The Federal Court has upheld an appeal by four members of the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy on Friday over the rejection of an application to have six culturally significant trees protected from an upgrade to the Western Highway.
In his ruling, Judge Alan Robertson identified a "legal error" made by the federal Environment Minister in her assessment that the protection of five trees considered special and sacred to the Djab Wurrung applicants would preserve the significance of the area's cultural landscape.
Counsel acting for the applicants, Michael Kennedy told NITV News the court's decision meant Minister Susan Ley will have to reconsider her 16 July assessment, which may take another 3-months, but the immediate threat to the "specified area" remained.
Mr Kennedy said because work on the upgrade could commence at any time he would next seek a meeting with Premier Dan Andrews and the Victorian Government Special Minister of State and Aboriginal Affairs, Gavin Jennings to discuss saving the cultural landscape from the road development.
Mr Kennedy said he would also approach Deputy PM Michael McCormack in coming weeks to convince the federal government that alternative options were available, as the Commonwealth was paying 62% of the project's costs.
The cost of the highway upgrade between Ballarat and Stawell since the commencement of the project in 2010 has reached $672 million to date after repeated hold ups, most recently due to the protests.
Demonstrations led by the Djab Wurrung Embassy since mid-2018 to block the upgrade have focused on a 12.5-kilometre section between Buangor and Ararat.
In a written statement on Friday night, Ms Ley said the Federal Court's decision would be reviewed by her office and emphasised the necessity of the highway upgrade to improve road safety along the Western Highway.
“...this is an urgently needed safety upgrade that has involved many years of planning and consultation, and which has already resulted in significant compromise including the preservation of five of the six trees in question," said Ms Lay.
“While we respect the decision and the legal process,it is important in this case to consider all implications that may arise from this and take any appropriate action to ensure people’s safety.”