Santos has announced the creation of a $110 million fund aimed at benefiting Aboriginal communities.

Amid legal challenges and ongoing activism surrounding the company's Barossa gas project, Santos chief Kevin Gallagher says the Barossa Aboriginal Future Fund will invest up to $10 million during the development phase and an additional $100 million or more for benefit sharing once production kicks off in late 2025. 

Gallagher made the statement during a press conference in Darwin, flanked by Indigenous representatives from the Tiwi Islands and the Larrakia traditional owners of the Darwin region.

“Activism is certainly not over. I suspect that is the way of the world going forward,” Gallagher admitted, acknowledging the persistent challenges faced by mining operations in balancing development with cultural and environmental considerations.

This fund's announcement closely follows a Federal Court decision that dismissed a legal challenge by Tiwi Islanders, who argued that the gas pipeline associated with the Barossa project would harm their cultural heritage. 

Despite this setback for the Islanders, and a recent budget increase and project delay announced by Santos, the company remains steadfast in its commitment to “close the gap” through investments in community infrastructure, health, education, and cultural programs.

Critics, however, might view Santos' sudden generosity with a hint of scepticism, especially considering the timing after legal hurdles have been cleared, and the project's budget swelled by up to $456 million due to unforeseen delays. 

The establishment of the fund - a step towards reconciliation and community support - could also be seen as a strategic move to smooth over the controversies and opposition faced by the Barossa project.

The intricacies of how the fund will be managed and distributed remain undetermined, leaving room for speculation on the true impact and intent behind Santos' pledge. 

The road ahead for Santos involves not just financial investment but navigating the complex interplay of resource development, environmental stewardship, and respect for Aboriginal heritage.