Santos hits back in fight over Barossa gas project

·2-min read

Energy company Santos has hit back at claims of adverse human rights impacts and criticism of financing for its Barossa gas project off the Northern Territory coast.

Six Tiwi Islanders and a member of Larrakia Nation last month lodged grievances with Australia's big four banks and eight international banks over the $US1 billion ($A1.5 billion) loans provided for the project.

Prepared by Equity Generation Lawyers, the 39-page complaint sent to Westpac alleged it was contributing to adverse human rights impacts on Tiwi and Larrakia traditional owners.

Westpac disagreed with the assessment, and in a statement Santos said it categorically rejected allegations of human rights breaches and reserved its rights in the matter.

"Santos notes the claimants have not sought to have their grievances determined or remedied in a court of competent jurisdiction where Santos could properly respond," the statement said.

Santos said it was engaged in lawful regulatory processes for the Barossa project, including consultation with Indigenous people and other stakeholders.

The Barossa field is about 285km northwest of Darwin and 140km from the Tiwi Islands, with the $5.5 billion project expected to deliver its first gas in 2025.

In a letter sent to Equity Generation Lawyers, Westpac said as a participant in syndicated loans for the venture, it was not correct to characterise it as having contributed to the alleged potential or actual human rights harms.

"This is not a correct description under any applicable domestic laws, prevailing human rights standards or Westpac's own policies," chief sustainability officer Siobhan Toohill wrote.

The complainants had invited Westpac representatives to sit down with Tiwi elders on country to explain its position.

The bank said it would instead engage directly with Santos on the allegations.

"We take the claimants' concerns seriously and would like to assure the claimants we will engage with Santos in good faith in relation to those concerns," Ms Toohill wrote.

Munupi elder Dennis Murphy Tipakalippa said Westpac had ignored the wishes of traditional owners.

"We've asked them not to support Santos for this Barossa project," he said in a statement released by Equity Generation Lawyers and activist group Market Forces.

"It's hurting us and it will hurt our environment now and over the long-term future."

Market Forces acting chief executive Will Van de Pol said Westpac would face backlash for its decision.

"Westpac's disrespectful dismissal of these traditional owners' human rights concerns is yet another example of failing to live up to its claims and commitments on social issues," he said.

"Customers and shareholders will not stand for Westpac continuing to prioritise its relationships with destructive companies like Santos over communities."