The State Government has accused Tasmania’s Anglican Church of “scaremongering” after it said changes to the Burial Act were effectively a $20,000 “death tax”.
- The State Government moves to allay public concern over the future of graveyards
- Their proposed changes to the Burial Act was labelled a “death tax” by the Anglican Church
- The Government dismisses this as “scaremongering”
Earlier this year, the state’s Anglican Church announced it would sell more than 100 properties to help fund its redress scheme for survivors of sexual abuse.
In response to community concerns over the sales and the impact on loved ones’ graves, the State Government reviewed the legislation around the governance of cemeteries.
On Sunday morning, the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania said there would be an “unintended response” to the proposed changes to the Burial Act.
It claimed the cost of burial plots would rise by between $15,000 and $20,000.
“Should the Amendment Bill proceed in its current form, there will be an unintended consequence that most Tasmanians will find it unaffordable to be buried with their loved ones or in their local cemetery due to the necessary costs of managing a cemetery under the proposed legislation,” said Bishop Richard Condie.
He said under the proposed legislation the responsibility for the maintenance of a burial plot would shift from a family to a cemetery manager and so a fee would be charged.
“Our sums indicate that this will cost approximately $140 per plot per year for 125 years, or $17,500,” he said.
“This will effectively function like a de facto ‘death tax’ on the residents of rural and regional Tasmania.”
Church accused of raising fear for the dead
But the State Government disagreed.
“It is disappointing that such an important issue to communities across Tasmania has now become the subject of scaremongering,” said Attorney-General Elise Archer.
“There is no tax and the reality is that only the church can decide how they price their plots.
“The Government expects the Anglican Church would have engaged with the consultation process in good faith.”
Fellow minister Michael Ferguson agreed.
“I want to be clear, there is no tax, that’s not what the policy is, and I don’t want to see any misinformation in the community,” he said.
“What we are doing is ensuring that people of Tasmania have not got short-term access to their loved ones’ remains but long-term access to cemeteries so they can remember their loved ones.
“I refute any suggestion of a tax.”
Since the Anglican Church announced its property sell-off, the fate of graves has been a major concern. (Rick Eaves)
Church’s money warning a ‘bit rich’
The Church also drew the ire of the State Opposition, with deputy Labor leader Michelle O’Byrne saying it was a “bit rich” for the Anglican Church to criticise the prospect of someone charging to undertake plot maintenance when it planned to keep the bulk of the money made from its asset sales.
“Given the Anglican Church has decided to respond to the important obligation of redress by selling far more properties than it needs to, to raise money just for redress and also for the church, I think it’s a bit rich for them to come out now and criticising other people for making money out of this issue,” she said.
Ms Archer also pointed out the current legislation already allowed some of the changes the church was worried about.
“It’s important to highlight the Burial and Cremation Act 2002 already requires cemetery managers to maintain the cemetery, allow public access and honour exclusive rights of burial,” she said.
‘We’ll have to charge more for burials’
Bishop Condie also said the changes to the legislation would force the church to charge more for burial plots, and denied scaremongering.
“We have to set costs for burials that are going to allow us to maintain the cemeteries,” he said.
“We’ve been able to do that affordably in the past under the current Burials and Cremations Act but the new provisions in the proposed Act means we’re going to have to charge that amount of money.
“It’s not scaremongering because it’s simply the cost.”
Bishop Condie said the Anglican Church would only consider a price ceiling for the burial plots if the regulations in the legislation made it “economically possible”.
He added that the Church was supportive of most of the draft legislation, despite its gripes with some aspects.
Public feedback for the proposed changes to the legislation closes today.