The Meeting Place

'Dan Andrews squanders $660 million of taxpayer money'

The Andrews government used the good news of lockdown lifting to distract Australians from a destructive and wasteful project.

On Monday, while Daniel Andrews made light-hearted jokes about reaching “a little higher up the shelf” to celebrate the hard work of Victorians on his Instagram page, something more sinister was in motion behind the scenes.

It has been confirmed that while we lifted our beers and enjoyed donuts, 150 police were moving in to the sacred Djab Wurrung heritage site, to forcibly remove people from their cultural lands.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that while the entire state was distracted, and just weeks before we are legally allowed to leave our homes and return to protect these sacred sites, the government delt its largest blow yet, cutting down a 350 year old Directions Tree.  

 One twitter user shared their disgust.
“The world should know the Australian government is continuing to commit acts of cultural genocide & environmental crime. A 350 yr old ‘directions tree’, sacred to the Djab Wurrung people, was chopped down today … an 800 yr old tree to follow. Heartbreaking.”
- @Meldawson6  

The 800 year old tree mentioned above has seen over 50 generations born inside of a hollow in her trunk, and the 350 year old tree that was cut down yesterday had been shaped to resemble a woman. The area is a part of the culturally significant song lines of the Djab Wurrung people.  

Why, may you ask, would anyone actively destroy such a beautiful and sacred part of the Australia?

To build a road. A four lane highway that would destroy 3000 trees and cut only three minutes off existing travel time to Ararat. This Western Highway project is costing the government $660 million dollars of taxpayer money. This 12.4km leg of the project, which connects Buangor to Ararat, alone is costing us $157 million and has been criticised for going $40 million over budget. 

Am I the only one who is looking around and thinking that $660 million dollars could be better spent elsewhere? Why isn’t is going into aged care? Or into the health care system? Or towards increasing pension rates?

This is such a slap to the face. Especially for Boomers who fought so hard for civil rights legislation and strove for equality and recognition that resulted in the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and the Sex Discrimination Act (1984), seeing their hard work undone.

What do you think? Are you disappointed in the Dan Andrews government? How would you prefer the government spend $660 million? Do you think we should be protecting these cultural sites?

For more information on the project, and on the people protecting some of Australia’s most sacred heritage sites, visit dwembassy.com.

If you’re disappointed about this news, make a call.

Premier Daniel Andrews (03) 9651 5000
Planning Minister Richard Wynne (03) 8683 0964
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams (03) 9096 8587
Transport Minister Jacinta Allen (03) 8392 6100

12 comments

Aboriginal cultural sites, whilst important, should not stand in the way of progress. After the Hindmarsh Bridge debacle I tend to be a bit cynical about what constitutes a sacred site or one with cultural significance. I read that the Aboriginal Land Council in the Hunter region wanted to claim the entrance to Newcastle harbour as a traditional fishing site and, surprise, surprise, any vessel passing over that site had to pay a fee. As the Aboriginal history was never written down but passed from generation to generation by word of mouth there will always be the chance of misinformation being passed down.

Horace, you raise a very valid and pertinent point.  The "history" of the aboriginal traditions is subject to re-interpretation and mis-interpretation.  There were no common languages among the tribes and territorial boundaries were very indefinite and fiercely fought over.  Any history that was not recorded in a manner that cannot be reimagined over time, is valuless in real terms.

Same as in our communities, what is "sacred" to one group is insignificant to others.

A common factor appears that when a sufficient compensation payment can be agreed upon, the "sacredness" evaporates.  At least until another tribal group claim that they were the real traditional owners.

What a misleading headline. He is not wasting $660 million, the government is building a new road which, in all proability, is a proper expenditure of public monies. However the destruction of a particular tree which may have cultural value to indigenous people is something different. Let us discuss the tree not an unfounded allegation of 'waste' of public money, this allegation diminishes your argument about the tree.

Exactly 

Yes, two different issues to me.

Sad about the tree.

 

I agree. These are two seperate issues and the cultural loss now suffered by Victorians by the unacceptable destruction of that particular tree in no way relates to the economic realities of building a road. LNP bias is obvious and should not have a voice on this site.

 

Spin is everything in politics and Aboriginal advocates are no better or worse than others in this regard.  Yes we should protect Aboriginal sacred sites when they are clearly identified but also build the infrastructure society needs to move forward.  On the question of cost overruns, when doesn't a government project overrun original estimates?  The NBN is a classic example.

I have been involved in many government projects and, although all project directors declare their intention is to deliver on time and on budget, I cannot remember a project that came in within it's original budget. Usually the reasons for cost overruns are due to the scope of the project changing over time or assumptions used in scoping the project prove to be wrong. Of course when one presents a project for approval you always use the lowest cost estimate, knowing that once the project is underway it is difficult for politicians and bean counters to shut the project down and any extra money needed will be found.

The same could happen if you build a house, when digging foundations rock can be encountered which inctreases the cost, the price of bricks or timber or mortar may increase, the owner may change the plumbing and electrics. The variables are almost endless. Project estimating is a black art where numbers have to be plucked out of thin air.

I always suspected this site had a LNP leaning.

Fact guys, facts.

We may be old but we are wise!

Agree. Sad that they have such a low opinion of our ability to see through manipulating journalism.

Bingo..

The official indigenous owners were involved in the decisions on which trees could be removed. While it is a pity to see such a beautiful tree be cut down the facts showed override prejudice.

Thats exactly my thoughts

The issue is not about the rights or wrongs of spending $600 million on a road, it is about the destruction of the Djab Wurrung heritage site.  I don't see this as much different from the Rio Tinto destruction of the Juukan Gorge aboriginal site.  The public outrage led to this statement from Rio Tinto:

"We deeply regret the events at Juukan Gorge and have unreservedly apologised to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people. The destruction of the rockshelters should not have happened, and we are absolutely committed to listening, learning and changing."

Are we sure the Djab Wurrung heritage site is not just as important to the these local people, or to the state, as the Juukan Gorge was to theirs?  Are we really confident the Victorian Government has properly assessed all the aboriginal sites in its state and agreed which need protecting with its aboriginal people?

Could not the site have been bypassed by this road?  So what if that would cost another $10 million - is a $610 million project suddenly uneconomic if it costs $610 million?  Was the issue raised in the Environmental and Social assessment of the project?

I'm not arguing whether the destruction of this site was right or wrong.  But in the whole of Australia governments have not gone anywhere near enough in assessing aboriginal issues and needs.

The Rio Tinto CEO stepped down as a result of the Juukan Gorge issue.  Will anyone in government step down over this issue - no - it's just a few trees ...

Many people have died on that very unsafe stretch of road. Forget the spin and BS, lives matter here...

It was one tree cut down and not the whole site destroyed. Very sad but not in the same league as the Rio Tinto disaster.

Discussion were held with the actual official land owners.

This is the exact opposite of what happened at Juukan Gorge. The traditional owners were consulted and the road alignment was moved to preserve sacred sites and objects. Some folks simply don't want the roadworks to proceed and using the tree removal as an excuse.

An Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation (EMAC) elder and senior custodian for the trees has stated, “I am very happy with the outcomes of the negotiations with the government. These trees are now protected and the road can go ahead.” 

https://roadprojects.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/369612/Eastern-Maar-Aboriginal-Corporation.pdf

I think some people are getting the wrong end of the stick here, last year the Andrews government reached an agreement with the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation (the registered Indigenous organisation for the area) to proceed, by altering the plan so that 15 culturally significant trees would be spared. From what has been reported the tree cut down on Monday was not one of those protected under the agreement.

How about in Tas where the aboriginal people lost their language so now they have made a new one using snippets from early white man history. They have made up dozens of names & want to change many of the names of places that have been used for 200years. Already there are many original names used such as Waddamana, Tungatina, Mathinna,Ringarooma etc etc. A bridge named after John Batman was not built by indigenous people but they want to change its name!

There have been continuing objections to the Andrews government's destruction of this tree.

The article today under Conversation expresses the concern of many people:

https://theconversation.com/an-open-letter-from-1-200-australian-academics-on-the-djab-wurrung-trees-149147?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20November%204%202020%20-%201775817224&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20November%204%202020%20-%201775817224+CID_171b9d8ad92bf2f16739850a739e4cb3&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=An%20open%20letter%20from%201200%20Australian%20academics%20on%20the%20Djab%20Wurrung%20trees

 

Thanks Nick ... simpler live link to the article in The Conversation ...

https://theconversation.com/an-open-letter-from-1-200-australian-academics-on-the-djab-wurrung-trees-149147 

Whoops!! Thanks Sophie.

No worries...

It is all about RESPECT  and there is not enough of it -- what with Rio Tinto etc. and the cutting down of this scared tree --just show some respect FGS!

 

Seems the Governments are all about the money  -- same as the Koala habitats and many places where they are breeding but they are allowing many trees to be knocked down for a blasted quarry -- which is a downright disgrace.

The disrespect and land CARE is not even considered, no matter how many people are pleading for tthings not to happen.

 

 

In a statement, Major Road Projects Victoria referred to the tree that was cut down as a “fiddleback tree”, rather than the directions tree, saying it had not been identified as culturally significant by the registered Aboriginal party [the Eastern Maar], and had been assessed by arborists to be unlikely to pre-date European settlement. They said another tree at the northern end of the site was in fact a directions tree and would not be cut down.

The area is sacred to the Indigenous community here, home to birthing trees thought to be more than 800 years old. But it also runs alongside a notoriously dangerous stretch of highway, the main road connecting Melbourne and Adelaide, which the Victorian government is trying to fix (I understand) by rerouting it through the tree site. More than a dozen sacred trees have already been spared in a deal struck with some Djab Wurrung traditional owners formally negotiating with the Victorian government.

This is all very sad and my heart cries for any ancient tree that’s cut down..however.. sometimes an action is necessary in order to save human lives.

 

 

The issue here is not whether the $660 million road development should have been undertaken.  It was done for multiple reasons, only one of which was saving lives.  The project states "There have been more than 100 crashes and 11 fatalities on the Western Highway between Ballarat and Stawell in recent years".  Let's say 2 lives per year over 5 years - during which on average 250 lives were lost each year in Victoria.  There are many primarily economic reasons to make the road.

The issue is whether the state government has properly established a system for recognising aboriginal traditional areas of significance.  A 2013 ABC News article stated:

"VicRoads signed the lucrative land deal with the now-defunct Martang Registered Aboriginal Party, which formally approved the highway project in 2013. ... In return for conserving the site from development, Martang was promised annual royalties amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars over ten years."

Since then after Federal government intervention in 2018, Major Roads Victoria states:

"... we refined the road design, so these two trees could be retained. Further design refinements will allow for a total of 16 trees which are of interest to some members of the Aboriginal community to be retained."

What a pity they couldn't have made it 17 trees.

A more accurate quote from Major Roads Victoria states:

"Over the last five years there have been 72 crashes on the Western Highway between Ballarat and Stawell, including five fatalities and 32 serious injuries."  So one fatality per year.

https://roadprojects.vic.gov.au/news/2018/work-suspended-on-western-highway

 

12 comments