A TEMPORARY order banning work on Bathurst's planned go-kart track in McPhillamy Park could be extended until early May as Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley considers an application to permanently protect the site from development.
Ms Ley was welcomed onto the site by Wiradyuri elders on Friday and spent time learning the cultural significance of the area before later meeting Bathurst Regional Council staff and councillors in the Russell Street chambers.
On Thursday evening the minister met with representatives of the Bathurst Kart Club and also the Friends of McPhillamy Park lobby group that has been pressuring council to find a new site for the $4.5 million international-standard track.
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It's now more than two years since Bathurst Wiradyuri elders applied for Section 9 (temporary) and Section 10 (permanent) protection of the McPhillmay Park site under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act but Ms Ley conceded the matter had only been brought to her in the past fortnight or so.
After the first 30-day Section 9 protection order expires on April 4 Ms Ley has the option of issuing another 30-day order before a final decision must be made.
"I want to emphasise that today is a fact-finding mission," Ms Ley said before starting her tour of the subject area in McPhillamy Park.
"I have not come here with a conclusion about the future Section 10 application that logically follows a Section 9 application under the [Act].
"I'm grateful to all those who have communicated with me from this region and I respect the passion on two sides of this issue.
"I had some meetings last night and it's really important to spend some time on the site, particularly with the women, and I'm looking forward to doing that."
Ms Ley said when her department first received the application for protection the case was assigned to an independent reporter who undertook a "long process of consultation" before the report came across her desk.
She said the report had satisfied her that there was "significant Aboriginal history, culture heritage [on the site] and that it is under threat of injury or desecration".
"As someone who has watched this issue from afar and seen divisive issues in regional communities I'm sad to see division in this community and it's disappointing that it hasn't been able to be resolved by council and other normal representative practices, or indeed the state government," Ms Ley said.
Ms Ley said the Bathurst go-kart track debate was one of the largest campaigns she had seen in recent times "as far as emails, letters to me - and they've been genuine and they're been heartfelt".
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