The administration of OneCrown, the NSW government’s new cemetery manager, is plagued by a lack of accountability and leadership, according to former CEO Robert Pitt. Pitt highlighted the lack of a formal board of directors, the continued operations of three separate Crown Cemetery Land Managers, and high executive staff turnover as factors contributing to the organization’s failure. As a result, there continues to be inadequate long-term planning, business thinking, or community engagement for public cemeteries in Sydney. The consequences of OneCrown’s failure are dire, with burials in Sydney becoming unaffordable for many, some unable to bury their loved ones according to their beliefs, and existing cemeteries falling into disrepair. Neither the Perrottet government nor NSW Labor has addressed the issue, with serious consequences for the community.
Perrottet and Minns Mute on Sydney’s Burial Crisis Ahead of NSW Election
As the NSW election approaches, the state’s burial crisis remains unresolved, with both major parties seemingly ignoring the issue. Sydney’s public cemeteries are projected to run out of space within the next five years, and there is no clear plan in place to address the problem. Robert Pitt, the former CEO of OneCrown, the state’s newly created cemetery manager, has criticized the lack of accountability and leadership in the $5 billion cemetery sector in Sydney. Pitt spent less than a year at OneCrown before stepping down and is recognized as one of Australia’s top cemetery executives.
Pitt’s four-month stint as OneCrown CEO left him frustrated, describing the experience as bizarre and unprofessional. He expressed concern about the lack of any coherent plan to tackle the crisis in available burial land and the hundreds of millions in liabilities that Sydney’s cemeteries need to address. He pointed out that there is a lack of leadership, both politically and operationally, in Sydney’s cemeteries.
In 2020, a report commissioned by the NSW government titled “The 11th Hour” revealed that Sydney’s public cemeteries had $300 million in unfunded liabilities and would not be able to meet perpetual care obligations. Cemeteries have an obligation to identify and allocate funds for the long-term maintenance of the cemetery once it is “full” and closed for new burials. Given that no steps have been taken to reduce these liabilities, Pitt believes they have undoubtedly increased since the report’s publication.
The lack of any answers from the major parties on this critical issue is concerning, with both Labor’s Chris Minns and Premier Dominic Perrottet seemingly ignoring the burial crisis in the lead-up to the NSW election. The state government created OneCrown to rationalize and unify cemeteries in one body, but Pitt’s experience raises questions about its effectiveness. With Sydney’s public cemeteries set to reach capacity within the next five years, there is an urgent need for action to address the burial crisis.
OneCrown’s Annual Reports Misleading, Says Former CEO Robert Pitt
According to Robert Pitt, the former CEO of OneCrown, the NSW government’s new cemetery manager, the annual reports on OneCrown’s cemeteries present a distorted picture of the organization’s financial situation. The annual reports do not disclose the material perpetual maintenance liabilities, which are an essential aspect of the financial health of the organization.
Pitt also believes that the assessments of these liabilities are outdated, which is worrying, given their importance. According to sources in the cemeteries sector, OneCrown still has not been legally established by the Perrottet government, and as a result, has been under administration for 18 months.
A spokesperson for OneCrown told MWM that “Actuarial assessments have been conducted across all Land Managers, and information pertaining to perpetual maintenance liabilities is included in the 2022 Annual Reports.” However, the assessments are some years out of date. In the case of the South Sydney land manager, the latest assessment was conducted on or before 2017, while Rookwood General has not had an actuarial assessment done since 2019, which was an update on an earlier assessment.
Pitt is known as one of Australia’s top cemetery executives, having spent 12 years as CEO of the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority. During his four-month stint at OneCrown, Pitt became concerned about the lack of any coherent plan to tackle the crisis in available burial land and the hundreds of millions in liabilities that Sydney’s cemeteries need to address. He also criticized the lack of leadership, both politically and operationally, in Sydney’s cemeteries.
The lack of any recent assessments and the absence of OneCrown’s legal establishment has raised concerns that the organization may not be equipped to handle the financial challenges that lie ahead. Some insiders have even suggested that senior officials within the NSW government who opposed the amalgamation wanted OneCrown to “be stillborn” on arrival. The Catholic Church’s public cemetery manager has also been a vocal critic of the move and has so far refused to amalgamate into the new body, finding support on both sides of the state’s politics.
With the NSW election looming, both major parties have yet to offer a solution to Sydney’s burial crisis, even as the city’s public cemeteries are projected to run out of space within the next five years. The lack of leadership, accountability, and up-to-date financial reporting from OneCrown only adds to the uncertainty surrounding the future of Sydney’s cemeteries.
OneCrown Lacks Leadership and Accountability, Says Former CEO Robert Pitt
Robert Pitt, the former CEO of OneCrown, the NSW government’s new cemetery manager, has raised concerns about the lack of leadership and accountability in the administration of OneCrown. Specifically, the lack of a formal board of directors, the continued operations of three separate Crown Cemetery Land Managers, and high executive staff turnover mean that, in Pitt’s opinion, “there continues to be inadequate long-term planning, business thinking, or community engagement for public cemeteries in Sydney.”
The administrator of OneCrown is Lee Sheerer, a former NSW Police Assistant Commissioner, with little prior experience in the cemeteries sector. Pitt believes that there is a clear lack of accountability in the administration of OneCrown and that the organization needs to be consolidated into a single entity, preferably as a State-Owned Corporation, with a skilled and experienced board and committees with clear and strong lines of accountability to the government.
The consequences of OneCrown’s failure are dire for Sydney’s residents. Burials in Sydney will not be affordable for many, some will not be able to bury their loved ones in accordance with their religious or cultural beliefs, and existing cemeteries will fall into disrepair. With American vulture equity firm TPG swooping in on InvoCare, a private cemetery and crematoria operator that currently undertakes 50% of Sydney’s cremations, the commercial opportunities of political failure have been recognized.
Neither the Perrottet government nor NSW Labor are willing to address the issue, with NSW Labor leader Chris Minns’ office telling MWM that their policies were similar to the government’s on the issue. The lack of action and accountability in the administration of OneCrown means that the future of Sydney’s cemeteries remains uncertain, with serious consequences for the community.
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