Scattering of ashes causes even more grief

The scattering of human ashes in public places has emerged as one of the bereavement issues that vexes New Zealanders most.

At the last in a series of 12 public meetings about a review of the Burial and Cremation Act in Palmerston North yesterday, lead Law Commissioner Wayne Mapp said feelings on the issue ran deeper than the commission had anticipated.

"This issue has come up at every meeting," he said. "The Maori community in particular has raised it, and it is clear there needs to be a code of conduct around it."

Dr Mapp said it was clear, for example, scattering ashes in rivers or on the foreshore was culturally unacceptable. There was already conflict about it in Wellington, where Sikh and Hindu communities wanted to scatter ashes in the Hutt River, the practice finding offence.

"We want to road test an idea there, to see whether Barrett's Reef might be an acceptable solution, with its huge tidal flows.

"We can develop protocols that might be used as models which iwi and local government can agree on."

Palmerston North funeral director Trevor Cotton said that at present, families could come and collect ashes, and funeral directors had no idea what they did with them.

Dr Mapp said it would help if funeral directors could provide them with a list that suggested local places where they could scatter ashes, along with a code of conduct.

"This is an issue that is becoming more contentious, not less."

Palmerston North City Council principal Maori adviser Todd Taiepa said the sensitivities were more general than just about iwi views.

"No-one wants ashes in playgrounds either, and that's a wider New Zealand issue."

So far, about 400 people have attended meetings about the review of the way New Zealanders dispose of and remember the dead, with funeral directors, local government staff, religious groups and iwi making up a large proportion of them.

Dr Mapp said it was clear that people wanted assurance the funeral industry was well regulated, that they could easily access information about flexible options, and there was a clear need for a better dispute resolution process. He expected 400 would also be about the number of submissions that would be received by next week's deadline of Friday, December 20.

The city council is likely to depend on Local Government New Zealand to represent its views.

Council assets officer Brian Way said one of his greatest concerns was the prospect of allowing privately-operated cemeteries that could divert revenue from council cemeteries and leave ratepayers with the burden of fixed maintenance costs.

Manawatu Standard