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    Djab Wurrung camp near Ararat.

Highway plans under scrutiny


The future cultural and environmental management of a highway duplication project south of Ararat is under a microscope following the Supreme Court hearing corruption allegations.

Major Road Projects Victoria’s 12-kilometre section of a Western Highway duplication project between Buangor and Ararat is on hold.

The project has continued to be the subject of ongoing legal battles since Supreme Court Justice Jacinta Forbes extended a temporary ban on the works late last year.

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Lawyer Michael Kennedy, representing a group including members of Djab Wurrung Protection Embassy and Keep Original Route, KORs, which oppose the project route, said a cultural-heritage management plan prepared in 2013 to advise the project’s direction was a ‘deficient’ document.

Mr Kennedy’s statement came after lawyer Ron Merkel, representing Djab Wurrung woman Marjorie Thorpe, alleged in a Supreme Court hearing that a deal regarding the plan between Martang, the initial Aboriginal corporation responsible for the land, and the State Government might have been illegal.

The latest matters will be the subject of a directions hearing in the Supreme Court scheduled for coming weeks.

Mr Kennedy said analysis raised concerns about the legitimacy of the plan the State Government used to decide on the alignment of the highway upgrade.

“Mr Merkel argued that the cultural-heritage management plan – that Martang was partly responsible for – was illegal and invalid and could not be relied upon,” he said.

“I think the Traditional Owners will succeed in showing that the past plan was illegal.”

The State Government has indicated to the court that it will seek to enter into a new cultural-heritage management plan following the allegations.

The Weekly Advertiser contacted Victorian Transport Minister Jacinta Allan’s office regarding the matters.

A government spokesperson said Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, the current registered Aboriginal party responsible for the land, would need to approve any new management plan before the duplication project could proceed.

“Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation is the registered Aboriginal party that represents the Djab Wurrung people, and we continue to respect their cultural authority to speak for Djab Wurrung country,” the spokesperson said.

“In 10 years, there have been 152 crashes on the Western Highway between Ballarat and Stawell, including 18 fatalities; it is vital for the safety of the community that this road is duplicated.”

However, Mr Kennedy said he had concerns about management of the new plan.

“Major Road Projects Victoria will appoint its own archaeological survey group as part of this plan, called Australian Cultural Heritage Management, who then subcontract part of the field work that they will do with Eastern Maar,” he said.

“We plan to challenge this move in court because we believe Eastern Marr cannot objectively form a cultural heritage management plan.”

Ms Thorpe filed the injunction on the road project in late October to stop duplication works after authorities removed a large yellow box tree that Traditional Owners referred as a ‘directions tree’.

Mr Kennedy said a permanent injunction would save an additional six trees Traditional Owners considered culturally significant.

“If Justice Forbes decides to grant a permanent injunction, MRPV has nowhere to go but to make a fresh alignment,” he said.

“If that’s the case, MRPV won’t be able to run the road where they want to, they’ll have to run the road with the alignment which will meet the criteria of cultural heritage and environment.

“It is important to note that my Traditional Owner clients, Western District farmers and the environmental group I represent want the highway to be completed.

“They just want to see it done properly and ensure it respects the environment and the cultural heritage.”


The entire April 14, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!