Catholic cemetery control secured despite duopoly fear

An attempt to solve Sydney's dwindling supply of burial spaces by handing control of the city's major cemeteries over to the Catholic Church will endow the institution with billions of dollars in revenue, critics say.

Under new legislation, revenue from five cemeteries the church operates on public land would be transferred into a trust outside the purview of government officials.

Introducing the bill to parliament on Tuesday night, Lands and Property Minister Steve Kamper said it would "bring the cemetery wars to a close".

The Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria Trust Bill legislated the government's two-operator model for the crown cemeteries sector.

It will allow the state-owned operator Metropolitan Memorial Parks to work alongside the Catholic Church and give the church control over five sprawling cemeteries on crown land.

"This model acknowledges the Catholic Church's track record of delivering essential interment services on crown land for over 150 years," Mr Kamper said.

But the controversial laws, which were pushed through parliament on the same day the state budget was delivered, have come under fire.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said the bill would ensure the Catholic Church pocketed all future income derived from cemeteries it operated, potentially worth many billions of dollars.

"This is contrary to a statutory review undertaken of the crown cemetery sector in 2020 which recommended all crown cemetery operators amalgamate into a government-controlled OneCrown entity," she said on Wednesday.

Ms Faehrmann said other faiths that handed over their trusts and assets to the state had been "conned" in the deal, adding the laws created an effective "duopoly in the burial business".

But Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust spokesman Tim Allerton said the bill was not handing over anything and provided letters of support from 15 faith groups for the move.

"It is merely allowing the Catholic Church to continue to operate its current cemeteries as it has done since 1867," he told AAP.

"The idea that there is billions to be made is rubbish."

The Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust manages five large cemeteries across western Sydney.

The registered charity was the subject of scathing attack from the NSW auditor-general earlier in the year for continuing to refuse state auditors access to its financial records.

The trust disputes it is a controlled state entity, so does not need to provide its financial records, despite the auditor-general and successive governments holding that view.

The government warned in 2023 that some Orthodox and Muslim communities had just three years left before their allocated grave space in Sydney's crown cemeteries was filled.

The dire situation and other mismanagement concerns prompted the amalgamation of four crown cemetery managers into a single entity.

The Catholic trust was left untouched.