My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Health, and the action I seek is for him to obtain a blanket exemption from planning controls over state-owned land that is operated by small rural cemetery trusts. I cannot convey enough how absurd the situation I am about to share with you is.
Over the past few months I have been contacted by members of two cemetery trusts who were being forced to jump through several bureaucratic hoops just to be able to bury the dead.
The first was at Nirranda, where the cemetery trust is trying to open new plots, but when they sought planning approval from the Moyne Shire Council, as required, they were told they would need a native vegetation assessment because work they were planning may be in breach of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.
I then had a call from the Macarthur Cemetery Trust, which plans to build a columbarium. In order to do this they need to build a small shed to handle the cremains in a respectful and dignified way.
They do not feel it is appropriate or respectful to the deceased and their families to be doing this in the same shed where they keep the lawnmower and the whipper-snipper. They applied for a grant to build a shed which is smaller than a single garage. They were successful and went to the council as they are required to do.
They were told the same as Nirranda: they could be in breach of the flora and fauna act and would need a costly ecological assessment and possibly further approvals from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
This is not the fault of the Moyne shire. They cannot provide an exemption to cemetery trusts from requiring planning permits or native vegetation assessments. This is where it begins to get ridiculous. They can dig up earth to bury the dead but seemingly cannot build a small shed on top of the earth because native grass may be there.
I just want to make it very clear: we are talking about cemeteries here, where earth is regularly excavated. But it seems that according to the department building a small garden shed or removing a couple of trees to make more room for more burial plots is a cardinal sin and may well be the thing that brings down the ecosystem.
These are small, volunteer organisations made up of mums and dads who give up their time for the good of the community, but they are being asked to deal with complicated planning matters when they are simply trying to make sure the deceased members of their community have a final resting place and their families have a place to come and pay their respects. Minister, this just makes no sense at all.
For the sake of these volunteers in small country communities like Macarthur and Nirranda, please make these changes so they can continue to provide these important services to the community without having to jump through thousands of hoops.