Have they lost the plot? NSW cemetery sector calls for rent-a-grave option

May 28, 2023
Cemetery sites proposed to be put on lease. Source: Getty

Australian burial plots are filling up and NSW’s cemetery sector is proposing a radical change for burial sites, saying that graves should be on lease.

According to departing OneCrown Cemeteries chief Lee Shearer, the government should consider leasing burial grounds for 99 years as a way to resolve Greater Sydney’s increasing gravesite availability problems.

“NSW has the worst of every environment: non-renewable tenure, we’re running out of land and we can’t find land for the living,” Shearer told The Australian.

Shearer says rent-a-grave options are already happening across Australia and the world, with Orthodox and Muslim religions already accepting the practice.

“The use of existing infrastructure with appropriate respect for heritage and not disturbing existing perpetual graves need to be in the mix – with 99-year renewable tenure of areas of renewed cemeteries, this provides a pathway,” Shearer added.

Those on Crown land are expected to have their space exhausted in the next 30 years, but in NSW it’s been predicted to happen in the next 10 years.

Given that Australia is expected to double its current death count by 2070, Shearer is saying a “frank discussion” is needed about the dwindling burial spaces.

“We need to have a different way. There needs to be a frank discussion in what we do in this space rather than perpetual graves. We have been fighting for cemetery lands since 1867,” she said.

“These cemeteries aren’t accepted by communities in their backyards. We can see this through the lengthy pathway it has taken to approve Wallacia and Varroville.”

In most Australian states and territories, burial regulations state that a grave must be maintained indefinitely, meaning that the lease on a grave site is everlasting.

However, the specific rules governing these leases, known as interment rights, vary significantly depending on the state.

For example, in Tasmania, individuals have the choice to lease a grave for a fixed period, referred to as renewable tenure. In Victoria, leases are strictly permanent and cannot be renewed. In Western Australia, on the other hand, grave leases are renewable exclusively, allowing for extended periods of use.

With the current cost of living crisis, an increase in mortality rates, and the lack of burial plots in cemeteries, in addition to the possibility of renting burial plots, many people have also started considering eco-friendly or “green” burials.

Per the Green Burial Council‘s website, a “green” burial “is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and preservation of habitat.”


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