Woolworths is facing growing backlash as a long-fought battle to open an alcohol megastore near dry communities in the Northern Territory comes to a head.
The Labor state government this week vowed to rush through legislation that sidelines the independent Liquor Commission, leaving approval for a controversial Dan Murphy’s store with a government bureaucrat.
Critics have slammed the move, describing it as “absolute hypocrisy” and argued the new legislation was designed with this particular store in mind.
Endeavour Drinks, which is owned by the Woolworths Group, has for years sought to build a Dan Murphy’s store on Bagot Road, near the airport, in Darwin.
The proposal was last year denied by the independent Liquor Commission on the grounds it would increase the risk of alcohol-related harm in nearby Aboriginal communities, the ABC reported.
But the legislation, which was tabled on Wednesday and is expected to pass parliament this week, would effectively give Woolworths the ability to bypass independent review, says Trish Hepworth, the policy director at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).
“If this bill goes through, what will happen is that the whole decision goes to be made by the director of liquor licensing in thirty days,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“It cuts out the normal process for stakeholder engagement, it cuts out the obligation to check in on community impact and it explicitly rules out an appeal to the civil and administrative tribunal which is where these things would normally be appealed.”
Ms Hepworth said the legislation was “very clearly aimed at this particular application for a Dan Murphy’s store”.
The Aboriginal communities of Bagot, Kulaluk and Minmarama are within two kilometres of the site of the proposed 1800-square metre store and would be most impacted, local leaders warn.
“It’s unbelievable that during NAIDOC Week, the NT Government is introducing legislation to weaken the very structures that it established to review liquor licences and keep communities safe,” John Paterson, CEO of AMSANT (Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory), said in a statement.
“While Woolworths makes its profits, and the Government turns a blind eye, the health and wellbeing of Darwin’s people will suffer.” He slammed the state government for “absolute hypocrisy”.
Deborah Di Natale, CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Services (NTCOSS), is also among the many community members to lambast Woolworths over the continued push to build the store.
“We have been working hard to tackle the many harms from alcohol and we are beginning to see improvements in health and wellbeing ... This store will undermine all this hard work,” she said.
On Thursday, FARE published an open letter from community leaders calling on the supermarket giant to abandon its plans.
It comes after more than 114,000 people have signed a Change.org petition in opposition to the Dan Murphy’s megastore in the area.
Woolworths says it will move location of proposed store
As the community backlash reached fever pitch, Woolworths on Thursday said it will reconsider the location of the store.
The new proposed site is between McMillans Road and Osgood Drive and would be in the midst of an already developed area, the company says.
The site is still part of the planned Darwin Airport Retail Precinct, however it is a greater distance from the Bagot Community than the originally proposed site.
“The new site is further away from local Indigenous communities and we believe the change will help to alleviate some of the key concerns,” Shane Tremble, General Manager Corporate Service for Endeavour Group said in a statement.
“We have been having conversations with the NT Government for some time now about the possibility of moving the location of the store following community feedback,” he said.
Woolworths did not respond to questions put to it by Yahoo News Australia about any involvement it may have had in the legislation tabled Wednesday.
The company said it had been working with local Elders and any forthcoming store would have the most stringent set of alcohol control policies anywhere in the country.
If the store is ultimately approved, it could be trading within 12 months, the company says.
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