For decades now we have been telling companies such as Woodside, Santos, BHP and Origin they need a social licence to operate.

That means funding local clubs where their operations are, providing job opportunities, improving infrastructure and contributing to culture.

Most people who have lived in a mining region where these resources giants operate will tell you they have delivered this in spades.

Karratha, my hometown, would not be the glistening, modern outback city it is today without the billions of dollars pumped into it by Woodside, Rio Tinto and Yara alongside government funding.

BHP, Roy Hill and Fortescue put plenty back into Port Hedland up the road too.

It is frustrating then to see once again activists led by big city campaign machines trying to lobby a festival with a strong Indigenous focus to ditch its industry sponsor.

In this case it is Santos’ support of the Darwin Festival being brought into question.

Santos has naming rights for the opening night concert which will celebrate Gurrumul’s culture and songlines and is listed as a major partner for the festival.

Here’s what protestors conveniently forget.

The money is more than just a chance for companies to plug themselves – it goes a long way to supporting an industry which would struggle greatly without it.

Northern Australia does not have the population needed to sustain Indigenous art galleries and programs, and most First Nations artists don’t have the huge resources needed to promote themselves in the crowded global creative marketplace.

They’re also fighting cheap knock-offs which our governments continue to allow to enter our country and which tourists continue to buy.

So if someone, say an oil and gas company with a social obligation to support the community they are operating in, were to come and commission real First Nations artists for their workwear, purchase art for their offices and fund programs to help revive song and dance, any reasonable person would say yes please.

Whether or not they are impacting the environment is a separate matter entirely and should not detract from their community obligations.

And for those trying to say these sponsorships silence criticism – try telling that to Woodside, which pumps big money into Pilbara and WA art programs, providing an income and platform to several Traditional Owners in Roebourne who remain vocal in their criticism of the company.

There has never been attempts to silence these critics, nor should there be.

Indeed it is industry sponsorship which often enables criticism of industry through art to gain a platform in galleries and at events.

This is no hush money, it is a sign of companies doing exactly what we have asked them to do – supporting our communities in return for taking our resources.

  • Tom Zaunmayr is the National Indigenous Times editor