A parliamentary inquiry has urged the ACT government to look more closely at the idea of recycling future grave sites, as space dwindles at the Woden cemetery.
A Legislative Assembly committee handed down its report into ACT's cemeteries on Thursday, recommending the government move on developing a new cemetery in Canberra's south as an "urgent priority" and build a second public crematorium as a "high priority".
The committee, led by Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr, also called for a review of the laws governing cemeteries to determine how feasible it was to replace the ACT's current perpetual burials with a renewable tenure scheme.
Under such a scheme, future grave sites would be sold for a set period.
As it stands, burial plots bought in the ACT are the property of the family of the person buried there forever.
But with fewer people opting to be buried, filling cemeteries to maintain and diminishing burial space on the southside, the committee asked the government to reexamine perpetual burials.
The review should model the cost of tenure options and examine what kind of time periods for renewal should be offered, the committee said.
The committee emphasised any changes to tenure should only happen at future burial sites, and not affect anyone who is already buried.
The committee acknowledged there was "potential for confusion and ambiguity" when limiting burial plot tenures.
Any changes to tenures would have to address community concerns, including that the remains of their loved ones be left undisturbed, they said.
Their report said "for perpetuity" should be included as an option in the review.
Funeral director Peter Dinn of Tuscan Dunn wrote to the committee to say most ACT families expected their plots would be theirs forever.
"Information on tenure needs to be clearly spelled out to families and funeral directors to avoid confusion and discrepancies at a later date," Mr Dinn said.
Overall, people were moving away from traditional burials, with three out of every four Canberrans opting to be cremated.
However the ACT Cemeteries Authority - which looks after the Hall, Gungahlin and Woden cemeteries - has an unfunded liability of $18.1 million.
This stems from legacy allotments which were bought before 1993.
A trust was created in 2003 to fund the future maintenance of Canberra cemeteries but in 2005 the ACT Public Cemeteries Board came to government flagging a deficit, because it did not absorb the cost of upkeep for existing burial sites.
The board predicted this would blow out to $18.3 million in future.
The committee recommended a second crematorium be built in Canberra to respond to the shift in interment preferences.
In 2005, the Cemeteries Board put a similar proposal to government to help pay for cemetery maintenance going forward but Treasury opposed it.
The committee found NSW had one crematorium per 155,000 people
In the ACT, there is only one crematorium for a population of more than 400,000.
"Evidence received by the committee makes it apparent that with a growing trend to cremation services and with Norwood having an effective monopoly in the ACT on those services, that demand - particularly for cemetery burial interment - will continue to change with implications for the Authority and the development in the future of ACT cemeteries as they have developed to the present," their report said.
Norwood Crematorium had expressed a hope to run a future crematorium on behalf of the government but the committee said any future cemetery or crematorium be managed by the ACT Cemeteries Authority.