Indigenous Australians win legal fight against gas project

Santos is one of Australia's largest oil and gas producers. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY - A group of Indigenous Australians have successfully stalled plans to develop a massive new gas field off the country’s northern coast, winning an appeal in court on Friday.

Dennis Tipakalippa, an Indigenous elder from the remote Tiwi Islands, has been fighting a legal battle against Santos – one of the country’s largest oil and gas producers – which wants to begin a drilling project in the Timor Sea.

Tipakalippa and the Munupi clan raised concerns that the Santos project could wreck important ocean food sources, and blight their connection to a spiritually significant area.

In September a court essentially revoked environmental approval for the gas company’s project.

It said Indigenous communities had not been properly consulted.

Australia’s federal court dismissed an appeal by Santos on Friday, finding the company was obliged to “consult Mr Tipakalippa and the Munupi clan because they had interests that may be affected”.

Tipakalippa, in a statement released by the Environmental Defenders Office, said “Santos and every other gas company must take note”.

“We have fought to protect our sea country from the beginning to the end and we will never stop fighting,” he said.

While Santos will need to seek new approvals before drilling, it is not clear if the court ruling would be enough to permanently derail the A$3.6 billion (S$3.3 billion) project.

Santos said on Friday it still expects to be pumping gas out of the field by 2025.

The Tiwi Islands are a sparsely populated archipelago lying about 80km off the coast of Darwin in northern Australia.

Indigenous Australians make up about 90 per cent of the 2,000-strong population on the islands, which are known for their distinctive art, language, and love of Australian rules football. AFP

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