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“Now the whole world knows Tiwi people are powerful.” One year on: Tiwi people celebrate landmark Court victory over Santos

Environmental Defenders Office 2 mins read

It’s been one year since Senior Munupi Elder, Dennis “Murphy” Tipakalippa and his community did the impossible and took NOPSEMA, the offshore regulator, and Santos to the Federal Court. They won - and now Tiwi Islanders are feeling more powerful than ever.


In June last year, after learning Santos was planning to drill the seafloor north of his home on the northern beaches of the Tiwi Islands, Mr Tipakalippa launched a challenge to Santos’ Barossa gas drilling approvals.


Mr Tipakalippa argued that NOPSEMA, the federal offshore gas regulator, should not have approved Santos’ plans to drill the Barossa gas field, because Santos failed to properly consult Tiwi people. 


In September last year the Federal Court agreed, finding that Santos failed to consult Tiwi people as required and setting aside Santos’ drilling approvals. Then in December three Judges of the Federal Court upheld Mr Tipakalippa’s ruling, rejecting an appeal by Santos. 


Tipakalippa v NOPSEMA & Santos was a landmark case which:

  • Enforced long neglected consultation rules, ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a right to be consulted about projects that impact on their Sea Country.
  • Invalidated Santos’ Barossa gas drilling approval, forcing Santos to restart consultation with Tiwi Islanders, who the Federal Court said Santos had failed to consult.
  • Set a new precedent for the way the Federal Court hears evidence of cultural matters in environmental cases, with ground-breaking on Country hearings held.

Celebrating a year since his historic victory, Mr Tipakalippa said: “Now the whole world knows Tiwi people are powerful. They know 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.


“Tiwi people today are thinking about how far we’ve come and are celebrating our win. Tiwi people know they can stand up to Santos and oil and gas companies now. We showed them and every other oil and gas company that the Tiwi people are powerful, that this is our Country and that we must be consulted. We cannot be sidelined or silenced.”


EDO Special Counsel Alina Leikin said: “Dennis’ victory guarantees Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, whose homes and ways of life may be threatened by gas companies’ offshore project plans, the right to be consulted about those plans.


“This victory didn’t change the law, it enforced it. Now, gas companies must take their legal obligations to consult seriously. We welcome Minister for Resources, Madeleine King’s commitment to defend this verdict and guarantee consultation requirements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, will not be weakened.”



Mhairi McClymont 0423339746


Embargoed until 12:00 am AEST Thursday, 21 September 2023


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