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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 14 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 5044 ..

MR CORNWELL (continuing):

obviously regretted by the government-by all of us, because we appreciate that these things happen. The Liberal Party will not be opposing the legislation.

MS DUNDAS (5.01): As I have already said today, the Democrats are generally opposed to retrospective legislation. However, we will support this legislation only because we do not think it is right that the ACT government should be liable to lose $2 million because of a procedural stuff-up. The minister noted that legislation of this kind is regrettable. Illegally charging Canberrans over $2 million is not just regrettable, it is irresponsible-and when talking about cemeteries, it is shameful. It has taken us two years to realise this error. It is a shame that we overlooked it when we passed the Cemeteries and Crematoria Bill earlier this year. That legislation took so much time and there were debates about what it would do, it is disappointing that the fees relating to cemeteries were missed.

It is a positive sign that the government is prepared to fix this. The Assembly has an opportunity to rectify the situation. The section that prohibits the delegation of the fee-setting power is a positive move. Hopefully we will not see a repeat of this type of problem. The excuse that things got confused in the change of governments and powers were not delegated would have worked two years ago, but it should have been addressed then. Hopefully, with this legislation, the problem cannot arise again and the ACT government will not be illegally collecting money from people.

MS TUCKER (5.04): This is another bill to fix an oversight. In itself it is not objectionable. The problem is that the board, the department or the minister, or all of them, forgot that to be validly set cemetery fees must be put forward to the Assembly as a whole as a disallowable instrument. In the proper course, members of this place would have seen the fees and would have had the opportunity to object to them. There is no urgency to this bill. It is possible that a legal challenge could be brought but I am not sure how well that would go. I have not heard any member say they have looked at the fees that we are now retrospectively validating. I asked the minister for those fees after the briefing.

I note that the fees have been increasing incrementally. There is one explanation for that in disallowable instrument No 153 of 2000, which was the last to be done properly. The chair of the board stated in the explanatory statement that some of the fees at the Hall cemetery were increased by up to 15 per cent as previous fees were unrealistically low, and that most fees were raised by 5 per cent, similar to those charged in the state for like services. Exhumation fees were rationalised and some were reduced. That was also the year that GST was added. Fees were adjusted so that the increase was no more than 10 per cent.

Determinations made since then by the successive chairs of the Canberra Public Cemeteries Trust have steadily increased most charges, with the exception of a couple of application fees. For instance, the Gungahlin cemetery fees for a lawn-area allotment in 2000 were $308; from 2000 to 2002 they went up to $323; the next year to $355; and with this recent determination they have increased again to $369. These are all exclusive of GST. The most recent cost inclusive of GST is $405.90, which is really quite a significant increase. I am concerned that the Assembly has had a chance to keep track of this. I am pleased that this bill also removes the power for the minister to delegate determination of fees. This should deal with the problem in the future.

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