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‘Put people above profits’, urge NT community groups in open letter opposing Dan Murphy’s NT megastore

A group of prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and organisations have published an open letter to the chairman of Woolworths urging him to abandon plans to construct a Dan Murphy’s liquor megastore in Darwin, describing it as the “wilful and deliberate destruction” of community health.

The letter, which is reproduced in full below, has been signed by 45 leaders of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations, including Pat Anderson from the Lowitja Institute, NACCHO chair Donnella Mills, AMSANT CEO John Paterson, and Deborah Di Natale from NTCOSS.

It addresses Woolworths chair Gordon Cairns as “the only person left with the power to stop this store from going ahead”:

This is our home. The people whose lives your bottle shop threatens are our loved ones — our families, friends and neighbours.

We have been working together to create a stronger, healthier and more resilient community.

Would you really undermine all that for the sake of extra profit?”

Woolworths has faced a concerted backlash against the decision to build a Dan Murphy’s outlet in the Top End, with community leaders dismayed that the proposed liquor superstore — one of the largest in Australia — would be within walking distance of three dry Aboriginal communities.

Under significant pressure, the retail giant announced it would move the proposed site last month and said it had “spent a lot of time having meaningful conversations with local communities to understand their views, listen to any concerns they may have, and to address them”.

The open letter rejects these claims of consultation, and says the relocation — little more than one kilometre down the road — is “pure public relations spin.”

“Woolworths haven’t consulted with the community. They haven’t come to the peak organisations, like AMSANT, the peak body that represents the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Territorians,” said Paterson.

“We don’t need more alcohol-related violence in our community. We don’t need more domestic and family violence. We don’t need more Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).”

“We oppose the proposed Dan Murphy’s development. We cannot state this any clearer than we already have and will continue to state our opposition as long as we need to.”

The National Health Leadership Forum condemned the NT government last month for “deliberately overrid(ing) independent decision-making processes because the decisions do not suit”, ignoring the advice of the Liquor Commissioner, the Police, and Aboriginal health leadership to clear a path for the store.

Said NHLF chair Donna Murray:

The Northern Territory Government must do better by Aboriginal people and urgently listen to and work with the Aboriginal communities to ensure culturally safe decision-making practices within its government.

As a signatory to the National Agreement on Closing the Gap the NT Government should be listening to and working with the local Aboriginal Community Controlled Services when it comes to decisions that impact on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people.”

More than 130,000 people have signed a petition objecting to the store. The NT Director of Liquor Licensing has until December 20 to green-light or strike down the application.

Di Natale said the site of the development was completely irrelevant, a Dan Murphy’s outlet was not welcome anywhere in the Northern Territory.

“Community organisations who are already at capacity are rightly concerned about their ability to meet the increase in demand of their service that will flow from a Dan Murphy’s megastore – the increased domestic violence, the increased assaults and the increased hospital admissions,” said Di Natale.

FARE CEO Caterina Giorgi called on the directors of the Woolworths board to exercise their power and abandon the proposal.

“After almost five years of rejections and objections – where Woolworths would not take no for an answer – we are now calling for the Directors to put the health and safety of the community ahead of profits and abandon your plans to build this Dan Murphy’s in Darwin,” Giorgi said.

The full text of the letter reads:

Dear Gordon Cairns,

We write as community members and leaders to call on you to stop Woolworths from building one of the biggest bottle shops in the country in Darwin.

This is our home. The people whose lives your bottle shop threatens are our loved ones — our families, friends and neighbours.

We have been working together to create a stronger, healthier and more resilient community.

Would you really undermine all that for the sake of extra profit?

We are sure you know the impact that alcohol products are having in communities across Australia — the violence, disease and misery that spreads like a cancer.

We ask that you spare our community that fate. We ask that you put people above profits. We ask that you take the time to actually listen to what we’re telling you.

At no point has Woolworths engaged meaningfully with our community about building this Dan Murphy’s store. If you had, you would know the depth of our concern and opposition.

You claim to have responded to public concern by moving the store. In reality, you’ve bumped it a kilometre down the road. This is pure public relations spin designed to protect your public image, not our community.

Australians were outraged by the willful and deliberate destruction of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural sites elsewhere in the country by big corporations. Your pursuit of this store equates to the same willful and deliberate destruction of the health of our community and it will be judged accordingly.

You are the only person left with the power to stop this store from going ahead. This decision and the impact it will have now rests on your shoulders.

Please listen to your heart and protect our families, friends and neighbours from this destructive store. Abandon your plans to build a Dan Murphy’s in Darwin.”

Signatories to the open letter

Note from Croakey: Images published initially with this article were later deleted following feedback from a reader.