Woolworths is planning to go ahead with one of the largest alcohol-megastores in the country in Darwin right next to alcohol-free aboriginal communities.
Public health experts, the aboriginal communities and the Northern Territory government’s own Independent Liquor Commission have called for the store not to be built. However, Big Alcohol’s aggressive lobbying is influencing public health policy putting private profits over public health and well-being.

Movendi International previously reported how Woolworths-owned Endeavour Drinks Group is pushing ahead to build an alcohol megastore “Dan Murphy’s” near alcohol-free aboriginal communities. New developments regarding the store illustrate Big Alcohol interfering in Northern Territory (NT) government public health policy-making to put their own interest ahead of people and communities.

The Independent Liquor Commission had already rejected the plans for the proposed Dan Murphy’s alcohol-megastore in Darwin in September, 2019 saying it was not in the public interest. The commission was set up by the NT government as part of its plan to develop an integrated strategy to prevent and reduce alcohol harms.

When rejecting the application the commission cited evidence that the store could lead to a significant increase in the level of alcohol-related harms that are already at high levels in the community.

Alcohol fueled crime and anti-social behavior is already a major concern within the broader Darwin community,” read the rejection of the Darwin Dan Murphy’s application by the Independent Liquor Commission in Northern Territory, as per The Age.

Independent Liquor Commission

Woolworths is currently appealing against the rejection by the commission for a second time before an independent tribunal.

The alcohol-megastore is strongly opposed by Indigenous communities and public health experts. They are mainly concerned about the alcohol harm the store would cause to three nearby alcohol-free communities, Bagot, Kulaluk and Minmarama.

Groups including the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the Northern Territory Council of Social Services and the Australian Medical Association sent an open letter to the Woolworths board ahead of its shareholder meeting on Thursday November 12. They urged the company to reconsider its proposal to build the bottle shop close to communities that are living alcohol-free.

The open letter follows more than 100,000 Australians signing a change.org petition earlier this year, opposing the Darwin Dan Murphy’s.

Big Alcohol interference in public health policy

The NT government seems to be listening more to Big Alcohol than public health experts and the aboriginal communities. The NT government has introduced legislation that would sideline the Independent Liquor Commission and give the director of liquor licensing 30 days to decide on the application for the megastore.

The government has taken the decision without any warning on the day when the chief minister is supposed to be handling the NT Budget.

We have certainly been blindsided,” said John Paterson from the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT, as per ABC News.

It’s been done by stealth on a day when the Chief Minister is supposedly handing down the Budget for the Northern Territory,” added Paterson.

John Paterson, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT

With this new legislation the NT government is also trying to expedite a decision on a 2015 application for the reinstatement of a takeaway liquor license somewhere in the remote Tiwi Islands community of Pirlangimpi.

Setting up the Liquor Commission and placing a moratorium on takeaway liquor licenses were two recommendations made — and accepted by the NT government — three years ago in a wide-ranging review it commissioned on alcohol policy.

The final report of the review cited two key concerns:

  1. Regarding the independence of the director of liquor licensing, then known as the director-general, and
  2. Regarding the fact that their decisions were made without community input.

Now the NT government is going back on their own decisions. Ministers are justifying the new legislation with weak arguments stating that the NT government coronavirus recovery taskforce, the “Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission”, recommended in a draft report that business decisions be made within 30 days.

This will be the second time this year that legislation has changed to help the Woolworth’s bid. During Parliament’s emergency coronavirus sitting in March, the government changed laws that would allow the company to substitute an existing liquor license with the much larger proposed outlet.

This undermines, from our perspective, proper processes and transparency and sends a message that corporate lobbying power will hold the day over health and community concerns,” said John Paterson from the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT, as per, ABC News.

John Paterson, the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT

It is noteworthy that Woolworths is pursuing this Dan Murphy’s in Darwin aggressively considering that Woolworths’ board had planned to be free of the alcohol and pubs business by this stage. The company’s investors voted to demerge the $10 billion Endeavour Drinks business, which includes Dan Murphy’s and its controversial pubs and poker machines business, at last year’s annual meeting. Plans for the demerger of Endeavour fell through this year when its pubs were forced to close due to COVID-19.


The Age: “‘Absolute hypocrisy’: Woolies faces backlash over Dan Murphy’s Darwin megastore

ABC News: “NT Government to sidestep independent Liquor Commission in long-running Dan Murphy’s decision process