Clash over cemetery site

Matthew Kirwan campaigning against a cemetery proposal on Heatherton Road wetlands.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

State MP Gabrielle Williams and federal Greens candidate Matthew Kirwan have clashed over the likelihood of a controversial proposal for a cemetery on Dandenong’s wetlands.

It follows heated public opposition by residents and Greater Dandenong Council against a Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (SMCT) proposal for burial grounds south of 1564 Heatherton Road.

Mr Kirwan, who is running in the seat of Bruce, reacted against the Government’s 2022 State Budget listing of $71 million towards a “new memorial cemetery (Dandenong)”.

He posted on Instagram that the funding for a “cemetery on the Dandenong Creek floodplains is outrageous”.

“The proposal needs to be stopped by the State Government now to prevent flooding like what has happened recently in NSW and Queensland.

“Flood risks to Dandenong residents and the local environment are already increasing due to climate change already without this crazy idea.”

Ms Williams, the MP for Dandenong, replied: “This proposal is by no means a done deal, and your description of it is deliberately misleading and politically motivated.

“I understand it’s election time, but you should be judged on your honesty as well as your values.”

The funding was “not attached to a specific site”, Ms Williams wrote.

It was funding “allocated over 4 years for a new cemetery in the Dandenong region, based on the identification of a regional need”.

Ms Williams stated the wetlands site was “one of the potential sites” identified by the SMCT.

It would require a planning scheme amendment, “strict” environmental assessments and a flood risk assessment as well as community consultation.

“I share the environmental/flood risk concerns which is why I’m eager for a full, detailed and proper analysis of any proposal and community consultation,” Ms Williams stated.

Mr Kirwan, a former Greater Dandenong councillor, told Star Journal that the wetlands proposal was the only one “publicly on the table” and “still bizarrely not yet been hit on the head by the State Government”.

He noted that the SMCT’s website refers to a Heatherton Road Working Group headed by one of the trust’s members.

“If there are other sites being considered, where are they?

“When is (Ms Williams) going to go beyond sharing concerns and stand up for Dandenong residents and publicly oppose this irresponsible proposal?”

Greater Dandenong chief executive John Bennie, after the council contacted Ms Williams, told a council meeting on 9 May that he did not believe the Budget money was allocated to the “specific project”.

“We are seeking from the Department of Health a more detailed clarification of whether this is a more general allocation and not a specific one.

“There is no evidence at all that the allocation relates to the sensitive site that has been the subject of much public consideration.

“Ms Williams acknowledges the sensitivity of this particular proposal and has indicated to me that she shares many of the concerns that this Council, Councillors and the community hold in relation to that particular proposal.”

SMCT has been searching for a further site to add to its nine cemeteries in the South East.

Three of its current cemeteries – Springvale, Dandenong and Bunurong – are in Greater Dandenong.