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Labor Matter of Public Importance - Perpetual Interment Rights

26 September 2018

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the member for Lyons for bringing this matter of public importance debate on today. I had not really thought much about perpetual interment rights until this morning's MPI came through. It is a very interesting matter of public importance; very contemporary to the current debate. People will 
be talking about this in the context of the Anglican Church's plans. 

I thought: what is an interment right? New South Wales legislated in 2014 to provide a perpetuity of interment right. In simple terms, an interment right is a contract with a cemetery operator that allows the right holder to undertake burials in a particular grave or other allotment in the cemetery. The holder of the interment right can determine who can be buried in the grave or other allotment. An interment right is an interest in the land, but the right holder does not become the owner of the land. Interment rights apply to burials in the earth and to burials in mausoleums, crypts and vaults. They also apply to burials of cremated remains in the earth, columbarium or niche wall. 

Ms Butler, thank you. It was a surprise to me that we did not yet have a framework in place in Tasmania. I acknowledge what the Minister for Justice has said about moving towards modernising our Burial and Cremation Act. This has been precipitated by the Anglican Church's decision to participate in the redress scheme and to fund their participation through the sale of some Anglican Church properties. There is no question that while it is necessary for the Anglican Church to participate in the redress scheme, it has caused distress in communities around Tasmania. 

St Barnabas Church, South Arm, is potentially on the market. We have a community in South Arm that is working very hard to retain that church and its burial grounds and looking at some quite innovative ways of doing that. 

The High Court found in 1908 that after a burial, a corpse forms part of the land in which it is buried. In Australian law the right to remain buried does not last forever. It is interesting when you have a look at the different cultural approaches to death, dying and burial. Over the winter break I was in Greece. The connections, the ability to point to a patch of ground in Greece and say, 'That is where my grandmother's mother is buried; that is her grave', is a part of the history that is deeply embedded in a culture where landscape and family are connected. If you spoke to people in Greece about the possibility of a burial place not being in perpetuity, it would be unacceptable in every way because of how much value is placed on the remains of family and where they are buried.

I grew up on Stradbroke Island, where there is an extraordinary cemetery, the Dunwich Cemetery. This goes to the importance of burial places to our understanding of history as well as their importance to family members. The Dunwich Cemetery has the graves of the typhoid victims who came over in the 1800s. People who died on Stradbroke Island were buried in Dunwich. It has heartbreaking stories of babies and whole families that were wiped out by typhoid. That cemetery is an extremely important part of Australia's history and of our understanding of how hard life could be for people who were brought out as convicts or free settlers. We need to respect these burial places for a whole range of reasons - cultural, historical and personal. We strongly support moves to strengthen the Burial and Cremation Act.

I also found out when I was reading up on your MPI topic this morning, Ms Butler, that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried in a pauper's grave in Vienna. After 10 years, his grave was excavated, unlike the graves of aristocrats in Vienna. His burial place in history is unknown, but Mozart's legacy endures well past having a place to go back to, to recognise his life and death at his burial.

I want to make a final point about respecting human remains and historical remains. This House has debated in the past the remains of Aboriginal people who are in various locations around Tasmania. Aboriginal Tasmanians have had to endure their ancestors' remains being taken off the island to museums. There has been a struggle to get them back. When we are talking about the remains of post-settlement remains, we need to respect that Aboriginal people have had enormous disrespect shown for their history and their ancestors' remains. In Aboriginal spirituality, to not have the remains of a loved one in the landscape is a disconnection of that person's spirit from their culture. It is very important that when we talk about respecting human remains, it is historical and it is not just about cemeteries.