Rookwood Necropolis Amendment Bill
The Hon. TONY KELLY (Minister for Rural Affairs, Minister for Local Government, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister for Lands) [3.50 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
This bill will help provide for the sustainable management of Rookwood Cemetery now and for future generations.
It represents the Government's commitment to ensuring that the legislative framework that governs the management of this important reserve is as effective as possible.
The bill will enable land to be set aside within the reserve areas of Rookwood Necropolis for denominational crematoria.
It allows the tenant of the existing crematorium to appeal to the Land and Environment Court by against a valuation made by the Valuer-General.
It also clarifies certain provisions relating to the revenue stream of the Joint Committee of the Necropolis Trustees, (the JCNT) and updates the Necropolis Act to accord with current legislative drafting principles.
Before discussing the proposed amendments in more detail, I would like to provide members with some background about the Rookwood Necropolis.
As many members would be aware, the Rookwood Necropolis was established in 1868.
It is one of Australia's oldest cemeteries and one of the largest dedicated burial grounds in the world, being some 283 hectares in total area.
The burial grounds have been in continuous use since its creation, with more than 800,000 bodies interred at Rookwood.
Rookwood is more than a cemetery. The area preserves a record of our architectural and social history, and is one of the reasons why Rookwood is a popular tourist attraction.
A Permanent Conservation Order protects 81 hectares which encompasses one of the largest Victorian era public cemeteries in the world.
But it is the principal role of the Rookwood Necropolis, as a city of the dead, which has given rise to the amendments placed before the House today.
Within the parameters of the Necropolis, there are several denominational reserve trusts including a General trust. These groups represent a wide range of religious and national groups which manage dedicated lands for burial purposes.
The various denominational reserve trusts at Rookwood , like many other cemetery trusts, are grappling with the problem of decreasing burial space.
The trusts have specifically allocated geographic areas for burial.
Based on current burial trends, some trusts have only enough land available for two to three years of interments, while others may have 20 to 30 years.
The trusts are exploring a variety of options to help them to manage their reserves for the future.
In managing available burial space, each trust is affected by the burial rites and rituals observed by those interred within its respective reserve area.
For those faiths that allow cremation, this option will extend the viability of existing cemetery space, by reducing the land required for interment
While this bill proposes that each denominational reserve trust has the ability to set aside land for a crematorium, the Government believes it is unlikely that every trust would seek to build a crematorium.
In determining whether to proceed with the construction of a crematorium, a trust would undertake an evaluation of the project to ensure that the proposal is viable.
Any trust that seeks to build a crematorium would also be responsible for funding the construction of the facility and for obtaining the appropriate building consents and planning permissions.
The JCNT is a management body created to maintain the infrastructure, such as roads and drainage, across the entire area of Rookwood cemetery.
These works are funded by contributions from each of the denominational reserve trusts, and rent from the existing crematorium. The rental payments from the existing crematorium provide a substantial portion of the funds used by the Joint Committee for maintenance.
The current legislation provides that the rental payable by the tenant of the existing crematorium may be calculated in two ways.
The rent may be based on 10% of the value of the land area of the crematorium, or based on 5% of the imputed revenue of the crematorium.
Where a difference exists between the two calculations, the higher figure is used. Historically, the land value has been higher.
The bill will establish a review mechanism for the parties directly affected by the land valuation. Such a mechanism did not previously exist.
Both the Joint Committee of Necropolis Trustees and the tenant of the existing crematorium will be able to appeal to the Land and Environment Court in relation to the valuation accepted by the Valuer-General.
This represents a more equitable process, and demonstrates to Government's ongoing commitment to ensure an effective legislative framework to administer the Rookwood Necropolis.
This bill also proposes to clarify the way that the Joint Committee determines the contributions payable by the reserve trusts, the process for approving these determinations and the timeframe for payment.
This will enable both the Joint Committee and the reserve trusts to better administer their finances and plan for the future.
In order to ensure that all facilities operating in the Necropolis make a contribution to the upkeep and management of the cemetery, the proposed amendments also provide for any denominational crematoria to pay a regulated fee to the Joint Committee based on the number of cremations carried out.
This fee will not apply to the existing crematorium, and is not intended to be a disincentive to cremation activities.
Rather, it is intended to safeguard the revenue stream of the Joint Committee to ensure that it can continue to maintain shared infrastructure within the cemetery grounds at an appropriate level.
Finally, the opportunity has been taken to modernise the language of the Act.
This bill includes a number of consequential amendments ensuring that references reflect the terminology of the current Crown Lands Act 1989 rather than the repealed Crown Lands Consolidation Act 1913.
The bill addresses the need for greater flexibility in managing available burial space by providing denominational reserve trusts with the ability to establish crematoria should certain preconditions exist.
These amendments will not provide a solution for every reserve trust or every faith in managing available burial space.
But they do provide new options for those who do want to explore this option to improve the longevity of this historic cemetery.
Trustees of cemetery reserves are taking up the challenge of managing these spaces for the future.
This bill will assist trustees in carrying out their job by providing them with new options, and clarifying existing practices.
I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS [3.50 p.m.]: On behalf of the Opposition, I indicate that the Rookwood Necropolis Amendment Bill will not be opposed by the Opposition. The objectives of the bill include provisions to enable additional crematoria to be constructed, subject to the normal planning controls on the Rookwood site. It also provides for the right of appeal of a lessee of the crematorium to the Land and Environment Court in respect of the determination of rent based on land value for the existing crematorium site. The bill allows for a levy for cremations for the denominational crematoria that may be constructed in the future. I note that the levy will not affect the existing crematorium.
Rookwood Necropolis Cemetery, like most cemeteries in the Sydney metropolitan area, is currently experiencing logistical concern about the decreasing available burial places. The Opposition acknowledges that this amendment to the Necropolis Act 1901 is only one response to the shortage of available burial spaces. Rookwood Necropolis was established in the 1860s and is one of the largest and oldest cemeteries in the southern hemisphere. Originally it was a full-blown Victorian extravaganza, replete with fountains, canals, mausoleum, lavish gardens and funerary sculptures which, due to the ravages of time, vandalism and insufficient security, became overgrown and menacing until the Federal Government came to its aid with extensive renovations under the Federal Governments Federation, Cultural and Heritage Projects Program.
Rookwood Necropolis Cemetery, where more than one million people have been interred, sits on some 300 hectares of land and is one of the largest burial grounds in the southern hemisphere and probably the world. The headstones and monuments reflect the history of the colony of New South Wales and the development of the city of Sydney. The heritage value of the cemetery is of such significance that it is protected by an Act of Parliament. Six denominational trusts and the Joint Committee of Necropolis Trustees manage the Rookwood area. All trust officers employ their own staff and keep their own records. Maintenance of the cemetery is funded by the organisations which do not receive government assistance. More than 80 religious and cultural groups use Rookwood as a final resting place for their loved ones. Funerary customs, brought here from all over the world, reflect our multicultural society.
The committee oversees the maintenance of joint infrastructure such as roads and drainage within the area of the Necropolis. Currently, the only crematorium at Rookwood is subject to a statutory lease to a private company due to expire in 2025. The trust is currently funded by rental paid by the existing crematorium tenants, as well as by levies paid by the denominational trusts, which is in accordance with the criteria established by the current legislation. Any new denominational trust establishing a crematorium will also contribute a fee or levy for each cremation. The levy will initially be set at $100 per cremation, indexed to the consumer price index. The Catholic Cemetery Board has been pursuing this matter with the Government and intends to establish a crematorium at Rookwood on land held by it in trust to encourage cremation within the Catholic faith. The crematorium will be a state-of-the-art facility and will utilise modern technology. The Opposition also recognises that this is not a suitable solution for all religious groups, but for those that permit cremation the amendment will provide one option to assist the efficient management of burial space. The Opposition commends the bill to the House.
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES [3.54 p.m.]: The Rookwood Necropolis Amendment Bill amends the Necropolis Act 1901 in order to do a number of things including: to facilitate additional crematoria to be constructed, subject to planning controls; to provide a right to the lessee of the Rookwood crematorium to appeal to the Land and Environment Court in respect of the determination of rent based on land value for the existing crematorium site; and to allow for a levy for cremations for denominational crematoria. I welcome the changes made to the Necropolis Act—two Greek words meaning the city of the dead—by this bill. With the one million people who have been interred, buried or cremated there it really is a large city of the dead, one of the largest cities in Australia.
The Rookwood Necropolis Cemetery was established in 1868. Apparently, it is one of the largest cemeteries in the southern hemisphere, comprising 283 hectares in total. The burial grounds have been in continuous use since the cemetery's inception. Interestingly, a permanent conservation order currently protects 81 hectares of the cemetery. It should also be noted that this is one of the very fine places where one can see some of the best of the ancient forms of roses growing in Australia because all of the very old and beautifully perfumed roses have been growing for more than a century. The cemetery is managed by six denominational trusts and the Joint Committee of Necropolis Trustees, a committee which oversights the maintenance of joint infrastructures such as the roads and drainage within the area of the Necropolis. It is also the home of some fine gravestones and interesting forms of burial that has been seen over the past 150 years.
Rookwood is also the burial place of many people who were reinterred there from the existing Cathedral burial ground space between where St Andrews Cathedral and the Town Hall stand today. Bodies that were buried in that cemetery were taken and reinterred in the Rookwood Necropolis. Within the parameters of the Necropolis there are various denominational reserve trusts, including a general trust. Each of those religious and national groups manage dedicated land for burial purposes. As pointed out in the second reading, and as an obvious consequence of the phenomena of increasing populations, the trusts are grappling with the problem of decreasing burial space. The Parliamentary Secretary pointed out that burial trends tend to indicate some trusts have only enough land available for two or three years of interments while others have 20 to 30 years left.
I have observed in cemeteries around the world that some graveside are only as long as the upper bone in the upper leg and that the bodies, after drying out, are compressed and compacted into the length of an ossuary, which is about two feet long. The bill makes provision for land to be set aside. Some cemeteries of the world prefer vertical burials rather than laying them out horizontally in order to get more burials per square hectare, even though they might be double and triple-decker graves. This bill makes provision for the land to be set aside within the Necropolis for the purpose of denominational crematoria. Any trust that seeks to build a crematorium will be responsible for funding the construction of the facility and obtaining the necessary building consents and planning permissions. As an aside, the Catholic Cemetery Board has been pursuing the matter with the Government for some time, and intends to establish a crematorium at Rookwood on land held by it in trust to encourage cremation within the Catholic faith.
When I was young all the priests argued about Catholic people being cremated, that with the resurrection of the body all the bodily parts would need to be in one place. However, I argued at that time that all the body parts were present in that little jug on grandma's shelf. I also say to the Leader of the House that in those days we used to argue that the more Catholics who were cremated the better. It is acknowledged, however, that not all denominational trusts will proceed with the construction of crematoria. I note that there is only one crematorium at Rookwood which is currently certainly oversubscribed. I have conducted services at Rookwood for several hundred people and note that additional crematoria are needed in the area.
The Joint Committee of Necropolis Trustees is currently funded by rental payments made by existing crematorium tenants, in accordance with criteria established by the current legislation as well as by levies paid by denominational trusts. As was pointed out in the Minister's second reading speech, the current legislation provides that the rental payable by the tenant and the existing crematorium may be calculated in two ways. It may be based on 10 per cent of the value of the land area of the crematorium or 5 per cent of the imputed revenue of the crematorium. Where there is a difference between the two calculations, the higher figure is used. Historically, the land value has been higher. However, with this funny language called English, it is quite unusual to speak about a tenant in the Rookwood crematorium. A bill established to review mechanisms for the parties is directly affected by the land valuation. Such a mechanism did not previously exist.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.