Faith leaders unite to end cemeteries dispute

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Catholic cemeteries briefing
Labor Property spokesman, Steve Kamper, Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria CEO Peter O’Meara, Muslim Cemeteries Board president Kazi Ali and board member Jasim Ahmed and NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

Over 20 Muslim community leaders from across western Sydney have come together at a public meeting, calling on the NSW Government not to push ahead with a planned takeover of the management of Sydney cemeteries from faith-based operators including Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria.

The 5 December meeting brought together 75 people at Kemps Creek Cemetery, which is owned by the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT).

NSW Property Minister, Ms Melinda Pavey is committed to pushing ahead with plans to merge all five Sydney cemetery trusts under one single government-controlled model called One Crown.

Respect for all faith traditions.

Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria said the move would effectively end its 154 years of commitment to providing the people of Sydney with dignified burials which respect different faith traditions.

The President of the Muslim Cemeteries Board (MCB), Mr Kazi Ali said the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust has provided much needed support to not only the Muslim community, but other faiths as well in multicultural Sydney.

Mr Ali said this was clear across all the cemeteries which CMCT operates at Kemps Creek and Rookwood.

He fears that a government-controlled operator would not show the same respect towards burial customs, which extends to those left destitute and without any family support.

Kazi Ali
The President of the Muslim Cemeteries Board, Kazi Ali. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

“An international student may come to Australia and sadly they may die here”, Mr Ali explained.

“The government doesn’t pay anything- the Muslim community has to raise the money and sometimes repatriates the body overseas. When we bury them, we buy the land and Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria organises the digging of the grave. That’s why our partnership is so important with Catholic Cemeteries”.

The Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria, Mr Peter O’Meara said his organisation is best placed to respond to the needs of the disadvantaged and it is in a much better financial position than other operators.

“We are the most affordable and the most efficient operator across the east coast of Australia”, he said.

“The question for Minister Pavey is why would you take the most affordable and the most efficient and put it into a business that hasn’t been able to achieve those sorts of outcomes?”

“It just doesn’t make sense and the only reason is that they want to get rid of faith-based associations from this sector”.

NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns
NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns speaking at a community meeting for Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

NSW Opposition Leader Mr Chris Minns told the meeting, the government has consistently ignored the concerns of faith-based communities on this issue.

“I think the government has showed a lack of respect for the history and the near universal need for a spiritual connection at the end of ones life or the passing of a loved one”, he said.

“The Catholic Cemeteries Trust has forged partnerships with waves of immigrant communities from Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism- all have been respected and all the individuals have had their needs accommodated”.

“The new Premier of NSW, Dominic Perrottet has an opportunity now to look at this matter- to sit down and talk with religious leaders and stakeholders and resolve the issue”.

Mr Minns said if Labor wins the next state election in 2023, it would ensure that the CMCT can continue playing a key role in cemeteries management in the state.

Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria CEO, Peter O’Meara said burial space in greater Sydney is in rapid decline and his organisation has plans to open new cemeteries at Wallacia and Varroville to help it meet rising demand.

But the NSW Government has blocked the plans with no apparent justification.

Mr O’Meara said there had been a lot of unhelpful media commentary over recent months, falsely claiming that the Catholic Church was generating massive profits through its management of cemeteries.

“Any financial concessions that may flow to us as a not-for-profit organisation, we pass on to our communities which in turn leads to more affordable services.”, he said.

The Muslim Cemeteries Board President, Mr Kazi Ali said he strongly supports the ongoing leadership of the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, to ensure the needs of faith groups are met.

“If faith groups are removed from cemetery management, that will impact upon our ability to bury our loved ones with religious traditions and at an affordable cost”, he said.

Community meeting to oppose government takeover of cemeteries
Representatives from over 20 Muslim community groups at a briefing led by Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria to oppose a government takeover of cemeteries. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

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