Australia’s big four banks face human rights complaint over Santos Barossa financing
Tiwi Islands and Larrakia Traditional Owners have lodged formal complaints alleging the big four Australian banks – ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac – and a host of international financiers breached their human rights commitments by participating in a $1.5 billion loan to Santos, related to the dirty and destructive Barossa gas project the company is trying to develop off the Northern Territory coast.
The Traditional Owners are demanding the banks pull out of the existing Santos loan, and commit to not funding the proposed expansion of the Darwin LNG project, which would be used to process and export Barossa gas. And the fight is not just limited to Australia. International banks SMBC, MUFG, Mizuho, ING, DNB Bank, Citigroup, DBS Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, and credit export agencies JBIC, KEXIM and K-SURE have all received human rights grievances for their role in the loan.
The complaints follow a successful legal challenge filed in the Federal Court last year, in which Tiwi Senior Lawman Dennis Tipakalippa proved Santos had failed to properly consult Tiwi Traditional Owners about the Barossa project. This resulted in Santos being ordered to stop drilling at the site until the company is able to gain a new environmental approval.
Appallingly, the banks loaned to Santos while the court case was ongoing, meaning they must have known of Traditional Owners’ opposition to the Barossa project. The fact that such a clear lack of Traditional Owner consent slipped through the cracks of the banks’ human rights policies shows that Australia’s biggest banks are failing to take their own commitments seriously.
Australia’s big four banks all have policies requiring them to act in line with international human rights standards. Crucially, all of the banks’ policies either include a direct commitment to the principle of ‘free, prior and informed consent’ (FPIC) or refer to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of which FPIC is a key principle.
Market Forces has previously questioned all of the big four Australian banks – ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac – at their respective AGMs in 2022 about the Tiwi Islanders’ opposition to Barossa and the Santos loan. The responses ranged from deflection to being unable to explain why a financing decision couldn’t wait until the court case had been finalised.
The impacts of the Barossa and Darwin LNG expansion projects on the local environment and cultural heritage of the Tiwi Islands, Larrakia Country and surrounding sea country would be far-reaching and disastrous. The project risks disruption to songlines, sacred sites and cultural practices, as well as spills and pipeline ruptures in the local marine and surrounding environments.
Traditional Owners have made their positions clear:
“My aim is to stop whoever is supporting Santos with all the funds. It is our right to protect the sea and the land.” – Paulina Jedda Puruntatameri, Tiwi Elder and Traditional Owner
“We want the banks to re-think what they’re doing and stop investing in companies that are destroying our world and environment. Banks are enabling Santos to continue doing what they are doing without any care about our human rights and what they’re doing to the environment we live in.” – Therese Wokai Bourke, Malawu clan leader
“We will not allow these banks or Santos to break the system of our sacred places. Our survival depends on our ceremonies, if one breaks, other tribes and people will also be affected. We have to keep it all intact for our future generations.” – Tibby Quall, Larrakia Elder and Traditional Owner
The banks have a choice, they can choose to side with a company that wants to develop a destructive and risky project against the will of Traditional Owners, or they can live up to their own human rights commitments and stand with Traditional Owners.
Join Traditional Owners in calling on Australia’s big banks to stop supporting Santos and its Barossa gas project partners. Demand these banks pull out of the existing loan, and commit to not lend any more money for the Barossa project or the associated Darwin LNG project.
This news story has been reposted from the original on the Market Forces website here.
Further information about the complaints, including a sample complaint to ANZ, can be found on the website of Equity Generation Lawyers, here. The complaint to ANZ is understood to be the first to use the bank's Grievance Mechanism, launched in November 2021.