The Northern Territory's Director of Liquor Licensing will be forced to make a final decision on the establishment of the widely opposed Woolworth's Dan Murphy’s megastore in Darwin, with urgent legislation tabled in parliament on Tuesday and set to be passed later this week.
The application to open a liquor superstore close to vulnerable Indigenous communities in Darwin has divided Territorians, with the saga close to dragging into a fifth year if no decision is made before December 31.
CEO of the Danila Dilba health service in Darwin, Olga Havnen, told NITV News she has urged the government to make an honest and ethical decision in the best interest of Aboriginal people and labelled the push to rush the decision as appalling.
“This is about the destruction of people, these things matter.
“Alcohol is not an essential good or service. We already have enough of it, which is not for the betterment of the community,” said Ms Havnen.
The proposed location of the store is a site down the road from Darwin’s largest Aboriginal community, Bagot, and within two kilometres of other Indigenous communities, Kulaluk and Minmarama.
Community leaders and Aboriginal health organisations have vehemently opposed the application, on the basis that it would increase the risk of alcohol-related harm in the nearby Aboriginal communities which already experience high levels of alcohol-related community health problems.
Ms Havnen said if Woolworths wished to act ethnically and with good social practice, they must recognise that the Northern Territory already has the highest density of takeaway liquor stores per head of the population in the country.
“Almost every suburban supermarket, corner store and petrol station have a liquor license. We’re awash with takeaway alcohol," said Ms Havnen.
Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory CEO John Paterson told NITV News that he has called on the Woolworths board of directors to abolish their plans for the development of the megastore.
“If the proposal is approved, it will bring enormous alcohol-related harm to the most vulnerable population in the Darwin region," said Mr Paterson.
“We believe we are slowly making inroads around addressing the alcohol issue with good wraparound support programs, alcohol measures like reducing alcohol media and floor pricing which is really starting to gain some traction now.
"If we bring a big liquor outlet, it just gives more opportunity for people to purchase alcohol. We have enough. We have a huge number of liquor outlets currently which we’re already struggling with."
The introduction of the bill will force the hand of the Director of Liquor Licensing into a decision within 30 days.
The bill is based on a Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission recommendation.
Mr Paterson said that an alcohol superstore posed a serious risk to increased alcohol-related harm and injury for the Indigenous populace of the Northern Territory.
“Our frontline health workers see these things on a daily basis. If they’re going to build an alcohol superstore that makes cheap liquor more attractive, it will just take us back to square one,” he said.
The CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Service, Deborah Di Natale, told NITV News she is also concerned about the rushed decision.
“The proposed location is near three dry Aboriginal communities, we have a commission that rejected the application saying that approving the plan will lead to a substantial increase of alcohol-related harm within the community, and then we have the government doing a backflip which is inconceivable," she said.
"We want to see Dan Murphy’s exercise its corporate responsibility, recognise the decision that was made by the liquor commission and withdraw its applications immediately.”
In 2019, The Northern Territory Liquor Commission released a 103-page decision rejecting the establishment of the Dan Murphy’s store on the basis that it’s proposed location on Bagot Road at Eaton was “inappropriate”.
The decision was appealed by Woolworths.
A spokesperson from company told NITV News that it continues to engage with local communities and address their concerns, but has welcomed the bills introduction and any other steps that would bring the “lengthy application process” to a conclusion.
“If approved, the Darwin Dan Murphy's would have the most stringent set of alcohol control policies anywhere in the country,” said the spokesperson.
Ms Di Natale said nothing could be done to mitigate the consequences of the application's approval via a Responsible Service of Alcohol Management Plan or policies.
“It would be one of the largest Dan Murphys of its kind coming into an area like that, with a model of supply that is all about cheap alcohol and getting as much cheap liquor out the door as possible,” she said.
Ms Havnen agreed that decision-makers must thoroughly consider the ramifications to the health and wellbeing of the community, emphasising the danger of heightened rates of fetal alcohol syndrome as well as family and domestic violence and assault.
“The government needs to have the courage to make what might be an uncomfortable decision for some people who just want more cheap grog. If they are not prepared to act honestly, ethically, or in the best interest of Aboriginal people it will be up to the company to take a sensible approach,” she said.