OPINION

Dead wrong: Why bureaucrats must not be allowed to take over cemeteries

Cemeteries and cemetery management could be handed over to bureaucrats. Picture: Shutterstock
Cemeteries and cemetery management could be handed over to bureaucrats. Picture: Shutterstock

One very dark night I was walking home from the pub and decided I'd take a shortcut through the cemetery.

And would you believe it, I fell six feet down into an empty grave. For half an hour, I tried and tried to lift myself out of that grave, but I was dead tired and it was very dark.

So, I snuggled up into one end of the grave and tried to get a good night's sleep. I was just drifting off when some drunk, likewise cutting through the graveyard, also fell down into the other end of this some hole.

After about 10 minutes of listening to this poor fool try and heave himself out of there, I made my presence known. I gently put my hand on his shoulder and said in a friendly voice "you'll never get out!" Somehow he did, in one great leap, and he ran off screaming and crying as if I'd said something mean.

You know this story is unlikely to be true in our great country as graves are not permitted to be left without being backfilled overnight ... well, with a coffin in them.

Some of you may know the NSW government is establishing a new entity called OneCrown to manage cemeteries that operate on Crown land. I am more than a little wary of this move.

The government will appoint an administrator to run the five Sydney cemetery trusts currently in operation and merge them into one.

According to the ABC, an independent review called the 11th Hour Report forecasted that existing Crown cemeteries would be closed to new burials in less than 10 years.

The report also noted that the trusts had a combined debt of $300 million, and therefore consolidation would be necessary to secure the financial future of the state's cemetery sector.

At first, this seemed a boring piece of news, until I did a little digging ... no pun intended.

It is true that four of these five Sydney cemetery trusts are losing big money.

However, the four that are losing money are the government-run trusts. The trust that is not losing money is the Catholic one.

This is the one Gladys Berejiklian's Liberal government wants to get its hands on. And, if a government can become grave robbers in NSW, they'll also become the body snatchers in other states in no time.

Jesus said "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God", but this is a case of Caesar taking what belongs to God.

For more than 150 years, the church has built up a perpetual care fund to ensure graves are left undisturbed into the future, and securing land for future grave sites.

And yet, despite an impressive record, faith operators will be dismissed from cemeteries and cemetery management will be handed over to a costly government bureaucracy.

A bureaucracy that has no record of caring for the resting place of the fameless dead, and zero experience in caring for graves.

According to Sydney's Archbishop Anthony Fisher: "Some people in government or bureaucracy would like to stop burials altogether and require everyone to be cremated.

"Some would like to reuse existing graves for additional burials. Some would even be willing to disturb old graves so as to use the land for development."

The archbishop also said Christians, Jews and Muslims - most of whom do not wish to be cremated - are united in their concern for the future of the graves of their loved ones.

No doubt some readers will argue that we can't just keep burying people forever. Eventually we will run out of room and the government is simply planning for the future.

Well, if estimates are even close regarding the number of people that have been buried in the ground throughout human history, we would all be living next to and on graveyards everywhere.

And yet, we are not. Towns in Europe that have existed for thousands of years still have only modest-sized cemeteries.

For many of us, the care and preservation of a loved one's grave is a work of love and mercy.

For a government to usurp all authority even into the grave is a loveless and merciless act.

Twitter: @frbrendanelee

This story Midweek Musings | Dead wrong: Why bureaucrats must not be allowed to take over cemeteries first appeared on The Canberra Times.