All cemeteries across metropolitan Sydney could be up for sale, with a $1 billion privatisation proposal being considered by the NSW government that involves handing control to the Catholic Church, The Australian reports.
The paper reports Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has been an active supporter of the proposal advocated by an investment advisory firm, Fabrico, which claims “a commercial way of thinking” is needed to tackle a burial-space shortage on crown land in greater Sydney.
Under the sell-off plan, Sydney’s four cemetery trusts, currently owned by the NSW government and operating on crown land, would be consolidated into a new company and leased for 99 years to Fabrico.
Fabrico would then seek to sublease management of the combined cemeteries covering all religious faiths to the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT) , which manages Australia’s largest cemetery at Rookwood in Sydney’s west, and is controlled by the Sydney Archdiocese.
The CMCT would manage the cemeteries in a commercial partnership with InvoCare, a large private funeral home and crematorium operator.
The proposed deal, outlined in detail by Fabrico executives at a CMCT board meeting in April, and put to NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet in July, could provide a $1 billion privatisation windfall or more to the state government.
But the unusual plan for a takeover of the city’s public cemeteries has already caused enormous internal ructions, including CMCT board resignations and protests to Archbishop Fisher that funeral costs will go up if cemetery trusts are privatised and lose their tax-exempt status as charities.
Another potential difficulty is that non-Catholic Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religious faiths have been shut out of consultations and could object to a Catholic management regime for all Sydney cemeteries.
Former Liberal leader John Hewson, who chairs the Northern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, said he had never heard of Fabrico and was “completely surprised to hear of the manoeuvring by the Church in relation to the management and governance of cemeteries.”
A spokeswoman for Archbishop Fisher said he had no comment to make when asked about his support for the proposal, the reasons for it, and whether there was any benefit in proceeding.
Catholic Church in $1bn plot to sell off Sydney’s cemeteries (The Australian)
Cemeteries boss quits over archbishop’s ‘interference’ (The Australian)