Published: 20 December 2019

Legislative Council Thursday 21 November 2019

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, as other members have mentioned, this is basically completing the work started last year, which was quite rushed, when the Anglican Church made a decision to fund its obligations under the National Redress Scheme.  It needed to free up some cash and so it thought it would sell off a few churches and, by necessity the graveyards and burial grounds that were attached to the churches.

This was the reaction by the Government at the time to try to stop the Anglican Church, or certainly make it harder for it - which it has. 

The aim was achieved in that, but it has caught other people up in it and that has not necessarily been all positive.  I have had a number of representations from people quite concerned about aspects of the bill now before us.  I asked some questions of the Leader over recent months as the draft bill was out for consultation.  I do not have any issue with the majority of the changes, and I have no argument with the fact that we need to ensure there is protection of cremated remains and burial grounds up to a point.  Obviously, whether we like it or not, you are dead a long time and people do forget you over a period of time -

Ms Rattray - I am hoping not.

Ms FORREST - I can guarantee they will, given enough time.  The sad reality of death is that time moves on, people move on. 

There is increasing interest in having low-cost burials.  Some people do not wish to be cremated, but to actually be buried, and there is a greater and emerging interest in natural burials where the land is used for a relatively short time and then can be turned back to production or farmland or whatever.  This should be an option available to people.  As we do in birth, we should be given a full range of choices in death.  That is the point many of us have argued - from whether you want to talk about assisted dying or choices around your advance care directives and that period leading up to your death, and so, too, after your death. 

Some people will choose cremation, some burial.  Some will choose a very expensive coffin, some will choose a cardboard or homemade coffin.  I went to the Live Well Die Well Expo in Wynyard a couple of weekends ago.  They have a calendar made of people who have made their own coffins and some of them are quite interesting.  One was a Viking coffin - it had Viking horns on it and they had to take the horns off before it went through the crematorium because it would not quite fit with those still on.  People want to do their own thing.  They want to make their death quite memorable.  As the member for McIntyre is disappearing out the door, this will help people to maybe remember you for longer.  I still remember the story about a Irish guy who wanted this recording played as his coffin disappeared into the crematorium through the curtains.  They played and replayed a recording of him knocking, saying 'Let me out, let me out - I'm not done yet!' in his Irish accent.  He thought it was funny; I am not sure of how many people at the funeral thought it was that funny.  But people want to do their own thing and so we should give them a full range of choices as much as possible.

Cemetery managers being required to meet a fit and proper person test is not unreasonable. 

What is being requested of me by a number of people from around the state - one of them is a constituent of mine, others live in other parts of the state - is the opportunity to be able to establish natural burial grounds not necessarily on public, state-owned or council land.  Farmers often hive small sections off the edges of their properties for this purpose; they are willing to have a natural burial ground there and to basically covenant the land for a period.  To me, it seems eminently reasonable.  Land can change hands, but there is a requirement to disclose any easements or any other aspects that may limit its use or access of whatever, so why cannot we enable that to occur.

I asked the question about who owns the land at the Cornelian Bay Cemetery.  That is owned by the Crown and leased by Millingtons on a 50-year lease.  These people want to effectively establish a lease arrangement with a private landowner for the purposes of establishing a cemetery and not short-circuit any requirements regarding a cemetery manager.  I intend to propose an amendment to give effect to this.  The other point might depend on whether this amendment is successful or not.  I have been asked to put that forward, particularly if that amendment is not successful.  Basically those people are cut right out and unable to use public land.  The question is:  if private land was owned by a person willing to set the land aside for a burial ground - it might not be necessarily for natural burials but predominantly for natural burials - and they meet the requirements to be a cemetery manager and are willing to do the fit and proper person test and be the cemetery manager, could the landowner, and thus the cemetery manager, hire a person to manage the cemetery on a contract basis if that person also meets the requirements of a fit and proper person test?  Could they use private land in that way?  Again, you may still have the same concern if the land was sold.  Surely, if the land was sold with this lease arrangement in place, it is trying to find a way to enable them to use private land where private landowners are willing and able, but do not necessarily want to be the cemetery managers themselves, because it is something that often requires a unique set of skills and knowledge.

The easiest way to deal with this, I believe, is to remove the requirement for it to be on public- or council-owned land and allow it to be on land.  The cemetery manager, or whoever manages that burial ground, still has to go through all those requirements to meet the fit and proper person test and put in a proper application for a burial ground, which is all set out in the legislation.

I do not know if that amendment has been printed.  I only sent it through a little while ago.  It has arrived so I had better check it before it is circulated.

It is simply to remove that limitation to have a burial ground on public or council land.  Again, it is a matter of coming back to the full choice.

I also asked a question in September this year to the draft bill, how section 35 of the Burial and Cremation Act 2002 is to be interpreted in relation to holding of land in trust being taken to mean that the owner of the land must also be the manager of the cemetery.  This is getting to the point of private land ownership and who manages a cemetery.

The answer to the question I was given was -

Section 35 of the draft bill provides the cemetery manager is taken to hold the land trust which requires the cemetery manager to deal with the land as if they were a trustee.  Although it does not explicitly require that the cemetery manager own the land, in approving a person as a cemetery manager, it is open to the regulator to require the proposed cemetery manager to own the cemetery or land where the cemetery is to be established.  To hold the land in trust for the purposes of a cemetery requires the cemetery manager to have effective and long-term control of the land.  The final bill will clarify the land ownership requirements for cemetery managers.

That is what we are talking about here.

There are parts of private land set aside under covenants to protect natural species in forestry areas.  There are plenty of farmers who have done this and they are paid to lock it up basically to protect a certain biodiversity on their land.

Mrs Hiscutt - There is a little cemetery on the back of Doctors Rock, going into Wynyard.

Ms FORREST - There are only one or two graves there.

Mrs Hiscutt - Do you know how that is managed?  Are you aware of it?

Ms FORREST - No.  It is probably an individual person.  Obviously, it is if it is only one.  My neighbour in Wynyard had himself buried on his own property.  He dug his own grave only days before he died.  You have to have council approval because you do not want to contaminate waterways and things like that, and there are a few other health and safety issues to consider.  That can be done.  It might be a couple of related family members or whatever, but you can be buried on your own property.

I do not really see what the difference is.  There is a process to go through with the council, but what is the difference?

I will leave that matter to the Committee stage to prosecute further.  It just provides a greater range of choice about how and where we can be buried.


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