Thursday 19 May 2005

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, there is a pressing need to raise the question of a policy on cats in Tasmania, both domestic and feral. I suggested in mid-2003 that the team set up to rid Tasmania of foxes, the fox-free task force, subsequently referred to as the task-free fox force, might be retained after its task is finished to combat other Tasmanian feral animal problems such as feral cats.

I also received an assurance from the minister, Bryan Green, in the Estimates committee hearings, that the Government intended acting on the then Premier's commitment on future good public policy on cats after thorough community consultation. Mr President, I still see any use of the fox task force to reduce the population of feral cats as part of a much wider program and, as the Government indicated in 2003, only after working through all the issues with the community. As I told this House in June 2003, before any effective action can be taken on the problem of feral cats we must have full information on the feral cat population, what harm feral cats are doing to native wildlife and whether the problem of feral cats is in fact becoming worse.

The minister pointed out in the Estimates committee in 2003 that cats have been in Tasmania as long as European settlement and it may be that their relationship with native fauna has stabilised. However, the possibility of stabilisation referred to by the minister two years ago may have been upset by the decline in the Tasmanian devil population. There have been suggestions recently that this decline has allowed an increase in the feral cat population and a subsequent increase in the incidence of toxoplasmosis disease. Among other things, this disease can cause blindness in wallabies and there is anecdotal evidence that this is on the increase.

Mr President, we have legislation on dogs in this State but still no legislation on cats, and I believe it is high time that we did. The State Government spoke of a consultative process two years ago; surely two years is long enough to consult the community. It is now time to act. RSPCA Tasmania has recently been giving careful thought to a policy on cats, both owned and unowned. It is presently considering some sort of initiative for a wider desexing program to humanely control the population of domestic cats and their dumping in rural areas where they increase the feral population. I will quote a key paragraph from the RSPCA's position paper on cats:

'Domestic cats provide a high density reservoir of breeding animals for wild populations and continually replenish and increase the wild cat population. Whilst a wild cat population can be self sustaining, food supply and climatic conditions provide natural biological limitations to its expansion.

Any control program must therefore address both populations or it will be ineffective; it must consider both the owned and unowned animals as any form of biological control will affect both equally.'

The RSPCA says that legislation on cats should be enacted at a Federal and State level so that it is uniform and then it is enforced at local government level, but with flexibility so that it can be adapted to local conditions. I urge the Government to give urgent consideration to the RSPCA's legislative recommendations.