28 October 2020

Jenny Sinclair: “How did it come to this, again? According to Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, part of the answer is that when the road was being planned, we — the state and the settler people of Victoria — didn’t listen carefully enough. In her report on the road, she says the dispute contains lessons about to how to consult with Indigenous people. The State Government points out that two Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) for the area have agreed to the road. The protestors, calling themselves the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy, say the RAPs don’t speak for them. … The Ombudsman … questioned how the State’s planning decisions were made, and the human rights implications of the whole process. In careful legal language, she ‘noted’ that there was nothing to stop the government from ‘consulting more broadly with Aboriginal peoples’. ‘The processes under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, while intended to empower traditional custodians … have the potential to exclude some voices,’ she wrote… As Glass points out, the need to identify ‘other Aboriginal parties with connections to and knowledge of the area’ was heightened by the extent to which the Djab Wurrung have been displaced from their land by Western settlement. … If it’s hard to get everyone on the same page, it’s because our arrival scattered the population. … I keep coming back to this: it’s happening on our terms, under our laws, and we seem to be using our power to pick and choose who we listen to. … [I]t’s not too late… [T]he road is yet to be built. … We could recognise the protestors’ two-year occupation as proof of sincerity and passion, and not unjustly require of them that they cede us their country yet again.”

You can read the Ombudsman’s report here.