The Northern Territory Government plans to pass legislation that would fast-track a liquor licence decision for the Territory’s largest takeaway bottle shop, Dan Murphy’s, within walking distance of three Aboriginal communities.

The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT) said the legislation will allow the government to circumvent its own independent Liquor Commission, which has knocked the project back.

“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,” said John Paterson, CEO of AMSANT.

“While Woolworths makes its profits, and the Government turns a blind eye, the health and wellbeing of Darwin’s people will suffer.”

The proposed Dan Murphy’s would be located on Bagot Road in Ludmilla, less than two kilometres from the Aboriginal communities of Bagot, Kulaluk, and Minmarama.

The Bill, titled the Liquor Further Amendment Act 2020 and introduced to Parliament on Wednesday, would force the Director of Liquor Licensing to make a final decision to approve or refuse Woolworths Group’s transfer of liquor licence application within 30 days.

Any prior decisions by the independent Liquor Commission, which refused the application, will be “of no effect” in the Director’s decision.

A five-year moratorium on new takeaway liquor licences issued in the NT has been in place since October 2017, a recommendation made by the wide-ranging Riley Review into Alcohol policies in the Northern Territory.

In July 2018, Woolworths Group applied for a liquor licence for a Darwin BWS to be transferred to the proposed Dan Murphy’s outlet on Bagot Road, which would be the Territory’s largest liquor store.

The independent Liquor Commission refused the application in September 2019, finding the licence could not be transferred in part because it did not represent a “like for like” substitution, where a licence would be transferred to a similar outlet in a different location.

The Commission said that if floor size would be considered, transferring the licence to the new location would be the equivalent of granting nine new licences.

If projected sales were considered, it would be like replacing one licence with 48 new licences.

After the refusal, Woolworths lodged an appeal with the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which is still in progress.

On Tuesday, Small Business Minister Paul Kirby announced the Territory Government would urgently pass legislation to “cut red tape” and speed up the decision-making process.

The move is part of the government’s COVID-19 economic recovery, and in line with the Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission’s recommendation that all Northern Territory Government decisions be made within 30 days or less.

“We want the Territory to be the easiest place to do business in the country—businesses need certainty to create jobs,” Kirby said.

“It is unacceptable that businesses and the community should have to wait this long for an answer, yes or no, so we are moving urgent legislation to cut this decision making down to 30 days.”

The CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Services, Deborah Di Natale, said a takeaway alcohol venue of this size would be a backwards step in the fight against alcohol-related harms.

“Darwin does not need one of the largest bottle shops in the country,” she said.

“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.”

Helen Secretary, Chair of the Gwalwa Daraniki Association which administrates the Kulaluk Aboriginal Community, supports the project.

Secretary said representatives for Dan Murphy’s had consulted with the community and agreed to put in place measures addressing the community’s concerns.

“We’ve had professionals that have been doing the review on this come in and consult with us and they know our views,” she said.

Secretary said the coalition of Aboriginal medical groups that spoke out against the project had not consulted with her community.

“The people who were opposing this, didn’t talk to us. They presume straightaway just because there’s three Aboriginal communities that they have a right to voice our concerns, when they have no idea what our concerns are,” she said.

“They don’t know how we address our alcohol problems; we have alcohol managements in place and we deal with it professionally.”

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner has been contacted for comment.

By Sarah Smit