Subject: Submission for Reusable Rights of Burial Interment as an option to Renewable Rights
My wife, Lucy Millena, and I have been involved in the cemetery industry in the Sydney Metropolitan area for more than twenty years. In 1995, we started as memorial sales contractors to the then company Service Corporation International Australia (SCIA) which later evolved to what is now InvoCare Australia Pty Limited (IVC), (the “company”). We organised and headed the Multicultural Unit of the Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW Division of the company from 1997 until 2015.
Our involvement was driven by the needs of the growing multicultural communities in Sydney, particularly the Filipinos who wanted to maintain traditional memorial and religious practices. The service we provided to the Filipino community was to pre-arrange their memorial in a dedicated area so the community can practice their religious traditions, and reduce financial and emotional stress at their time of need. This was welcomed favourably and the service has continued successfully since the first dedicated Filipino section was launched in Pinegrove Memorial Park in 1995.
The service was extended to the Chinese community in 1997. In response to their needs, an area in Pinegrove Memorial Park was developed according to ideal Feng Shui features with the advice of a Sydney based Feng Shui master. This is known as Lung Po Shan Chinese Memorial Gardens where the Chinese community celebrates their traditions of Ching Ming and Chung Yung every year.
In 2000, an area at Forest Lawn Memorial Park was developed known as Po Fook Shan Memorial Gardens or Bao Phuc Lang Vien in Vietnamese, where Indo-Chinese families can locate permanent memorials and continue with their traditions of honouring their ancestors.
And in 2003, the Korean communities were provided with dedicated areas at Pinegrove Memorial Park and another at Castlebrook Memorial Park in 2009, called Pyong Hwa Korean Memorial Gardens.
Under our direction, the original Filipino team evolved into a larger multicultural unit to include Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean memorial consultants that continue representing the needs of these communities today. The dedicated areas also expanded in the three memorial parks owned by the company.
After 20 years of hands-on experience and engagement with the four communities, we have become subject matter experts on Asian burial practices and with the cooperation of the company have serviced more than 16,000 pre-arranged and at-need cases. Together with our experience in reviving cultural and religious community events of the four Asian communities, it has endowed us with a unique insight into the needs of these communities which we represent through this proposal.
Our Comments on the Needs of the Asian Communities
These four Asian communities have their own unique beliefs, traditions and practices, however they all share the desire for a permanent memorial for their beloved ancestors, so they are able to venerate and pray for them throughout the generations and during auspicious times.
The proposal we would like you to consider is adapted from cemetery practices in the Philippines where there are limited land resources, yet with permanent burial rights that are reusable they have overcome the burial space problems. The urban area of Metro Manila is overcrowded with more than 16 million people, and with 70,000 deaths every year, public and private cemeteries in Metro Manila are at full capacity. With cemeteries adopting the practice of reusable rights, however, burial interment continues without delay when required.
When the interment space is needed to be used for a burial, the remains of the deceased earlier buried are removed, placed in a container, and replaced in a smaller niche in the plot, maintaining the original memorial plaque. As an example, a family grave of two plots in Manila North Cemetery can continuously accommodate interments for two to three succeeding generations.
By the term “reusable rights” we mean families who purchased rights of burial may use the same burial plot for further interment by removing the remains earlier buried, digging deeper and re-interring the remains in the same plot. The emptied portion of the burial plot can then be used for succeeding burial interments.
Only direct descendants of the purchaser or user retain the rights of reusing the burial plot by application to the cemetery authority.
Our proposal for the reusable rights is similar to the concept of “dig and deepen” however with significant variations to the rights of burial interment.
a) Reusable rights of burial interment are to be offered as an option for families to purchase pre-need, with nominated descendants. Descendants may purchase the reusable rights pre-need or at-need,
b) Permanent rights of burial, whether used or unused may be converted to reusable rights upon application by descendants.
c) Due consideration to Health Regulations must be maintained in reusing a burial plot on the length of time before a deceased remains can be removed.
d) A burial plot can have as many as five to eight interments depending on the set-up or innovation introduced.
e) Family members and descendants are kept in a permanent family memorial where families can gather together in observance of their religious belief and cultural practices.
f) As a matter of cultural practices, families may be allowed to witness the removal of remains and re-interment, ensuring respect and dignity of the process.
In line with the principles of the government’s cemetery reforms as outlined by the then Minister of Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson, reusable rights provides for:
a) Cemetery land resources to be extended by providing more burial interments per burial site.
b) Human remains to be treated with respect and dignity rather than being discarded in the process.
c) Families to conduct witnessing ceremonies according to their religious rites.
d) Families to continue with their religious and cultural celebrations where the succeeding generations can visit their ancestors in a more respectable manner, venerate and pray for them.
e) Closed or near-closed cemeteries to continue operations.
Benefits to the Communities
The major benefit to the communities is a permanent memorial for families and their descendants, providing them with a permanent family memorial for future generations.
Another benefit is cheaper memorials. As cemetery land resources are exhausted, and with increasing prices of limited resources, it will maintain burials at lower prices compared to opening up new burial sites and new cemeteries.
Benefits to the Cemeteries
The obvious benefit of reusable rights is the continued operations of cemeteries, extending its life indefinitely, generating revenue from additional rights as well as opening and re-interring of remains.
A family plot of two burial sites, depending on set-up, can have a maximum of 13 interments compared to a maximum of 2 x 2 double depth interments.
Rather than simply “dig and deepen” to accommodate additional interments, a new burial innovation may be devised in cemeteries, such as underground pre-fabricated crypts that can easily be opened and closed. This innovation can also improve the maintenance of the cemeteries as burial plots can easily be covered and closed without need for earth compaction.
The other innovative option is prefabricated burial chambers with four compartments inserted in deeper section of the burial plot.
Our proposal for reusable rights has been developed in consultation with the Filipino and other community associations who favour this option. Based on this community support, along with the aforementioned benefits to the community and the cemetery industry, we strongly recommend that reusable rights of interment be considered.