Melinda Pavey, NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing has put a stop to the construction work at Macarthur Memorial Park (MMP) at Varroville,  despite the shortage of burial places in Sydney. More than 50 faith groups including Jewish, Muslims, Orthodox and Christians have been in discussion with the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust for the last 6 years in transitioning to MMP.

The chief executive of Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust,  Peter O’Meara said that he was very surprised and frustrated by the Minister decision given that the (Government) Crown Cemeteries are a few short years away from running out of burial space.

Cemeteries such as Rookwood, Liverpool,  and Woronora which have served Sydney residents well for over 100 years are nearly full.

Mr Peter O’Meara, CEO of MCT.

“We are at a critical stage. I am about to shut Liverpool cemetery [also run by the Catholic trust] in 12 months because it is running out of burial space. Where are the people in Sydney’s south-west going to be buried? What is going to happen to the faith groups who are running out of burial space now?” Mr O’Meara said.

The Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMT) has two major multi-faith cemetery developments at Wallacia and Varroville. Over 180,000 plots between them across 150+ hectares.

MMP site at Varroville, south Western Sydney.

After 8 years of preparation  by CMT and their consultants, Macarthur Memorial Park (MMP) at Varroville was due to commence construction in February 2020 when the Minister put an initial hold pending a Statutory Review into Cemeteries.

This review report titled, “The 11th hour: Solving Sydney’s cemetery crisis” was finally tabled in Parliament on 19 February 2021. The Review identified the critical shortage of burial space and the urgent need for both these new cemetery developments to proceed.

The report said a shortage of burial space made burials unaffordable for some sections of the community and stopped communities from burying loved ones in accordance with their religious customs.

However the Minister on Monday 8 March said that the government had yet to respond to the report and decided to stop all construction works at MMP.

Mr O’Meara said that, “the Minister’s decision made no sense and for some inexplicable reason, the Minister and bureaucrats again put these developments on hold saying the Government has made no decisions or commitments regarding the ongoing operations of Crown Cemeteries.”

“My phone has been running hot from concerned groups who like us are disappointed in this unnecessary interference and continuous delays by Government, who seemed paralysed in terms of taking action.”

“So much for the Premier’s instruction to get the economy going with ‘shovel-ready’ projects in these times of high unemployment. The civil contractor told me they had to lay off 20 subcontractors  because of Minister Pavey’s decision.”

“It is critical we finalise a solution quickly for the new Macarthur Memorial Park site as we are incurring escalating building costs. More importantly, within 3 years Sydney will begin to have insufficient  burial land for various faith groups.” Mr O’meara concluded.

Mr Kazi Ali, the president of the Muslim Cemeteries Board and a veteran of four decades putting volunteer work into Muslim burials said that he was highly disappointed with the Ministers decision and the government’s paralyses in finding solution to shortage of burial places for faith communities.

Mr Ali has been working with CMT and Mr O’Meara with interfaith collaboration to facilitate provision of Burial places for the Muslim Community in accordance with Islamic guidelines for burials.

Statements of support for CMT and its highly respected CEO Mr Peter O’Meara has been sent by a large number of community organisations commending the long track record of the Trust in finding burial solutions accommodating their religious practices and in accordance with Australian regulations.

Mr Anjum Rafiqi from Australian Kashmiri Association Inc said, “I would like to put on record the fact that we have been very impressed with the work of Kemps Creek Management under Catholic Cemetery Trust, in how they have been managing the Muslim section.”

Mr Nasib Mohammed, President of Islamic Association Western Suburbs Sydney (IAWSS) writes, ” I am writing this letter in support of the Catholic Cemetery Board, that they should maintain the Kemps Creek Cemetery and other future cemeteries project. They have been carrying out their role very professionally. They have the experience and have good governance in maintaining the Cemetery.”

Mr Mansur Mansur, secretary of the Afghan Community Support Association of NSW said, ” The Afghan community are happy with the management of Kemps Creek Cemetery by Catholic board. We would like to see future burial of Muslims in Catholic cemetery at Varroville and the continuity of Catholic cemetery board to manage and support Muslim burial like Kemps Creek Cemetery.”

Dr Md Moinul Islam, President, The Lions Club of Sydney South Shapla Shaluk said, “I know about Mr O’meara & his team for a long time. He is a kind soul & equally respected to Catholic & Muslim community. He is a very humble person. I know about his projects- Kemps Creek & other Cemetery places where he offered free burial spaces for the Muslim.”

Dr Haider A Naqvi, President, Mohammadi Welfare Association (MWA) wrote, “We thank Kemps Creek Cemetery management for their cooperation and services. They are doing a great job in providing the community a space for burials. The registration process is smooth and easy. The facilities at the Cemetery for prayers and get together are wonderful.”