- The Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) is responsible for providing advice on, and promoting, appropriate structures and governance arrangements for public entities, including cemetery trusts.
- A Class A cemetery trust manual is provided by the department to help cemetery trusts understand their duties and obligations.
- Class A cemetery trusts must appoint a community advisory committee to liaise with the community.
- Class A cemetery trusts are required to develop annual and strategic plans.
Governance is about how a public entity such as a cemetery trust is controlled and managed. It includes the authority, stewardship, leadership, direction and control exercised within the cemetery trust. It encompasses the relationships between the cemetery board and the responsible minister, senior management and stakeholders, and the administrative arrangements that support these relationships.
The Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) is responsible for providing advice on, and promoting, appropriate structures and governance arrangements for public entities, including cemetery trusts. The VPSC aims to ensure that all public entities serve the Victorian community in a manner that is responsive, accountable and highly professional.
The VPSC can provide cemetery trusts with information and advice on many cemetery trust governance issues.
Developing a fraud and protected disclosure policy
All cemetery trusts are required to have a documented fraud and protected disclosure policy. The department has prepared a template which is designed to provide organisations with a ‘fill in the blanks’ policy structure that they can adapt for their use.;
The Class A cemetery trust manual is provided by the department to help cemetery trusts understand their duties and obligations.
The information provided in the manual is intended for general use only and is not intended to constitute formal advice or be a definitive guide to the law and operations of a cemetery trust.
The manual has been prepared in good faith by Cemetery Sector Governance Support Unit in consultation with the Cemeteries and Crematoria Association of Victoria, Victorian Managed Insurance Authority, and the legal services, industrial relations, human resources and financial services branches of the department.
This document is not a substitute for professional advice and does not take into consideration the particular needs and circumstances of all cemetery trusts. If you are unsure or unclear about any information contained in the manual, you should seek appropriate professional advice in respect of your own particular circumstances, before acting or refraining from acting.
Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the manual at the date of publication.
Under s. 18D of the Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2003 (the Act) a Class A cemetery trust must appoint a community advisory committee for the purpose of liaising with their communities. A cemetery trust may appoint any additional community advisory committees it considers appropriate.
It is expected that the community advisory committee will assist the Class A cemetery trust to facilitate community engagement and ensure they are attuned to the needs and preferences of the communities they serve. They will also assist in ensuring that the trust’s services and policies are informed by community input, such as local knowledge, as well as religious, cultural and heritage perspectives.
Community advisory committee guidelines
The Secretary has provided Class A cemetery trusts with guidelines as required under s. 18G of the Act. The Community advisory committee guidelines for Class A cemetery trusts provide a detailed overview of the requirements for Class A cemetery trusts in establishing and operating their community advisory committee. In particular, the guidelines cover the composition, roles, functions and procedure of community advisory committees, as well as the appointment of its members.
These guidelines are designed to assist Class A cemetery trusts establish effective community advisory committees that can inform on consumer and community views in relation to the provision of cemetery trust services.
Community advisory committee functions
Section 18E of the Act lists the functions of a community advisory committee, which can be broadly categorised as follows:
- consider and report on any matters that are referred to it by the cemetery trust that established the committee
- raise with the cemetery trust any issues of concern or matters of interest to the community
- carry out any other functions conferred on it under the Act or by the community advisory committee guidelines or the cemetery trust.
Community advisory committee membership
Under s. 18F of the Act, the cemetery trust appoints the members of the community advisory committee, having regard to the community advisory committee guidelines and the requirements set out under s. 18F(2) of the Act.
A Class A cemetery trust is required to develop annual and strategic plans. These plans must be in accordance with specific guidelines developed by the department.
The department has developed Strategic and annual plan guidelines – November 2014. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide Class A cemetery trusts with an overview of:
- the corporate planning process
- their obligations under the Act with respect to planning
- the approval and evaluation process of trust plans.
Under s. 18N of the Act, a Class A cemetery trust must prepare an annual plan for each financial year. The annual plan must specify the following:
- the objectives, priorities and key performance outcomes to be met by the cemetery trust for that year
- the trust’s performance indicators
- how and when the cemetery trust is to report on its performance in relation to the specified objectives, priorities and key performance outcomes.
The annual plan may include any other matters agreed to by the Minister for Health and the cemetery trust from time to time.
Approval of the annual plan
A cemetery trust must give a copy of the proposed annual plan to the department on or before 30 September each year for approval (s. 18N(3) of the Act).
Under s. 18O of the Act, a Class A cemetery trust must prepare a strategic plan for the management and operation of the cemetery trust. The department will direct when a strategic plan must be prepared. The strategic plan must be completed in accordance with the guidelines.
Approval of the strategic plan
The cemetery trust must submit the strategic plan to the Secretary for approval (s. 18O(3) of the Act).
Availability to the public
A Class A cemetery trust must ensure that an approved annual plan and an approved strategic plan are available to members of the public on request (s. 18N(7) and s. 18O(5) of the Act, respectively) and made available on the cemetery trust’s website where applicable.
A Class A cemetery trust member is appointed under s. 6A of the Act by the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the minister. Cemetery trust members comprise the cemetery trust board. As a cemetery trust is incorporated, the responsibilities of a cemetery trust member can be likened to those of a company director, such as:
- Acting diligently and prudently in regard to the business of the incorporated entity. The members of a cemetery trust have legal obligations and duties under common law and under the constituting legislation, being the Act and the Regulations, as well as under the Public Administration Act 2004 and all other relevant state and federal legislation. Trust members may wish to seek independent legal advice concerning their responsibilities and potential personal liabilities.
- Disclosing conflicts of interest. Trust members are required to disclose pecuniary interests, or any other interests, which could conflict with the proper performance of their duties.
- Keeping and rendering proper accounts and giving full information when required. This includes meeting the applicable compliance and reporting requirements of both state and federal legislation.
There is an expectation that cemetery trust members will act in good faith, fairly and impartially, with honesty and integrity, and in the best interests of the trust and their community.
Cemetery trusts and diversity
Current government policy recommends that public entities such as cemetery trusts should be representative of the communities they serve. Opportunities to appoint women, Indigenous Australians, people with a disability, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and intersex people should be actively encouraged.
Cemetery trust chairperson
The role of the chairperson is to lead and assist trust members in understanding their role, and their responsibilities and accountabilities. Chairs are also responsible for ensuring that all trust members are able to actively participate in the governance of the trust.
In order to achieve this, chairs need to facilitate discussions at trust meetings by:
- ensuring that everybody has a say
- managing meetings appropriately
- ensuring that decisions are properly understood and well recorded.
The Premier's Circular No 2015/02 on Good Board Governance introduced a requirement for trust chairpersons to maintain a skills matrix. A skills matrix lists all current trust members and identifies the different skills each member brings to the trust. The skills matrix is designed to assist with the recruitment process to fill vacancies by highlighting existing skill gaps.
All chairpersons are expected to keep a copy of the skills matrix on file and keep the document updated as trust membership changes. The can be printed and filled out by hand, or downloaded and completed online.
Class A trust conflict of interest and duty to disclose
A cemetery trust is expected to administer the cemeteries for which it is responsible in an equitable manner for the benefit of the whole community. Where a trust member has a personal interest in the outcome of a decision, it is difficult – if not impossible – for them to be objective in discussion and decision making.
Under clause 9 of schedule 1A of the Act, trust members are required to disclose any interest (direct or indirect) that could conflict with the proper performance of their duties. The chairperson must ensure this disclosure is recorded in the minutes of the meeting at which the conflict is disclosed. A trust member who has disclosed a conflict of interest must not take any further part in the discussion of, or vote on, any matter relating to the conflict of interest.
In addition, the Public Administration Act 2004 requires that members disclose any pecuniary interests or other interests that could conflict with the proper performance of their duties, and details certain procedures to be followed where disclosures occur.
However, over time, a person’s circumstances may change, and a person who did not have a conflict of interest a few years ago may have one now. For this reason, the require that each cemetery trust member complete a ‘Declaration of private interests’ form each year, and whenever there is a material change in their interests.
Cemetery trust members and personal liability
In carrying out a function or power under the Act, a member of a cemetery trust is not personally liable for anything they do or omit to do in good faith. In such instances, liabilities that would result from the actions of individual trust members attach instead to the cemetery trust (refer to s. 16 of the Act).
Free rights of interments for trust members
Trusts do not have the power under the Act to waive the gazetted fee for a right of interment for a trust member or former trust member. If you have any queries about this matter, contact Cemetery Sector Governance Support.
In 2012, a review of Victoria’s Class A cemetery trusts was conducted to examine their governance and management capabilities.
The review was undertaken to assess the impact of the implementation of the 2009 amendments to the Act.
The review was conducted by Professor Anona Armstrong from Victoria University.
The objective of the review was to audit and evaluate the impact of recent legislative changes in the cemeteries sector on the performance, governance and viability of Class A cemetery trusts, with consideration of:
- the quality of the governance
- financial sustainability
- record keeping
- community relations.
Response to the review
The department's response to the review of Class A cemetery trusts is available for download from this page.
Reviewed 02 May 2022