Chief Minister Michael Gunner has flagged further potential intervention in the long-running bid to open a large-scale Dan Murphy’s outlet in Darwin, as the liquor giant looks set to stretch its licence battle into a fifth year.
- A Labor spokesman says the Government wants the controversial application “resolved” as quickly as possible
- Woolworths’ Endeavour Drinks Group has lobbied for an overriding ministerial power to approve licences
- Chief Minister Michael Gunner is refusing to say what action the Government is considering
A second appeal against the refusal of the licence by the Northern Territory Liquor Commission, which was set up by Labor, now looks likely to be pushed out from the date set for December.
Woolworths’ Endeavour Drinks Group (EDG) sought the postponement and has blamed the delay on staff illness and difficulties preparing evidence caused by COVID-related restrictions.
The parties will meet later this month to set a new hearing date in the NT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
But a spokesperson for Mr Gunner said the Government wants the matter resolved as quickly as possible and will now consider “if any further action is required” over coming weeks.
Mr Gunner previously described the independent commission’s rejection of the licence as “a kick in the guts” for responsible drinkers.
Further action from the Government would come on top of amendments rushed through Parliament’s emergency coronavirus sitting in March, which Labor said addressed “technicalities” that killed the company’s first appeal against the decision.
At the time, the Government resisted lobbying from EDG for the creation of an overriding ministerial power to approve licence applications.
At a press conference on Monday, Mr Gunner refused to be drawn on what type of action the Government would take.
“It’s under consideration,” he said.
“I’ll be able to advise you of the action once we’ve finished considering it.”
Uncertain future for controversial bid
EDG has been fighting to use an existing licence for a now-closed BWS store to open what would be one of the company’s largest Australian outlets and the anchor tenant of a multi-million-dollar commercial precinct near Darwin airport.
The plan has the backing of business groups but is opposed by health and social services and some local Aboriginal groups, as well as the Australian Hotels Association NT.
The company’s licence application was rejected by the Liquor Commission in September last year largely because of the risks posed to nearby Aboriginal communities and pedestrians if the outlet was built at the proposed location.
An appeal was then knocked back in December when the tribunal found NT law did not allow for licence substitution to premises that were yet to be built — this was the law the Government then changed.
The amendments earlier this year also explicitly allowed substitutions that are not “like-for-like”, removing doubt about the legality of using a small store licence for an outlet found by the Liquor Commission to be 48 times the size of the original based on sales volume.
Labor has come under fire more than once for its handling of the Dan Murphy’s saga, starting when it introduced and then scrapped a bottle shop floor-size limit that stalled the licence application after it was first lodged in December 2016.
Health groups expressed alarm at the amendments rushed through Parliament earlier this year and urged the Government to stay the course with its alcohol reforms.
EDG previously expressed doubt the Government’s March amendments would resolve the authorities’ issues with its application.
The company declined a request for comment on the type of action it would want to see from the Government.