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Burial And Cremation Amendment Bill 2018 - Second Reading

22 November 2018

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens 
will be supporting the bill. We are having this debate today as a result 
of a momentous decision made by the Anglican Church in the context of the 
National Redress Scheme to provide a measure of compensation and justice 
to survivors of past sexual abuse.

Since this issue arose in the public debate and there has been, right 
across Tasmania, concern in rural and regional communities about what this 
might mean for places that most of us regard as sacred sites. It is not 
like other public lands or privately-owned lands, or even church-owned 
lands. Cemeteries are special places and they are sacred ground.

Where I grew up on Stradbroke Island, there is a cemetery, the Dunwich 
Cemetery, and it is so much more than a final resting place. It is an 
historic site because it contains the graves of the typhus victims. When 
people were sent to Australia or emigrated in the 1800s, there was a 
typhus outbreak and people were kept in ships off the Queensland coastline 
at a place called Peel Island. Peel Island was near Stradbroke Island and 
near the Dunwich Cemetery. As a child I remember walking through the 
Dunwich Cemetery. It was one of those epiphany moments that we have as a 
child when you are reminded or you learn how fragile life. Dunwich 
Cemetery has whole families laid out. Two-week-old babies, three 
generations of a family who had emigrated to Australia and did not make it 
past the quarantine ship.

Similarly, over the winter break, I had the good fortune to go to Greece. 
In Greece burial sites are extremely important to generations of families. 
They are woven into each family's story. They are places that the younger 
generations will visit. They will know where grandmother's grave is on 
the island of Paxos, for example. That grave becomes central to their 
understanding of who they are, where they came from. Their sense of 
history in Greece is often tied to their family's history. Their family's 
history is defined in part by where their ancestors' remains are laid. 

Across cultures burial grounds are sacred sites -

Ms Archer - Samoa, they have them in their front yards.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, or backyards. By interjection, Attorney-General, how 
different it is in Greece. In western society, where we grew up, a 
cemetery is often a reasonably sized parcel of land but in Greece great 
grandmother can be buried in the backyard under the water tank.

I thank the departmental officers and members of the minister's staff who 
provided us with a briefing the other day on the changed amendments bill. 
I recognise there were some substantive changes, in fact numerous new 
clauses inserted in the legislation to provide us with the legislation we 
are debating today.

This amendment bill establishes a regulator role for cemeteries who will 
continue to be the director for local government; it allows the regulator 
to impose conditions on the alternative use or sale of a cemetery and the 
protection of war veterans' graves. It is in that context that I 
acknowledge the foreshadowed amendment put forward by the member for Lyons, 
Ms Butler, which would provide further protection for those incredibly 
important resting places. 

This amendment bill increases the length of time from the last burial 
before a cemetery can be closed from the current 30 years to 50 years and 
requires cemetery managers to obtain approval from the regulator to close 
the cemetery. It imposes a default time period of a century, but with the 
power to reduce on a case-by-case basis since the last interment before 
the cemetery manager can remove monuments, apply to lay the cemetery out 
as a park or garden, or apply to exhume and reverently reinter human 
remains. 

This amendment bill should provide a measure of reassurance to communities 
that should a resting place, a cemetery, be sold or change hands or 
transferred, there is a continuity through the establishment of a body 
corporate to have responsibility for that resting place, and that is a 
significant improvement of the legislation in this context of the Anglican 
Church's sale. 

I note what Mr O'Byrne said about the different definitions of 'senior 
next of kin'. We have here the Regulations for the Burial and Cremations 
Act. These were put out in 2015 and have a definition of 'senior next of 
kin' which is longer and somewhat different from the definition in the 
amendment bill we are debating today. Similarly, there is no definition 
in the amendment bill of the term 'spouse'. The Attorney-General and I 
and officers have talked about this and have foreshadowed an amendment 
that would insert a clause 4 in paragraph (g) that omits (3b) and inserts 
instead: [TBC]

Spouse includes the other party to a significant relationship within the 
meaning of the Relationships Act.

In my conversation with the Attorney-General we agreed that she could 
clarify that in the second reading debate. 'Spouse' in the regulations 
includes 'the other party to a significant relationship within the meaning 
of the Relationships Act 2003', but these regulations provide definitions 
for the purposes of these regulations. It does not say it in the 
principal act but in these regulations 'spouse' is defined thus. If the 
Attorney-General could provide some clarity about whether she believes it 
is necessary, perhaps to be more specific about that and include a 
definition of 'spouse', that would be helpful. 

I would like to ask the Attorney-General if there has been further 
consultation with the Anglican Church and Bishop Condie over this final 
iteration of the amendment bill. Clearly there has been a completely 
understandable and justifiable amount of pressure put on the bishop and 
the church over the announcement that they would be selling church 
properties. I have no doubt the bishop particularly felt very stressed as 
a result of the public reception to the Anglican Church's announcement and 
the deep fear within regional communities particularly about what this 
would mean for their sacred ground. I acknowledge that the Anglican 
Church has made the right decision in relation to being a party to the 
National Redress Scheme and accepting its responsibility for the role the 
church played in the suffering of children, the lifelong trauma, the loss 
of life of people who did not live the full life they might otherwise have 
lived had they not been abused as children at the hands of institutions, 
including the Anglican Church.

We were pleased to have the briefing with departmental officers and the 
minister's office and feel that if there are issues with these provisions 
we are debating today they can be dealt with through the review process, 
which is not yet finalised. This bill has a measure of urgency about it 
because of the process of national redress and the decision the Anglican 
Church has made. Beyond that, these amendments strengthen the Burial and 
Cremation Act and it is on that basis that we will be supporting this 
legislation. 

It is a good amendment bill. There were questions put by Mr O'Byrne on 
behalf of some stakeholders and it will be interesting to hear the 
Attorney-General's response to those questions, and I commend the Attorney-
General on this legislation and indicate we strongly support it.