Questions without notice: Djab Wurrung Sacred Trees
Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): My question is to the Premier. On Monday, on the very day the Premier was announcing that Melbourne would come out of lockdown, the government cut down a sacred Djab Wurrung directions tree, which has devastated many in the Djab Wurrung community and First Nations people. Premier, did the government deliberately choose to cut down the tree on the very same day we were coming out of lockdown or was this just a coincidence?
Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier): I thank the member for Prahran for his question. The answer to his question is no, and what is more the question is riddled with assumptions and assertions that are not borne out by the views of the traditional owner group who speak for that country and with whom the government has been deeply engaged. In order to establish that fact beyond any doubt let me quote from a statement, which I am happy to hand up. It is speaking of the realignment of the road, something the government has done as part of an agreement with traditional owners to make sure that cultural heritage is in fact preserved. So speaking of that process:
This realignment saves 16 trees that were identified as culturally significant. This includes two identified birthing trees, as well as other trees of significance, such as the ‘marker’, ‘directions’ and ‘grandmother’ trees.
On Monday afternoon, the removal of a towering fiddleback tree—felled in preparation for the highway’s expansion—made headlines.
Despite its age and majesty, extensive re-assessments did not reveal any characteristics consistent with cultural modification. It did not appear to have been altered by our peoples for usage in our cultural traditions. Independent arborists have indicated that the tree in question is ‘highly unlikely’ to pre-date European occupation.
The assertion of the member for Prahran is wrong. In pointing that out I mean no disrespect to any Aboriginal Victorian who may have a different view. People are entitled to have a view that is different to mine or different to the government’s. They are even, within the Aboriginal community and beyond, able to have a view that is different to the traditional owner group, who have made their view very clear.
There have been 100 incidents on this road in recent years. Eleven people have lost their lives on this road in recent years. We have come to agreements with the traditional owner group who speak for this country. This road must be redesigned and upgraded. It must be improved. And whilst there are some in the community—and I mean no disrespect to any of them—who may feel very, very personally and profoundly about this issue, I dare say that the families of the 11 people who have died on that road take these matters pretty personally and feel about them pretty deeply as well.
We have had a respectful, inclusive process to come to an agreement. The traditional owner group has been very clear on what their expectations are, and they are being met. We cannot sit around and see more people dying on this dangerous road while we wait for 100 per cent agreement. If we wait for a unanimity of view, then this road will never get upgraded and people will continue to die. I am not prepared to settle for that. I committed to getting this road built, and that is exactly what I will do. I point out for the member for Prahran that the cultural heritage framework in this state is the product of a Labor government and treaty will be a product of this Labor government, and commentary from the sidelines that is actively misleading the community is of no benefit whatsoever.
Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): When the Premier refers to ‘other people’ or ‘other people with different views’ I suspect he is actually referring to Djab Wurrung people themselves and the Djab Wurrung women who are connected to this country and connected to that tree, where the primary opposition is actually coming from.
A member: Greens party members!
Mr HIBBINS: Again, it is not coming from me or Greens party members; this is coming from Djab Wurrung people and Djab Wurrung women with connection to country. Premier, in cutting down this tree despite the significant and ongoing opposition of the Djab Wurrung people and First Nations Victorians, isn’t the government actually undermining its own treaty process and putting at risk good faith treaty negotiations?
Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier): No, we are doing no such thing. But I am obliged to point out that there are some who would like nothing better than that outcome, and they have demonstrated that by being tepid in their support at best—opposed at times—and have seen this as a political opportunity. We will get a treaty in this state because that is the fair and just and right thing to do, and we will also not throw out in that process a structure of traditional owner groups speaking for country. That is a recognised framework. That is in no way disrespectful of the diversity of opinions within the Aboriginal community and the diversity of opinions within the broader Victorian community. It is in no way disrespectful. To the extent that it is, according to the member for Prahran, it is okay to actively misrepresent what the government is doing. That is apparently an act of fundamental respect. That brings the debate forward. We have got to get this road built without the political games that I am very disappointed to say the member for Prahran is actively playing.