Supermarket giant Woolworths’ bid to open a large-scale Dan Murphy’s alcohol outlet in Darwin has been given the green light, with the government decision-maker declaring the project “critical” for the local economy’s post-coronavirus recovery.
Key points:

  • The decision has been approved in a fast-tracked process arranged by the NT Labor Government
  • Woolworths says it will impose a voluntary increase on the NT’s $1.30 floor price an extra 5c for beer and 10c for wine
  • The licensing director says medium- and small-sized businesses will benefit from the outlet’s construction

The decision has been met with anger and despair from local Aboriginal health groups and comes days after the Woolworths Group announced a review of its handling of the project amid a social media backlash led by national public health campaigners.
Conditions imposed with the approval will aim to block the sale of alcohol to residents from nearby dry Aboriginal communities or anyone without proof of a local residential address, in a move targeted at people who are homeless or visiting from remote communities.
Woolworths has also promised to hike the cost of beer above the Northern Territory’s mandatory $1.30 floor price by 5 cents per standard drink and 10 cents for wine.
The all-clear came from Liquor Licensing director Philip Timney, who was ordered by the Labor Government late last month to make a fresh, fast-tracked decision on the long-running liquor licence application, which had been twice rejected and was sitting before an independent tribunal on appeal.
The Government’s amendments allowed Woolworths to shift the store’s proposed location by 1.3 kilometres and fast-tracked new decisions on three other liquor licence decisions in Palmerston and on the Tiwi Islands, which the director has also approved.
The fast-tracked process also removed the requirement for applications to satisfy public interest and community impact considerations.
In the Dan Murphy’s decision Mr Timney rejected what he said was the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education’s (FARE) argument that the big-box outlet would “automatically” increase the overall amount of alcohol sold in Darwin, saying there would instead be a reduction in sales at competing outlets.
Bagot elder Helen Fejo-Frith joined local campaigners against the outlet’s approval.(ABC News: Steve Vivian)
He noted two out of the three nearby Aboriginal communities now supported the project and said “the general tenor” across Darwin was strongly in support of the project, contrary to claims by FARE.
He also said the project had implications for “very significant private investment” in a planned commercial precinct around the Darwin airport, which developers say hinges on the approval of the Dan Murphy’s outlet.
“Given the state of the NT economy as it emerges from the COVID pandemic, a private investment of $15 million will result in a significant and positive impact on medium- and small-sized business based in Darwin who are able to secure contracts for the Dan Murphy’s outlet construction,” he wrote.
“In my view developments of this nature are critical to the recovery of the Darwin and NT economy.”
The licence approval was reported by The NT News on Friday morning before the decision was formally announced and before Health Minister Natasha Fyles said she was formally advised.
Alcohol Policy Minister Natasha Fyles says she learned about the decision from the paper.(ABC News: Mike Donnelly)
Ms Fyles, who has responsibility for alcohol policy, has faced questions about her position on Labor’s support for the project given her central role championing the Government’s other efforts to tackle the Northern Territory’s high rates of alcohol-related harm.
“I like many people got up this morning and read the paper but I have not been officially advised,” she told ABC Radio Darwin.
“If it has been leaked I’m disappointed about that because I think as a minister I think I should be able to read that advice and accurately inform Territorians, not be in a situation where a pre-arranged interview takes place and we’re talking about speculation.”
Chief Minister Michael Gunner, who has backed the Dan Murphy’s push and criticised the approval time-frame in spite of introducing legislation to block it four years ago, commenced annual leave four days early today, leaving deputy Nicole Manison to deny he was avoiding scrutiny over the ultimate outcome.
‘There will be more harm’: health groups
The head of Darwin’s Danila Dilba Aboriginal Health Organisation, Olga Havnen, said she was stunned and appalled by the licensing director’s decision and reiterated the call on the Woolworths executive to pull out of the development.
“The chairman for Woolworths Gordon Cairns and the CEO Brad Banducci absolutely know and understand the level of harm that this is going to cause our community,” she said.
“There is no doubt there will be more alcohol-related crime, more alcohol-related deaths and more alcohol-related harm to children, including Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.”
A spokesperson for Woolworths subsidiary Endeavour Group said the company welcomed the licence conditions imposed “as we believe that they address the remaining community concerns”.
Mr Timney said the restrictions were based on temporary powers introduced under the NT’s public health emergency declared in March, which allow licencees to refuse service to anyone they think doesn’t have a lawful place to drink.
He said the powers would cease when the COVID health emergency ends but NT Police are considering making an application for them to be made permanent for all takeaway alcohol sales.

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