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First Peoples' Assembly says Bunurong Land Council issues will not impact Assembly membership

Dechlan Brennan -

The First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria has denied issues that have led to the Bunurong Land Council being placed into administration will have a bearing on Assembly membership.

It comes as reports note there are fears some development projects in Victoria could be delayed as a result of the September decision to place the Bunurong Land Council in administration for six months.

The council is responsible for the administering of cultural heritage management plans over a wide area in Melbourne, from the Melton in the city's west, to the Mornington Peninsula and into the Gippsland region.

On Monday, The Age reported a request for a cultural heritage management plan - made the week before to the council - received a response saying the next available date for "management plan fieldwork, compliance work or meetings" would be in April.

Cultural heritage management plans are legally mandated and required when "high impact" activity or development is planned in an area determined to be culturally sensitive.

This can include registered Indigenous cultural heritage places and landforms, as well as land categories that are determined to likely contain important Aboriginal cultural heritage.

The Bunurong Land Council received registered Aboriginal party status in 2017. Any registered Aboriginal party is responsible for managing Aboriginal cultural heritage matters in their appointed areas.

This requires developers and governments to consult them.

The Age notes "planning permits, licences and work authorities" are unable to be issued without the creation of a cultural heritage management plan.

The First Peoples' Assembly co-chair, Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta, Dhudhuroa and Dja Dja Wurrung woman, Ngarra Murray, said issues impacting the Bunurong Land Council would not impact the Assembly.

"No, this will not affect Assembly membership," she said in a statement to National Indigenous Times.

"...eligibility for a reserved seat relates to a Traditional Owner group's status as a recognised Aboriginal party under legislation or its ability to demonstrate it meets the Assembly's criteria, eligibility does not relate to a group's internal administration."

The Assembly's Bunurong representative, Bunurong and Trawoolway woman Zoe Upton, said the special administration was due to finish in March and she was looking forward to continuing her role in getting Treaty ready.

"As the elected member for Bunurong Land Council… (I'm) looking forward to bringing our membership along to ensure we are getting the voices of our membership."

Sources who spoke to National Indigenous Times on condition of anonymity said the council was "not insolvent," and the administration was based on breaches of operational issues.

They also noted any allegations of fraud had been incorrect and no charges have so far been laid.

The Age reported last month the registrar of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporations, Tricia Stroud, said the Bunurong Land Council was placed into administration after an examination of the council's books.

"The examination identified serious concerns with respect to the standard of corporate governance of the corporation," she said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Premier and Cabinet told The Age: "Under the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act, Registered Aboriginal Parties placed into special administration remain registered and can continue to deliver their services, including services relating to Aboriginal cultural heritage – this includes Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation."

Ms Murray said in broader terms, the Assembly believes it important that communities can "organise and define themselves rather than be constrained by the paternalism of the government's heavy-handed legislation".

"That's why the Assembly has developed its own additional pathway for groups seeking recognition."

She said the establishment of the Treaty Authority as a mechanism to help settle disputes would see strengthened accountability in the long run, as well as a better system being embraced.

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