Indigenous Australians win court battle against fossil fuel firm

SYDNEY – A group of indigenous Australians won a “historic” legal case against Santos on Wednesday, with the country’s Federal Court tearing up the energy giant’s approval to drill in the Timor Sea.

Mr Dennis Tipakalippa, an indigenous elder on the remote Tiwi Islands, filed the lawsuit against Santos in June, alleging the Australian gas and oil company failed to consult properly with the Munupi Clan.

He argued that because of this failure, the national regulator, which signs off on offshore drilling, should not have given Santos approval for its Barossa gas project.

The Federal Court sided with Mr Tipakalippa, invalidating the approval and instructing Santos to vacate the Barossa field by Oct 6.

“I am the happiest man alive,” Mr Tipakalippa said of the ruling.

For the Munupi people, one of eight Tiwi clans, he said “the most important thing… is to protect our Sea Country”.

“We want Santos and all mining companies to remember – we are powerful, we will fight for our land and Sea Country, for our future generations no matter how hard and how long. We will fight from the beginning to the end.”

During the case, Tiwi traditional owners told the court they feared the Barossa gas project could harm their food sources and also their spiritual connection to the area.

In August, the court took the unusual step of travelling to the Tiwi Islands to gather evidence from traditional owners, including in the form of song and dance.

Mr Tipakalippa’s lawyer, Ms Alina Leikin of the non-profit Environmental Defenders Office, described the win as “historic” and said the “decision puts oil and gas companies on notice”.

Santos issued a lengthy statement after the ruling, “noting” the court’s decisions and indicating that it would appeal or seek a new environmental approval.

“Santos will be seeking to expedite these processes,” the company said, adding that the court’s decision was “a disappointing outcome”.

The company said it had consulted with representative Aboriginal groups, including the Tiwi Land Council and the Northern Land Council. AFP