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Burial And Cremation Amendment Bill 2018

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 22 November 2018

Tags: Legislation

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:

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.