September that year.

The same court dismissed Santos’ second appeal, in December, against the finding that it had failed to consult Traditional Owners on the Barossa gas project in the Timor Sea.

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