Santos' lawyer accuses expert of 'weaponising' heritage

Gas company Santos' barrister has accused an anthropologist of weaponising cultural heritage to stop construction of the Barossa pipeline.

In a Federal Court hearing on Monday, Vanessa Whittaker SC suggested to Gareth Lewis that he had strategised with the Environmental Defenders Office to assist Tiwi Islanders to convince the regulator, NOPSEMA, against approving the pipeline.

The company plans to extract natural gas from the Barossa field, located in waters about 285km offshore from Darwin, and transport it through pipelines to an existing liquefied natural gas facility in the Northern Territory.

Traditional owner Simon Munkara, a Jikilaruwu man, is arguing that the construction of the pipeline will, or is likely to, impact upon significant tangible and intangible underwater Tiwi cultural heritage in the vicinity of the pipeline including but not limited to the sea bed.

He says Santos did not properly assess submerged cultural heritage along the company's original planned route of the pipeline, which runs within 7km of Cape Fourcroy on Bathurst Island. 

In November the court granted Mr Munkara a qualified injunction, meaning Santos could begin work on the pipeline but only in the area from about 75km north of the Tiwi Islands and further afield. 

On Monday Ms Whittaker asked Mr Lewis whether he would concede his advice to Tiwi Islanders was using his expert knowledge to help the EDO strategise to prevent construction of the pipeline.

Mr Lewis said part of his role was to help Tiwi Islanders understand the process fellow anthropologist Dr Brendan Corrigan would follow when assessing cultural heritage for the pipeline proposal.

"I was being paid to assist the (EDO's) clients, not to oppose the pipeline, but to assist them with anthropological advice," he said.

"To ensure that NOPSEMA got a fair and adequate hearing of what the cultural values of Tiwi people were for the pipeline area." 

Mr Munkara argues the pipeline poses a significant new impact or risk to Tiwi underwater cultural heritage that was not assessed in Santos' original environment plan for the pipeline approved by NOPSEMA, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority. 

He and other Tiwi people are fighting the pipeline on several fronts, including sending representatives to banks' annual meetings to lobby shareholders and executives against financing the project.

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

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