Plans for a Darwin Dan Murphy’s within walking distance of dry Aboriginal communities won’t be revived after Woolworths handed back the liquor licence to the Northern Territory Government following the release of an independent report into the decision.
In a document detailing Woolworths Group’s reflections on the report, the company admitted to failing to “listen effectively” to feedback on the proposal.
The report found the project had prioritised commercial considerations over the possibility of harms to the public and had not engaged with key interest groups beyond minimum requirements, actions the retail giant said were at odds with its aspiration to be a “values driven corporate citizen”.
In a letter co-signed by Woolworths chair Gordon Cairns, chief executive Brad Banducci, and sustainability committee chair Holly Kramer, the company apologised “unreservedly”.
“As the report highlights, on this occasion we clearly failed to meet our expectations [for the quality of engagement with Indigenous people] and we deeply regret our insensitivity to critical stakeholders in Darwin and beyond, and our own external Indigenous Advisory Panel, whose advice we did not seek,” the letter said.
“For that, we unreservedly apologise.”
Ola Havnen, chief executive of Danila Dilba Health Service, says the saga shows the hypocrisy at the heart of large corporations.
“On the one hand, they want to be seen supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart and Closing the Gap; on the other hand, they wilfully ignore the wishes of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are right in front of them,” said Havnen.
“The report raises serious concerns about why the NT Government so easily bowed to pressure from Woolworths and supported a decision that was against the recommendation of the NT Liquor Commissioner, against the findings and recommendations of the Riley review, and against the interests of the Darwin community.”
Though the liquor licence has been handed back to the NT Government, concerns still remain about the response from Endeavour Group, Woolworths’ drinks subsidiary.
Endeavour is due to be de-merged from Woolworths at the end of this month, and Havnen called Endeavour’s response to the report “disappointing”.
“We acknowledge the response from Woolworths, but we are deeply disappointed in the response from Endeavour Drinks which fails to mention Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at all.”
“Noting the planned de-merger of Woolworths and Endeavour Drinks, we call on Woolworths to ensure that Endeavour Drinks adopts the recommendations as set out in the report,” Havnen said.
“As a significant shareholder, Woolworths cannot wash their hands of this responsibility.”
Endeavour Group chairman-elect Peter Hearl and chief executive-elect Steven Donohue said the new company’s sustainability plan, to be released within their first year as a standalone group, would reflect the contents of the report.
“As the demerger will also result in our separation from Woolworths Group’s Reconciliation Action Plan, the insights from the Independent Panel Review will assist Endeavour Group to strengthen and improve our engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to develop our own Reconciliation goals,” they said.
The drinks company said they were taking steps to better engage with public health groups, reviewing the involvement of reputations and sustainability teams in development applications, and undertaking environmental, social and governance assessments on current development proposals.
By Sarah Smit