Topic 3: Cemetery redevelopment

Review of the Cemeteries Act 1986 and Cremation Act 1929


Topic 3A: General cemetery redevelopment 

Cemetery redevelopment is about redeveloping existing burial areas of the cemetery to allow for new burial areas and in doing so, meeting the ongoing burial needs of the community. The process of cemetery redevelopment can be likened to urban renewal. In the case of cemetery redevelopment the land is retained for cemetery purposes, maintaining and conserving the use of land for burials for perpetuity and in the public interest. 

The redevelopment of existing burial areas to accommodate new gravesites, memorial locations and mausoleum crypts is provided for in the Cemeteries Act under Part V, Division 4 — Redevelopment Schemes. The Cemeteries Act does not regulate how a cemetery authority must go about redeveloping its existing cemetery but does provide that the authority must obtain Ministerial approval and undertake a community consultation process. Prior to a cemetery authority implementing a redevelopment scheme, they must prepare a register of all burials and make a plan of the redevelopment area publicly available, inform holders of rights of burial of their right to object to the proposed scheme and provide notice of its intention to implement the redevelopment scheme. A cemetery authority is required to consider each submission received during the consultation process and must not proceed with a redevelopment scheme if a specified area of that scheme is subject to an objection by the holder of a right of burial. 

While cemetery redevelopment allows cemetery authorities to maximise the use of cemetery land to ensure the sustainability of the cemetery, it is a sensitive issue that remains the subject of community debate.

An example of a cemetery redevelopment strategy includes cemetery renewal, which involves placing new graves between existing graves without disturbing the existing interred remains.  

Topic 3B: Redevelopment of Karrakatta Cemetery

Cemetery renewal is currently a major cemetery redevelopment strategy undertaken at Karrakatta Cemetery as there is no further land available to expand the cemetery grounds and there is a continued demand for burials within the cemetery.2 The renewal program at Karrakatta Cemetery has evolved since it first commenced in the 1970s. Some elements of the current program are that:

  • Historical research/analysis is undertaken through consulting with a committee, comprising historians, genealogists, the Office of Australian War Graves, MCB staff and board members.
  • Community consultation is conducted over an extended period, at least 12 months before Ministerial approval is granted. This includes site signage, letters and information sent to families who have registered their contact details, press advertising and assessment of submissions received.
  • Existing interred remains are not disturbed as new graves are established between the existing ones.
  • Some old headstones are relocated following consultation phases so that new monuments can be erected to current Australian standards to commemorate new burials. Renewed areas not required for new burials are utilised as either memorial gardens for cremated remains or may host mausoleums for above ground entombment.
  • Headstones are retained where possible and appropriate, and incorporated into the remodelled surface environment. 
  • War graves and crematorium niches of war dead are retained in their original position where possible.
  • The graves and crematorium niches of post war dead marked with official commemorations are retained in their original position where possible.
  • Renewal is conducted in older parts of the cemetery where it has been 50 or more years since most of the burials have been conducted, and the majority of tenure agreements have expired. Whilst families, in most instances, can repurchase their grant of burial rights prior to renewal, most do not opt to do so.
  • As areas are renewed, they are also beautified with irrigation and landscaping being introduced. With the passage of time and lack of revenue to fund improvements, cemeteries and headstones become unkempt or unsafe. These headstones are dealt with as part of the maintenance of the cemetery.
  • It is also an opportunity to develop general or non-religious areas which reflect the diversity of WA’s multicultural community.
  • A cemetery records system includes details of contact persons and ensures communication with the contact regarding redevelopment activities.
  • Continual review of cemetery redevelopment processes is undertaken to identify how community engagement can be improved.

The MCB does not currently receive any government grants or appropriation, and funds daily operations and infrastructure upkeep from monies paid by members of the public for products and services. Its cemeteries are currently cost neutral to the State Government.

The renewal program at Karrakatta Cemetery has been the subject of significant public debate over many years, particularly in relation to concerns regarding the need to ensure that family histories and traditions are respected through the preservation of headstones and the retention of war graves and memorials.  

The MCB has conducted community market research indicating that, whilst not entirely comfortable with the concept, most families understand the rationale for the renewal program and support it as a means to keep Karrakatta Cemetery operating as a full-service cemetery if the implementation continues to be undertaken in a respectful manner. 

Other jurisdictions

The NSW Act provides for the re-use of an interment site which is the subject of an expired renewable interment right and the removal of any memorial to a deceased person erected on or at the site, subject to certain conditions. The Rookwood General Cemetery in New South Wales is the largest cemetery in the southern hemisphere and it is expected that capacity will be reached by 2035 or sooner. 

Strategies to maximise that cemetery’s remaining land include re-purposing existing infrastructure, conducting extensive audits of older areas and researching new technologies. An aboveground structure offering earth-style interments and a decomposition project that could enable families to re-use their graves under renewable tenure for generations are examples of innovations under consideration.3

Under the SA Act, ownership of a gravesite reverts to the cemetery authority if the interment right has not been renewed or if a period of two years has elapsed since notice was given regarding the expiry of the interment right. 

The site may then be re-used in accordance with the SA Act. All remains are recovered from the site and are placed within an ossuary box and re-interred at a lower depth in the same site; the site can then be re-sold. A cemetery authority in South Australia also has general powers which enable it to expand the cemetery, improve the cemetery, restrict interments in any part of the cemetery or take any other action that it considers necessary or desirable for the proper management and maintenance of the cemetery.

Under the VIC Act, a right of interment for a cremation memorial can be purchased for a period of 25 years, or in perpetuity. For 25-year rights, the option is given to renew the memorial at the end of that period, or to have the ashes scattered in the cemetery grounds. If the holder of the right is uncontactable, the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust may scatter the ashes in accordance with the regulated process.

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Issues and reform options for topics 3A and 3B

Topic 3A: General cemetery redevelopment


Issue 3A.1: The Cemeteries Act allows a cemetery authority to implement a cemetery redevelopment scheme provided that Ministerial approval is obtained following the completion of community consultation requirements.

Reform options

Option 1: Retain current Ministerial approval process in legislation and make amendments to strengthen the effectiveness of public consultation requirements where needed.


  • Cemetery authorities can determine their own redevelopment strategies subject to Ministerial approval.
  • Cemetery redevelopment schemes contribute to preserving their financial viability, allowing them to remain open for new burials and memorials.
  • The requirement for community consultation is retained.

Topic 3B: Karrakatta Cemetery Redevelopment Scheme


Issue 3B.1: At Karrakatta Cemetery, cemetery renewal involves redeveloping existing cemetery burial areas to accommodate new gravesites, memorial locations and mausoleum crypts.

No existing remains are disturbed.

Reform options

Option 1: Retain status quo.


  • Karrakatta Cemetery will remain open to new burials. The safety of older monuments and headstones can be maintained, and the aesthetic value and functionality of the cemetery can continue to be improved. The government land would remain set aside for cemetery purposes in perpetuity.

Option 2: Modify or enhance existing Karrakatta Cemetery redevelopment policies where feasible to address any community concerns identified through this consultation.


  • There may be additional costs related to new requirements which would likely be passed onto the consumer in the form of increased fees and charges.


  • There may be additional costs related to new requirements which would likely be passed onto the consumer in the form of increased fees and charges.

Page reviewed 16 November 2023