In 2015 Woolworths started their relentless mission to build one of their largest Dan Murphy’s and one of Australia’s largest alcohol superstores in Darwin. The location selected was close to three alcohol-free aboriginal communities. Despite passionate opposition from the community Woolworths continued pursuing the alcohol megastore.
As Movendi International reported previously in 2019, the Independent Liquor Commission of Northern Territory (NT) rejected the plans for the proposed Dan Murphy’s alcohol-megastore. In rejecting the application the commission cited evidence that the store could lead to a significant increase in alcohol-related harms that are already at high levels in the community.
Instead of respecting community concerns Woolworths appealed against the rejection by the commission for a second time before an independent tribunal.
Then in a controversial move the NT government introduced legislation that sidelined the Independent Liquor Commission and gave the director of liquor licensing 30 days to decide on the application for the megastore. He did in December, 2020 and allowed the Dan Murphy’s to be built.
Communities rise to protect their health and well-being
However, this time around the communities did not back down and instead strengthened their voices against Big Alcohol putting people’s lives at risk.
According to NT statistics the territory already has a heavy alcohol problem with one of the highest consumption rates in Australia. One significant reason is that the NT has one of the highest alcohol outlet densities for cheap takeaway alcohol.
Support workers in the territory see the toll it takes on people everyday from intoxication to violence and passing out on the streets. They also say the alcohol industry specifically targets vulnerable neighborhoods such as low-income groups. Even the Darwin store was planned near such neighborhoods.
When you’ve already got the highest rates of density of takeaway outlets in the country, why would you want to add more? Our statistics of alcohol-related harm are truly shocking,” said Olga Havnen, Chief Executive Officer of the Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service, as per ABC News.Olga Havnen, Chief Executive Officer, Danila Dilba Health Service, Darwin
The Bagot community is one of the alcohol-free aboriginal communities that continued speaking out against the megastore led by community elder Helon Fejo-Frith. Civil society organizations such as the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) supported the community in amplifying their voice. Olivia Williams founder of Blak Business started a petition on Change.org to get the wider society of Australia involved in the issue. The petition was signed by 137,000 Australians. It was handed over by Helon Fejo-Frith and CEO of Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT John Paterson to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Michael Gunner in December, 2020.
Meanwhile Woolworths commissioned an independent review about community engagement from Danny Gilbert, prominent lawyer and director of the Business Council of Australia. They reported the store will not be built until the findings and recommendations of the review are brought to light.
On April 29, 2021 the Woolworths group released a statement that they would not continue with the proposed Dan Murphy’s in Darwin. They cited the recommendations in the Gilbert review for their decision.
The story to this victory showed the resilience of communities. It took thousands of people taking action together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, health and community organizations and civil society to achieve this victory for the people of Darwin.
From the founding of the petition in May 2020 through to Woolworths Groups accepting the recommendation to not open the store near Bagot, thousands of people have taken action including writing letters, phoning Michael Gunner, signing the petition, boycotting Woolworths Group, and sharing content on social media,” wrote Olivia Williams founder of Blak Business, as per The Latch.Olivia Williams, founder, Blak Business
Woolworths have not yet confirmed what will happen regarding the store once their planned demerger with Endeavour Group goes ahead. It is necessary for the company to guarantee to the community that it will not pass over the liquor license to Endeavour Group to try for the superstore again in Darwin.
This is an important opportunity for Woolworths and other big alcohol retailers to re-assess their community consultation processes and acknowledge the harms their stores do to so many communities across Australia,” wrote FARE, as per their website.FARE Media Release