A SPOKESMAN at Aboriginal Victoria has said that a number of indigenous sites along the proposed Western Highway duplication project are already protected under an indigenous cultural management plan.
The spokesman would not confirm whether there were plans to expand or extend the current management plan but did say that the current Cultural Heritage Management Plan had been in place since October 2013.
Activists have been protesting the planned route for the road development and calling for an alternative route to be used, which they call the northern option, which they say would help the development avoid cultural sites.
The spokesman, however, said the area had already been assessed.
"The Cultural Heritage Management Plan for the upgrade was approved in accordance with the Aboriginal Heritage Act in October 2013, and included measures for the protection and respectful management of 21 Aboriginal heritage places," he said.
"In 2017, Aboriginal Victoria twice investigated claims that a number of trees on the alignment were culturally significant.
"This was done in accordance with its statutory duty to verify reports of Aboriginal cultural heritage made outside of the Cultural Heritage Management Plan process.
"Aboriginal Victoria consulted with the Registered Aboriginal Party at the time, Martang Pty Ltd, as well as Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, which were requested to inspect the trees and advise of their views.
"On both occasions, Aboriginal Victoria determined the two trees were not Aboriginal cultural heritage places for the purposes of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, and works were authorised to proceed under the approved Cultural Heritage Management Plan."
Major Road Projects Victoria had worked with cultural authority Eastern Maar to preserve another 13 trees which don't fall under the plan.
"In February 2019, following extensive engagement and consultation with local groups, Major Road Projects Victoria confirmed it would realign the roadworks to avoid the two trees deemed significant by members of the Aboriginal community," the spokesman said.
"Additional design revisions made since will allow for an further 13 trees to be retained."
Eastern Maar chair Jason Mifsud said all the appropriate measures had been put in place.
"From an Eastern Maar - as a cultural authority, not a legal authority - perspective we've exhausted all our due diligence and as we've said in a previous release," he said.
"We feel that what needs to be protected is protected and there's nothing else to say."
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