First Nations communities from New South Wales and the Northern Territories of Australia have lodged complaints against 20 pension funds, urging them to divest from a natural gas project citing human rights abuses.

The project, operated by Santos, lies 300km north of Darwin, off the northern coast of Australia. Developers seek to pipe natural gas past the Tiwi islands to the port of Darwin, with first gas targeted in 2025.

The complaints come in the same month that Tiwi Island traditional owners raised human rights grievances with 12 banks, urging them to withdraw a $1bn loan to Santos.

The targeted pension funds, known as superannuation funds in Australia, are the 20 largest in Australia. They include AustralianSuper, Rest Super and Hostplus. The traditional owners attest that the companies have “failed to prevent harmful human rights impacts by investing members’ money in Santos’ polluting Barossa and Narrabri gas projects”.

Rest Super told ABC that: “We are an active owner and believe that engaging with companies on environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities is one of the most effective ways of protecting members’ interests”.

“Breaching economic, social and cultural rights”

Antonia Burke, a Malawu clan member told reporters: “What we are asking these superannuation funds is to please respect our human rights. […] We do not want Santos to build a pipeline or to drill off the coast here […] and we want the super funds to hear us and act”.

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The complaint has been signed by communities from the Tiwi Islands, Larrakia Country and Gomeroi and Gamilaraay Pilliga Forests in northern New South Wales. The letter of grievance states that the funds are “breaching the economic, social and cultural rights of the Impacted Tiwi communities”.

The $4.7bn Barossa project has been the subject of several environmental campaigns. Last December the project was challenged by Tiwi Island traditional owners who claimed that they had not been consulted about the project. Santos lost the Federal Court appeal, and was forced to pause the project.

The company is pushing ahead with the development and plans to visit Melville Island on Wednesday for further consultations. Burke told reporters that local communities had asked the company not to visit, as the date aligns with a ceremony for the Yirriwinari Festival that the island is hosting.

Santos has not yet responded to Offshore Technology’s request for comment.