House debates

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Constituency Statements

Anglican Diocese of Tasmania

4:12 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to state my concerns about the Anglican Church's plans to sell 108 properties in Tasmania, including 76 churches, many of them in my electorate of Lyons. The Anglican Church says it is selling the properties, which also include cemeteries, halls, residences and vacant blocks, to raise the funds needed to pay survivors of sexual abuse under the National Redress Scheme. The sales are expected to raise $20 million, just $4.7 million of which will go to the diocese's $8.6 million redress contribution—another $2.8 million would come from church funds and $1.1 million from congregation contributions. Three-quarters of the proceeds of the property sales—$15.3 million of the $20 million total—is flagged for other church operations and restructuring. Just $4.7 million is earmarked for redress.

I find it offensive that the Anglican Church hierarchy is using national redress as political cover for these property sales. Every member in this place supports redress and the need for institutions to compensate survivors of child sexual abuse. I applaud the diocese for recognising its responsibility to provide redress, but to say all of these property sales are needed to achieve it and then to earmark only one-quarter of the proceeds is a gross violation of public trust and sentiment.

The church's plans have sparked a storm of protest across regional Tasmania, especially in my electorate, where a meeting was held earlier this year in the town of Kempton. Another meeting is planned for Campbell Town in the near future. I say to those watching this broadcast that the details of that Campbell Town meeting will be on my social media, on my Facebook page, as soon as possible, and anybody who is concerned about the sale of these churches and properties should certainly get along to one of these meetings.

Of particular concern is the uncertainty surrounding the future of cemeteries caught up in the sales process. Across Lyons, there are cemeteries containing the remains of people who represent the best of our past, such as Victoria Cross recipient Trooper John Hutton Bisdee, who is buried at Jericho, a tiny cemetery attached to a small and isolated church that is listed for sale. Families and community members want to know if they will retain visitation rights. What about those who have prepurchased plots to be put to rest next to their loved ones? If cemeteries are sold to private interests, will there be legal requirements for maintenance and public access? Who assumes public liability? These are all legitimate questions that need clear answers. The reasons for the sales might be legitimate, but they should not be using national redress as political cover.