Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner faces tough questions about his government’s proposed burial legislation when he attends the Central Land Council meeting on 28 October at Yulara Pulka.
Meeting in Alice Springs ahead of the council meeting, the CLC’s executive was deeply disappointed to learn that a committee of the NT Legislative Assembly ignored its submission to amend Burial and Cremation Bill 2019, as well as the submissions of all other Aboriginal organisations.
“If the government goes along with the recommendation of the Social Policy Scrutiny Committee to pass the bill without the amendments Aboriginal people are seeking, it will have to answer to their elected representatives,” said CLC CEO Joe Martin-Jard.
Mr Martin-Jard said Aboriginal people want to follow their traditions when burying their loved ones on their homelands and outstations, without undue interference from a passing parade of powerful public servants.
“Our members believe the draft bill gives too much power to unelected officials who will be able to threaten people with jail or fines of tens of thousands of dollars for burying their loved ones on their land, in accordance with their customs,” Mr Martin-Jard said.
“The new law would allow faceless bureaucrats in Darwin to make up the rules as they go along, at the expense of the most incarcerated and poorest people in the country. We want to see regulations that limit their power.”
Under the draft legislation, the fine for burying someone without the consent of the bureaucracy will go up from two to 200 penalty points ($31,000), or a two year jail term.
Mr Martin-Jard said CLC members don’t object to sensible restrictions for health and safety reasons – for example, no burials near drinking water sources and houses – but they don’t believe bereaved people should have to appeal to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to get bureaucratic decisions overturned.
“It is just heartless to put people through this when they are grieving,” he said.
The CLC executive also objected strongly to the new law opening the door for fee gouging at local government-run cemeteries.
“The bill allows the cash-strapped shires to set their own fees for funerals,” Mr Martin-Jard said.
“Aboriginal people out bush already struggle with the high costs of funerals and want the government to cap these fees.”
“We urge Mr Gunner to come to our council meeting with amendments that respect our members’ burial rites and rights.”