CALLS are growing to scrap the bulldozing of trees for a Victorian highway upgrade but the state government is refusing to budge.
Hundreds of activists rallied outside Victoria's parliament on Tuesday in a bid to save the trees, which are considered sacred by indigenous people.
Activists have set up camp at the site, between Buangor and Ararat, over concerns about Aboriginal heritage.
Speaking at Tuesday's rally, former Greens MP Lidia Thorpe said the loss of the 800-year-old Djap Warrung trees amounted to cultural genocide.
Destroying the trees "destroys us", the Gunnai-Kurnai and Gunditjmara woman added.
It would also jeopardise any treaty negotiations between traditional owners and the Victorian government, protesters claimed.
Matilda Hiscock was among the crowd and told AAP the highway upgrade would only save people three minutes' travel time.
But Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan is standing firm, saying the government has listened to and negotiated with relevant indigenous groups.
She also stressed the highway upgrade was important for safety, referencing six deaths and 100 crashes along the stretch of the road in the past 11 years.
"We've been very careful to listen and respect the views and voices of the Indigenous groups who represent those communities," Ms Allan said.
She added the government had worked with the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation to save 17 significant trees, before the group gave the project the go-ahead.
But construction has been delayed by activists camped at the site since June 2018.
They were told to leave last month.
After rallying outside parliament, city protesters marched to the Coroners Court to support the inquest into the police custody death of Aboriginal woman Tanya Day.
The 55-year-old Yorta Yorta grandmother died in December 2017 after falling and hitting her head five times in a Castlemaine police cell.
Meanwhile, Victoria Police have released the following statement regarding the protest in Melbourne:
"Victoria Police respects the right for people to protest peacefully, but will not tolerate those who break the law or engage in anti-social behaviour or violence."
It was unable to comment on the number of protesters or police present in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Aboriginal Victoria Heritage Council has released a statement in support of the highway's construction.
"The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 provides protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria," chairperson Rodney Carter said.
"It supports Registered Aboriginal Parties, Traditional Owners, custodians and First Peoples to once again take their rightful place as the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria."
"Not recognising due process clouds the importance of the acknowledgement of recognised Traditional Owners and what they undertook to participate in these processes.
"The challenge for us all is to understand that the right thing has happened and that, through the process, the voice of first peoples' has been recognised."
The statement said that the 'broader Djab Wurrung community have been consulted on the Western Highway alignment, between Buangor and Ararat, and will continue to consult with government on this project.
'Through representative organisations which have met stringent requirements for inclusiveness in speaking for their people and Country, the voices of Djab Wurrung people have been heard through the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation and Martang Pty. Ltd.'
SUPPORTERS are marching through Melbourne's central business district in support of Djab Wurrung activists camped along the proposed Western Highway duplication route.
Supporters gathered near Parliament House about 10am to peacefully protest.
An activist at the protest estimated more than 2500 people were in attendance, with police on bicycles and on foot monitoring the situation.
The protest comes on the same day Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation called on the state government to expedite settlement negotiations in order to resolve the dispute.
The Traditional Owner nation has publicly stated its support for the Western Highway duplication project, which it said in the statement will save culturally significant trees.
The corporation will continue to undergo due diligence with an ongoing invitation for the Djab Wurrung community to participate.
Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation is the peak authority to speak on behalf of the Djab Wurrung clan and has pursued a native claim over the area since 2012.
The corporation released the following statement on Tuesday:
"Eastern Maar was recognised by the State of Victoria as the appropriate Traditional Owner nation to enter into negotiations under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 in 2016 and retains all cultural authority over the area.
"Eastern Maar understand the complexities and sensitivities around widening the highway but what also needs to be understood is that the appropriate measures and processes have been followed.
"Eastern Maar agrees no process will ever be entirely perfect. We are also strengthened by the voice of our citizens who like anybody have the right to question any decision-making process.
"This underpins the foundations of Aboriginal governance in Victoria which the public should now respect rather than undermine.
"Eastern Maar strongly believes preserving our cultural heritage is crucial to the integrity and identity of our nation and will always take priority in our decision-making processes.
"This is why the Eastern Maar nation will continue to fight for our rights and interests while working with the state on the Western Highway project to reach a peaceful resolution."
Eastern Maar has been working with the government, and Major Road Projects Victoria, as a key contributor throughout the consultation process, but has come under fire from Djab Wurrung and other Traditional Owners protesting the highway.
Indigenous elder Aunty Sandra Onus, who has been heavily involved in fighting the destruction of the trees, has previously said she doesn't "believe that Eastern Maar speak for the Djab Wurrung people - not for myself or anyone else."
The statement follows an Ararat Advertiser report last week that revealed criticism of the government and of Eastern Maar by lawyer to the activists Michael Kennedy for not revealing the existence of the On Country Heritage Report.
Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation and Victoria Police have both been contact for further comment.
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