New bill securing cemetery control slammed for favouring the Catholic Church

New bill securing cemetery control slammed for favouring the Catholic Church
Image: NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

by ASPEN ABNER

 

A bill attempting to end “Sydney’s cemeteries war” by handing control of some of the city’s major cemeteries to the Catholic Church has been criticised for favouring the institution. 

Introducing the bill, Minister for Lands and Property, Steve Kamper, said it would “bring the cemetery wars to a close”.

The government was determined to address “the critical shortage of burial space in Sydney rather than continuing the fight over the control and management of crown cemeteries,” he said.

The Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria Trust Bill 2024 implements the two-operator model for the Crown cemeteries sector and gives the Church control of five cemeteries on Crown land.

The key highlights of this bill solidify the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT) as a charitable organisation, allow CMCT to provide burial services for people of all religions and lack thereof, establish a clear operational model, and support the development of new burial sites between CMCT and the government. 

But Greens MP Cate Faehrmann says the bill “ensures all future income derived from cemeteries operated by the Catholic Church, potentially worth many billions of dollars, will go to the Catholic Church.”

“The Catholic Church has been furiously lobbying both sides of politics for years to control a significant share of the Crown cemetery sector, and this bill gives them everything they’ve been demanding,” said Faehrmann.

“This disgraceful bill gives the Catholic Church everything they have been demanding and shows just how much power the Catholic Church still holds over politics in this state, including within the Minns Government.”

According to Faehrmann, the bill announced on Tuesday, creates a duopoly between the state-owned operator Metropolitan Memorial Parks and the Catholic Church.

“The Minister is well aware that by doing this, it essentially creates a duopoly in the burial business from which the Catholic Church stands to earn billions in income in the coming decades that should have gone to the Crown,” said Faehrmann. 

However, a representative from the Department of Planning, House and Infrastructure (DPHI) denied it was a duopoly, claiming the bill “does not create a competitive discrepancy between these two Crown operators in the sector, and will allow these strong Crown operators to compete with private operators.”

The Catholic Church would continue to have full control of the public-owned cemeteries in Kemps Creek, Liverpool, Varroville, Wallacia and a portion of Rookwood.

The revenue would then be transferred into a Catholic Church-controlled trust outside of government oversight. 

The bill was quickly passed on Tuesday evening, June 18, despite calls from the NSW cross bench calling for the government to put the legislation before an inquiry. 

“Shows just how much power the Catholic Church still holds over politics in this state”

The Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust manages five large cemeteries across western Sydney.

Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust spokesman Tim Allerton told AAP that the bill would not be handing anything over and had letters of support from over 15 faith groups.

“It is merely allowing the Catholic Church to continue to operate its current cemeteries as it has done since 1867,” he told AAP.

“The idea that there is billions to be made is rubbish.”

But Faehrmann said the “respectful thing for the Government to do would have been to send the Bill to Inquiry to give MPs from all sides of politics the opportunity to hear from a range of faith leaders.”

“It’s apparent that impacted stakeholders aren’t aware of the full ramifications of this bill, particularly that it hands control of a multibillion-dollar asset to the Catholic Church,” she said.

“This shows just how much power the Catholic Church still holds over politics in this state, including within the Minns Government.”

The representative from DPHI stated that consultation on the Bill occurred between CMCT and Metropolitan Memorial Parks – “Other [stakeholders] were not directly impacted by the legislation”.

In addition, DPHI is quoted to have letters of support for the Bill from 20 faith groups and 19 other faith groups represented on the advisory board of CMCT and were aware of the legislation, including Muslim Cemeteries Board (MCB) Muslim Community. 

“The Bill has enabled Crown cemetery operators to continue to operate and provide services to people of any faith and no faith, rather than being constrained by a limited trust purpose which, in the case of CMCT, would only allow for burial of those of Roman Catholic faith,” said the spokesperson. 

Faehrmann has stated, “All other faiths have handed over their trusts and assets to the Crown for the greater good. All except the Catholic Church, who instead have furiously resisted recommendations and fought every step of the way.”

“To all other faiths who willingly worked together and abolished their burial trusts, you should be absolutely livid about this deal. You have been conned.”

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