The controversial bill raised concerns it would criminalise traditional Aboriginal burials.
Naveen Razik

25 Oct 2019 - 10:55 AM  UPDATED 25 Oct 2019 - 10:55 AM

The Northern Territory government has scrapped a bill after Indigenous groups warned that Aboriginal people could be jailed for performing traditional burials.

The Labor government said the penalties would only have applied where burials occurred without a death certificate or permission from the next of kin and landowner.

It caved to pressure and scrapped the bill and said it would continue to work on a new replacement the 67-year-old Cemeteries Act.

Gerry McCarthy, the NT community development minister, said that although the existing legislation did not recognise traditional Aboriginal burials at all it was "important that all Territorians understand and accept" any new laws.

“The new legislation was intended to better reflect the current practices and wishes of the NT community in relation to burials and cremations, including recognising the rights of Aboriginal people to make decisions about Aboriginal land,” he said.

“However, the burial of loved ones is a sensitive issue and as long as there are people in the community who have concerns about the changes, government will not proceed with the legislation.

“Government will continue to work with those who have concerns toward contemporary legislation, supporting their ability to conduct burials on Aboriginal land.”

The backflip comes after warnings from the Northern Land Council CEO, Marion Scrymgour, that the bill failed to recognise “contemporary Aboriginal culture in a way that we would expect in 2019”.

Concerns have also been raised about the severity of penalties for burials outside of cemeteries and without the approval of the government.

“We are greatly concerned by the 10,000% increase in maximum penalty units and the introduction of a two-year prison term for burials outside of cemeteries,” Ms Scrymgour said.

“It is ridiculous that any government would think a prison term is appropriate for a burial carried out in accordance with Aboriginal tradition.”

“The provisions in the bill risk further criminalising a population that is already drastically over-represented in the prison system.”