THE Victorian Ombudsman is investigating the actions of multiple government departments in relation to the Western Highway duplication project between Buangor and Ararat.
The duplication route has been disputed since 2015 over concerns it would damage culturally and environmentally significant sites along its route.
Environmental and some Traditional Owner groups are instead calling for an alternative route to be used that they say will create less damage and reduce the number of trees that need to be torn down.
In particular the investigation will examine:
- How the alignment of the section of the highway between Beaufort and Ararat was determined
- The extent to which development of the project has made appropriate
- Allowances for the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage
- The negotiation and execution of a credit trading agreement and
- Conservation covenant between VicRoads, Trust for Nature and Martang Pty Ltd
- How the proponent has responded to concerns raised about the protection of sacred Aboriginal sites.
Several applicants in the current court cases disputing the current Western Highway duplication alignment have been invited to make submissions to the investigation.
A Victorian Ombudsman spokesperson said it was not possible to say how long the investigation will take as there are too many variables involved, but the report is expected to be tabled in Parliament.
"The Ombudsman is investigating the planning and delivery of the project, with particular regard to concerns raised about protection of sacred Aboriginal sites," the spokesman said.
"It follows complaints from a number of people since August 2019 and enquiries conducted since then, including a visit to the sites by Ombudsman Deborah Glass in December 2019. The investigation was launched, following the visit, in December 2019.
"The investigation will consider the actions of the project proponent - understood to have been at various times the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority, VicRoads and the now defunct Roads Project Authority - and other relevant issues (listed above)."
Meanwhile, the outcome of a Supreme Court hearing over the highway dispute is still unknown after the case was heard last week across three days.
The court case challenges the validity of the 2012 Environmental Effects Statement by Major Road Projects Victoria and a review of the current planned route.
The same applicants are also waiting for the outcome of an emergency application lodged to protect a particular tree that had been earmarked for destruction is still unknown as well.
- Emergency application lodged for tree protection along Western Highway
- Road authority says no evidence of mortuary tree along Western Highway
- Road authority condemns 'grossly disrespectful' protest
- Ararat police call for good behaviour between protesters and the community
- Djab Wurrung await decision judge's decision over Western Highway project
- Lawyers gear up for another Western Highway legal challenge
- Western Highway activists asked to vacate land
- Western Highway activists' eviction notice yet to be actioned
- Western Highway delay impacts not clear
- Buangor man discusses real impacts of highway delay
- Speed limit restricted at the Western Highway duplication protest site
- Tree removal to begin along Western Highway duplication project outside Ararat
- Highway protesters claim moratorium on tree removal
- Activists blockade Western Highway duplication at Ararat | Photos
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