Angelos Angelopoulos holds a photo of his late father Anastasios as Angelos was unable to pay for a funeral and the state government would not pay to have a religious service. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Angelos Angelopoulos holds a photo of his late father Anastasios as Angelos was unable to pay for a funeral and the state government would not pay to have a religious service. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Loved father left in morgue while son battled government

A TOWNSVILLE man's dad lay in the hospital's morgue for four months as he battled the State Government to get a religious burial for his father.

Angelos Angelopoulos's 93-year-old dad Anastasios Angelopoulos died on June 23 in Townsville Hospital after complications from a fall.

Not only was it tragic for Mr Angelopoulos seeing his dad die but adding to the stress he was unable to afford a funeral for his father.

However, he discovered the State Government's Burial Assistance Scheme, but that's when a battle began.

Both men are religious and attend the Greek Orthodox Church.

Mr Angelopoulos said because of this he wanted to hold a religious ceremony for his dad.

Despite receiving approval for assistance, the State Government said the policy did not cover services or religious ceremonies.

Mr Angelopoulos said it was religious discrimination and lodged a complaint against the State Government with the Anti Discrimination Commission Queensland.

"Basically it doesn't pass the reasonable person test," he said.

"They were saying either take it or leave it."

In a letter to Mr Angelopoulos's lawyer Klaire Coles about the issue in October, director general David Mackie acknowledged the importance and significance of religious and cultural beliefs.

"Queensland is a multicultural state with a diverse range of cultures and religions," he said.

"Should DJAG (Department of Justice and Attorney-General) agree to provide church services and viewing in the current circumstances, then it would be obliged to provide a similar offer to all applicants of all cultures and religions.

"The cost to the State would be very significant and this would be a huge impost on limited Government funds to provide specialised funeral services, as opposed to a simple burial service, for each and ever culture and religion in circumstances where burial assistance is approved."

Thankfully the Greek Orthodox communities in Cairns and Townsville helped pay for the religious service for Mr Angelopoulos's dad.

He was buried on November 16, more than four months after he died.

"I did this to try and compel the government with public pressure and publicity to facilitate the funeral with the proper religious ceremony, that was my aim," he said.

 

Angelos Angelopoulos holds a photo of his late father Anastasios. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Angelos Angelopoulos holds a photo of his late father Anastasios. Picture: Zak Simmonds

A conciliation hearing about the dispute was held in Brisbane this month.

Mr Angelopoulos said the State Government offered him an apology but he did not accept it.

Now he is planning to take the issue to the Queensland Civil Administrative Tribunal to make a point that the policy needs to change.

"Someone in my position, that's vulnerable and in financial hardship, if they're a religious person whether it's indigenous, Catholic or whatever, they should be allowed to have that (service) performed as part of the funeral service," Mr Angelopoulos said.

"I could have walked away from this after the funeral, if I just wanted to think of myself but I want to help people."

A Department of Justice and Attorney-General spokeswoman said because of privacy reasons the department could not comment on the case, despite Mr Angelopoulos seeking answers.

The spokeswoman said funding was not provided for: religious services or observations prior to burial, headstones or plaques, viewings, church services or funeral notices.

She said the Burials Assistance Act 1965 imposed a duty on the chief executive of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General to bury or cremate the body of deceased person where it appeared no suitable arrangements for the body were in place.

"This ensures that a deceased person's remains are disposed of in a way which preserves public health," the spokeswoman said.

"Under the Act and the burial assistance guidelines, the Queensland Government, through DJAG, may organise a simple burial or cremation where a deceased person's estate cannot cover burial costs and relatives are also unable to pay.

"Eligibility for a state-funded burial is established on an assessment of the monetary resources of the deceased's estate and applicant.

"The legislation and guidelines provide for a simple burial or cremation at the State's (taxpayer's) expense."

In a terrible twist this is not the only time Mr Angelopoulos has gone through something like this.

In 2016 his mother Lygeri Angelopoulos was buried in the wrong plot at Belgian Gardens Cemetery.

Mr Angelopoulos has started a petition to get the State Government to change its policy.



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