Thursday 19 May 2005


Mr FINCH (Question) - Mr President, I have three parts to this question. Firstly, what stage has the Government's consultative process reached on a good public policy on cats in Tasmania, bearing in mind that Minister Bryan Green said in June 2003 that the Government was committed to community consultation? Secondly, what progress has been made in establishing a cat task force in Tasmania? Thirdly, is the Government aware of suggestions that the incidence of the disease toxoplasmosis is increasing because a decline in Tasmanian devils has allowed the feral cat population to increase, and does the Government plan any research into the incidence of toxoplasmosis infection in animals and humans?

Mr AIRD - Mr President, I thank the honourable member for his question. The Government is continuing to work with councils and community groups in relation to this issue. A cat control task force was established by councils in southern Tasmania to develop an agreement on funding for the Hobart Cat Centre in partnership with the State Government. The Government has also been liaising with the Latrobe Council regarding the council's cat control program. Trapping programs are continuing in local areas in conjunction with local communities.

No cat task force has been established in Tasmania to deal with the issue of feral cats. However, as mentioned above, a cat control task force was established by southern Tasmanian councils to address a range of domestic control issues in consultation with the State Government.

Finally, Mr President, there has been no research undertaken to draw any conclusion on the potential link between Tasmanian devils and feral cat populations, but anecdotal evidence suggests there may be an inverse relationship between the relative size of their populations. The Government is, of course, aware that feral cats do cause the dispersal of toxoplasmosis which affects a range of animal species as well as humans. Toxoplasmosis can be a concern for sheep graziers and can lead to abortions of sheep, and it is on this that the Government has records. These records may reflect the incidence of toxoplasmosis in rural Tasmania. Over the past six years the Government's laboratories at Mount Pleasant have investigated between three and 15 reports of sheep abortions each year, with between zero and 80 per cent in any one year being confirmed as positive for toxoplasmosis. In 2003, nine of 15 cases of aborted sheep submitted to the laboratory were positive to toxoplasmosis compared with three of six cases submitted in 2004. There does not appear to be any evidence of an increase in the prevalence of toxoplasmosis in sheep in recent years. However, the very low numbers of cases submitted to the laboratory does not make it possible to statistically confirm this observation. Reporting of abortions in sheep varies according to a range of factors, including commodity prices and the number of flocks with pregnant ewes. In this context it is important to note that lamb prices are currently high and so it encourages reporting of aborted lambs.

The Government's laboratories will continue to investigate reported cases of toxoplasmosis in sheep and will remain vigilant for any signs that may indicate a major outbreak of toxoplasmosis.