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Auckland Council’s proposed bylaw on burials and cremation

Statement from Multicultural New Zealand on the Auckland Council’s proposed bylaw on burials and cremation

Multicultural New Zealand has written to the Mayor of Auckland expressing our extreme concern about aspects of the proposed Auckland Council Cemeteries and Crematoria By-Law.

We are aware that submissions have now closed, but the proposal was not brought to our intention until now and one of our key concerns is that the Committee did not actively seek the views of diverse religious and cultural groups before publishing its proposals.

In fact, the discussion document barely makes mention of the religious and cultural issues that are of concern to the groups that we represent. It simply asserts that the Bill of Rights provisions in relation to religious and cultural rights are not breached by the proposal, without any discussion. We would have expected that at the very least, Council officers would have consulted with the Council’s own Pacific and Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panels in addition to the Maori Statutory Board, and also with key external stakeholders such as the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, the Office of Ethnic Affairs, the Auckland Interfaith Council, the Hindu Council of New Zealand, the Federation of Islamic Associations and the New Zealand Jewish Council to name only some key representative bodies.

The absence of such prior consultation is evident in the almost total lack of reference to the impact of the proposals on religious and cultural minorities. We would have expected more from the Auckland Council, which represents by far the most diverse population in New Zealand.

We are supportive of the attempts to achieve consistency across the Auckland region in relation to cemeteries and crematoria, but this should not be at the expense of basic freedoms of religion and culture and nor impose unnecessary restrictions on their practice.

The Law Commission recently published a discussion document on the legal framework for burials and cremation, and Multicultural New Zealand made a submission to the Commission on that review. Among the key points we made were that:

1. The law governing burials and cremations should contain a requirement for local authorities to consult with ethnic communities and make reasonable provision for their needs in terms of setting aside special areas if desired and providing for cultural practices, including more flexible opening hours.

2. In relation to the dispersal of ashes following cremation, there should be a requirement on local authorities to provide in their plans and operations for the cultural practices and requirements of diverse communities as well as the concerns of tangata whenua in relation to particular places including waterways.

We also provided more detailed information about Hindu practices in relation to burials, cremation and the scattering of ashes, which the proposed Auckland by-law clearly impedes.

Given that the Law Commission report was widely distributed to councils and communities, we are surprised that the Council’s discussion document does not even make reference to the religious and cultural issues raised in it.

We respectfully request that the Council takes further active steps to consult religious and cultural communities before coming to a decision on the proposed by-law. We look to the Council to lead New Zealand with best practice with regard to cultural diversity.

ENDS

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