The ACT government is considering the possibility that a new cemetery and crematorium proposed for Tuggeranong could be financed and operated by private interests, as the minister with responsibility for cemeteries questions the need for a second crematorium in Canberra.
ACT Public Cemeteries Authority chief executive officer Hamish Horne is still confident a multimillion-dollar facility in the city's south will be operating by late 2017. Woden cemetery is expected to reach its capacity in 2017-18.
''There's plenty of time. There's no problem with that,'' Mr Horne said.
Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury believes the complex on Mugga Lane could be developed in stages but he insists this does not mean he is trying to dump the crematorium, even though the Greens, in the last Legislative Assembly, opposed a second crematorium in favour of a natural burial cemetery.
The Greens argued then that Canberra did not need a second crematorium and questioned if the privately run crematorium at Gungahlin was operating at capacity.
Mr Rattenbury, the sole Greens member in the Legislative Assembly, is the minister responsible for cemeteries and crematoriums. He says final decisions have to be made.
''They are certainly questions I have asked since taking on the portfolio. Is a crematorium required? Can the one in Gungahlin provide sufficient capacity for Canberra?
''That's the level of detail [you need] when you get to the stage we are at now. I don't have a definitive view on it and nor have I had definitive advice on it,'' he said.
In late 2008 then chief minister Jon Stanhope announced that a 226-hectare site on Mugga Lane that had been earmarked for a controversial data centre and power station would be the site for a new cemetery and crematorium. In early 2009 Mr Stanhope said he expected work to start the following year.
More than four years on, a master plan for the Southern Memorial Park has been completed but not released. Funding is still an unresolved issue.
The estimated cost of the cemetery and crematorium has routinely been put at $10 million. Both Mr Horne and Mr Rattenbury said there was no firm figure.
''It does depend on how you stage it, depending on how many components of it you build in the first instance and what sort of development plan you have,'' Mr Rattenbury said.
The cemeteries authority's annual report says work is continuing on ''establishing a robust financial model'' for the development and operation of a new facility.
The chairwoman of the authority, Diane Kargas, says in the report that
such a model is being worked on ''in a difficult fiscal environment''.
''With the master plan and environmental reports largely complete, the next steps will be to carry out an evaluation of funding of operation models,'' Ms Kargas writes.
Mr Rattenbury said that included exploring private funding options.
''Certainly the government has sought for the cemeteries authority to go and look at whether there is interest from the private sector to participate in that, and there are suggestions there may be,'' he said.
''If there are opportunities for the government to partner with someone in the private sector, then that could be a good value-for-money outcome for Canberra taxpayers.
''If that option is there, we're certainly open to exploring it.''
Mr Horne said it was about the government being prudent.
''I'm certain they want to see it happen,'' he said. ''It really is about making sure they look at the options.''
The cemeteries authority operates the Woden, Hall and Gungahlin cemeteries, whereas the Norwood Park crematorium is privately run.
Last financial year, there were more burials than cremations in the ACT. However, the trend over the past 20 years or so has been a steady increase in preferences for cremation over burial in the territory.
Opposition territory and municipal services spokesman Alistair Coe said the issue of a more definitive time line for Southern Memorial Park was likely to be raised in forthcoming annual report meetings.