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Court ruling confirms Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust’s charitable status

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Rookwood Cemetery. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust has welcomed a ruling by the NSW Court of Appeal that confirms its status as a charitable organisation, putting an end to Sydney’s “cemetery wars” at last.

CMCT manages several not-for-profit cemeteries including Rookwood, Liverpool, and Kemps Creek.

It took its complaint to the New South Wales Court of Appeal after the NSW Auditor General Margaret Crawford repeatedly attempted to compel the trust to submit to an investigation over the use of its funds, after advice from Treasury.

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The judgement in favour of CMCT is further confirmation of its independence following resolution last year of a dispute with the previous NSW Government in which it sought to dismantle the trust and merge it with four under-performing trusts into one government-operated entity.

CMCT chief executive officer Lauren Hardgrove said she was “extremely pleased” with the court’s decision confirming the existence of the charitable trust.

“This has now brought clarity to the situation and enables Catholic Cemeteries to continue to carry on this important corporal work of mercy for the people of Sydney, as we have done so successfully for over 157 years,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Lands and Property Steve Kamper welcomed the decision handed down by the NSW Court of Appeal.

“The department is reviewing the decision to determine appropriate next steps,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“The minister welcomes the unanimous decision which has provided direction on the matter.”

A 16 February statement by the trust said as a publicly transparent charity since 1902, its audited accounts are provided annually to the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission, Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW and the NSW Treasury for review.

“CMCT has always maintained the NSW auditor general had no power to audit charities,” the statement said.

“It proposed new arrangements following the [court] judgement to facilitate the auditor general’s oversight.

“If CMCT had complied earlier with the auditor general’s requests, CMCT would have lost its charitable status, and the general public would have endured higher cemetery prices.

“Indeed, today’s judgement highlights it would have been reckless to do so.

“The court decision means that cemetery operator arrangements currently being finalised must incorporate the existence of this long-term charitable trust.

“The trust will continue to manage its funds independently of NSW Treasury.”

Nearly 20,000 people signed the Save Our Graves petition in 2021 which deputy CEO of Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria Damien Fur-long said at the time “showed the former government loud and clear that religious groups have a role to play in honouring the dead and caring for those who’ve lost a loved one.”

Last June Kamper signed the letter of appointment for CMCT to run the new Macarthur Memorial Park at Varroville, which is expected to be completed in 2025.

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