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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been praised for relenting on his intense lockdown regime during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, on the exact same day, his Government green-lit a decision that has since been slammed as “shameful” and “callous”.

The Victorian Government gave permission to bulldoze a tree, which is reported to have been where Djag Wurrung women have traditionally gone to give birth.

The tree was removed to clear land for a highway in Western Victoria, despite an alternative route being provided that avoids deviation through the sacred country.

The tree removal was something that the Andrews Government had wanted to do for two years, with the Djag Wurrung people fighting during that time to stop it from happening. 

Sissy Eileen Austin, a Djab Wurrung woman and member of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, said the community’s trust in the “progressive” Andrews Government is broken.

“Victoria claims to be progressive in its relationship with Aboriginal people and communities,” she wrote for The Guardian .

“There are conflicting agendas here, one where the Government is supporting the progression of the treaty and the other where they’re comfortable in proceeding with the irreversible destruction of significant cultural heritage.”

Victoria’s first Aboriginal senator, Lidia Thorpe, said that the actions of the past two days had undone any prospect of a meaningful compromise.

“We wanted a peaceful outcome,” Ms Thorpe said. “We came with peace and in good faith, and were willing to negotiate. But heavy-handed politics from the Andrews Government has faded any hopes of that, or anything else into the future. The inherent violence of the system is being perpetrated against us on every level.”

Media commentator Jan Fran compared the felling of the tree to Notre Dame burning down in Paris last years.

“You may say there is no comparison between the two. There is,” she wrote on Facebook overnight. “We have made very clear the history we value and the history we are prepared to destroy. And for what? A shorter commute?

“I don’t know a lot about Djab Wurrung history. I have not had the privilege to learn. No. I have been ROBBED of the privilege to learn. We all have.

“What I do know is this: Aboriginal history IS the history of this country. It is our history too and what has been taken from the Djab Wurrung people has been taken from all of us.

“We are too blind, too callous, too arrogant to see it.”

Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said the tree that was cut down had been assessed as was found to not be culturally significant. This was after multiple cultural surveys and she expressed that no trees would be removed without the consent of the Djab Wurrung elders.

“The tree that was identified in media reports on Tuesday, usually referred to as the ‘Fiddleback Tree’, has been involved in multiple cultural surveys involving Djab Wurrung elders and has not been assessed as being culturally significant,” Ms Allan said in a statement. 

“In fact, the tree has been assessed by an arborist as being “maybe over 100 years old” and is highly unlikely to predate European settlement.

“The Directions Tree that was identified in the Federal Court proceeding is at the northern end of the alignment almost 10km away. It has not, and will not be removed.”

This article originally appeared on Over60.

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