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Federal Court removes injunction on Santos’ Timor Sea project

A pipeline project in the Timor Sea will resume after the Federal Court rejected an argument the construction would damage sea country and cause “spiritual injury” to ancestral beings fundamentally important to the culture of Indigenous land owners.

user iconNaomi Neilson 15 January 2024 Big Law
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Justice Natalie Charlesworth discharged the injunction placed on Santos’ pipeline project on Monday (15 January), telling the court the submissions from the Indigenous applicants about alleged damage to the sea country around the Tiwi Islands were “insufficient”.

“I have reached that conclusion largely because I am not satisfied that expert reports relied upon by the applicants can support the propositions for which they argued,” Justice Charlesworth said.

The interim injunction was placed on Santos in November 2023, which has so far prevented it from commencing the 262-kilometre construction as part of its Santos’ Barossa Gas Export Project.


As part of this, Santos completed and submitted an environment plan in 2019, but the applicants said this must now be redone due to the alleged “significant new impact or risk” it has not already identified.

As part of their submissions, the applicants said the pipeline would disturb the travels of a rainbow serpent known as Ampiji, an ancestral being that could create calamites if its route is touched.

They also alleged there is a song line about a shape-shifting ancestral being known as Jirakupai, or the Crocodile Man, and the construction of the pipeline will either intersect the song line or disturb the Crocodile Man in his travels.

The applicants added the pipeline location may contain artefacts of archaeological significance relating to human occupation and activity on the land before the sea levels rose.

To support this submission, the applicants relied on an expert opinion from a geoscientist who claimed there was a “massive freshwater lake”, which housed a Mother Ampiji, in the pipeline’s route.

Justice Charlesworth said this evidence is “insufficient”, and she is not satisfied evidence given by witnesses “is broadly representative of beliefs held by the relevant groups of people and so cannot be characterised as a ‘cultural feature’ of an area, place or ecosystem”.

Justice Charlesworth added she was not satisfied this meant the risks to tangible and intangible cultural heritage are “new” and would justify Santos’ being ordered to complete a new environment plan.

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