John Hewson, writing in the Saturday Paper about church, state, the separation of powers and what that might have to with cemeteries. 

 

"Rumours are rife in the sector about Perrottet’s activism on the curious issue of cemetery management, most conspicuously trotting Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher to meetings with Gladys Berejiklian, when she was premier."

 

Hewson argues the separation of church and state has always been a foundational element of our political system. The constitution of Australia prevents the Commonwealth from establishing any religion or requiring a religious test for any office. This section of the constitution (section 116) does not apply to states, however: they are free to establish their own religions. Although no state has ever introduced a state church, two referendums have failed to extend section 116 to states.

 

John Hewson, A.M,, 2016 (Photo: WikiCommons)John Hewson, A.M,, 2016 (Photo: WikiCommons)The latest development in New South Wales politics – the ascension of a new premier, Dominic Perrottet – may soon see the increased influence of the Catholic Church in matters of NSW government administration. With Perrottet widely known to wear his extreme conservative Catholicism on his sleeve, it seems likely he may more actively engage the Catholic Church in the conduct of his government.

Rumours are rife in the sector about Perrottet’s activism on the curious issue of cemetery management, most conspicuously trotting Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher to meetings with Gladys Berejiklian, when she was premier, and key ministers, as well as facilitating the appointment of some of the most high-powered lobbyists and PR types to campaign on the issue.

The issue at hand is the NSW government’s intention to create a single ownership structure for cemeteries. Presently, Crown cemeteries are managed through five trusts or land managers including the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT), which is controlled by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. CMCT has mounted a legal counterpush to the Crown concept, wanting to take over the management of the cemeteries run by the other trusts. It is not clear whether they would want ownership of these cemeteries as well, although they have made a takeover bid in the past. Empire-building has always been a feature of the church, and Archbishop Fisher is certainly an empire-builder.

But a Catholic takeover would be a disaster. It would be incredibly offensive and divisive, and shows an appalling misunderstanding of the empathy required in the provision of cemetery services. Already a number of serious faith and ethnic voices have been raised, expressing outrage and indignation.

The Long Read is here.