As communities across Tasmania wait nervously for the list of properties being sold to help fund the Anglican Diocese’s contribution to the national redress scheme, three historic churches have been made “almost impossible” to sell.
A new burial and cremation bill passed by parliament on Thursday will see the Church of the Good Shepherd at Hadspen, St Marys Church at Hagley and St John the Baptist Church in Ouse regulated as cemeteries, as they feature graves within the buildings themselves.
Presumed perpetuity in the new legislation means Tasmanian graves and burial sites are now protected from being disturbed until 100 years since the last internment – up from 30.
“These churches have significant heritage values,” said Lyons Labor MHA Jen Butler. “Sir Richard Dry is buried under the Hagley Church chancel.”
Dry was the first Tasmanian-born premier, also instrumental in stopping convict transportation and introducing compulsory public education to the state.
“Legislator and advocate for early Tasmanian settlers W A Bethune is buried under the alter of the St John the Baptist Church in Ouse,” Ms Butler added.
The legislation now meant “actions to sell the churches are almost impossible”.
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“This protection for the resting place of Tasmanians is a massive achievement,” Ms Butler said.
Save Our Community Soul chair David Downie welcomed the legislation as fantastic news, adding it was thought Thomas Reibey – another former premier and the grandson of Mary Reibey, who features on the $20 note – was buried at Hadspen’s Church of the Good Shepherd.
“Isn’t it great … you’ve got three fairly historic people that their graves are going to be saved,” he said.
“[The sales are] just another example of the diocese trying to rip the soul out of our communities. Thank god that here’s a case where the parliament is going into bat to save some of our souls.”
The Anglican Diocese is expected to announce this month which of the 107 properties, including 76 churches, will be sold to partly fund the national redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse.
Expected contributions to the redress scheme from each property sale amount to around 25 per cent of the sale price. If churches were able to raise a quarter of the property’s estimated value alternatively, the diocese anticipated this would lead to a sale exemption.
Thank god that here’s a case where the parliament is going into bat to save some of our souls.David Downie
In recent months, churches across the state organised fundraising efforts or considered how to provide the required funds.
The Save Our Community Soul group formed in August as a “collective response” to stop church sales going forward.
“There are many groups in the Tasmanian community, parishioners and community members, who are dismayed by the actions being taken by the Anglican Church,” Mr Downie said at the time.
After the bill passed both houses of parliament on Thursday, Attorney-General Elise Archer said it was “an important step in preserving, protecting and, where appropriate, strengthening the rights of community members and cemetery managers”.
A second-stage review of the Burials and Cremation Act could deliver legacy arrangements for cemeteries sold to private individuals under the current legislation.
Ms Butler hoped any further changes might also help establish a register to track significant burial sites across the state.
Prosser Liberal MHA Jane Howlett said in a statement on Thursday night the proposed sale of Anglican Church properties throughout the state had caused “great stress and confusion for many Tasmanians”.
“While I understand the Anglican Church is seeking to divest itself of properties in part to fund its liability to the National Redress Scheme, it has seemingly ignored the concerns of parishioners and the community,” she continued.
In October, Anglican Bishop of Tasmania the Right Reverend Dr Richard Condie said they had received input from a range of community groups and individuals and would meet in December to make a decision on the properties proposed for sale, with parishes and interested parties notified of the outcome.
“When appropriate we will make a public announcement,” he said.
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