Commonwealth legislative and regulatory approaches to feral cats
The Australian Government’s approach to feral cats focusses on its legislative responsibility for pests, threatened species and habitats in matters of national environmental significance, and on Commonwealth land. This Chapter considers the levers available to the Australian Government in discharging this role, including legislative and policy frameworks to protect the environment and biodiversity, along with its role in bringing a more coordinated focus to feral cat management. This Chapter also considers the role of state, territory and local governments across Australia, as the primary custodians of legislative responses and regulatory actions to manage cats within their jurisdictions.
Environmental Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999
The Environmental Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government’s principal environmental legislation. The Act is administered by the Minister for the Environment through the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE).
According to DAWE, the EPBC Act:
… enables the Australian Government to join with the states and territories in providing a truly national scheme of environment and heritage protection and biodiversity conservation. The EPBC Act focuses Australian Government interests on the protection of matters of national environmental significance, with the states and territories having responsibility for matters of state and local significance.
In its submission to the inquiry, DAWE advised that some aspects of the EPBC Act are relevant to the Committee’s inquiry. In particular the EPBC Act provides for the identification and listing of key threatening processes, and recognises the impact of predation by feral cats on threatened species and ecological communities. Key provisions within the EPBC Act provide the basis for feral cats to be:
listed as a Key Threatening Process;
identified for action in Conservation Advices and Recovery Plans for listed Threatened Species and Ecological Communities;
identified during environmental assessments of actions that may impact on Matters of National Environmental Significance or as part of an offset strategy; and
taken into consideration when assessing applications to amend the List of Specimens Suitable for Live Import.
The EPBC Act identifies Key Threatening Processes (KTPs) impacting on listed threatened species and ecological communities, or that may cause species or ecological communities to become listed. The EPBC Act provides for the Minister to establish a list of KTPs which include impacts from invasive species.
Threat Abatement Plan for predation by feral cats (2015)
Threat Abatement Plans (TAP) provide for the actions necessary to reduce the impact of a listed KTP on native species and ecological communities. Implementing a TAP should assist the long term survival of the respective native species or ecological community.
The EPBC Act authorises the Minister to determine the need for TAP for a KTP if the plan is a feasible, effective and efficient way to abate the process. There has been a TAP for Predation by Feral Cats in force under the EPBC Act since 2000, with the most recent iteration released in 2015.
In developing and implementing TAPs, DAWE works in collaboration with other governments, natural resource managers and scientific experts. The Department submitted to the inquiry that:
Threat Abatement Plans are viewed by stakeholders as useful in providing a framework for shared implementation of threat abatement actions across jurisdictions, NGOs and local groups, and provide clear direction for research at a national level. They allow groups to leverage funding and resources because the Key Threatening Processes are nationally recognised.
DAWE explained to the Committee that the purpose of the TAP for predation by feral cats was to establish:
… a national framework to guide and coordinate Australia’s response to the impacts of feral cats on biodiversity. It identifies the research, management and other actions needed to ensure the long-term survival of native species and ecological communities affected by predation by feral cats. Successful implementation of the Threat Abatement Plan depends on a high level of cooperation between landholders, non-government organisation, community groups, individual volunteers, local governments, state and territory conservation and pest management and research agencies and Australian Government agencies.
As stated in Chapter 2, the TAP for predation by feral cats recognises that feral cats are a potential threat to 74 mammal species and sub-species, 40 birds, 21 reptiles and four amphibians. The TAP outlines four objectives to manage the threat of feral cats:
1. Effectively control feral cats in different landscapes;
2. Improve effectiveness of existing control options for feral cats;
3. Develop or maintain alternative strategies for threatened species recovery;
4. Increase public support for feral cat management and promote responsible cat ownership.
According to the TAP, each ‘objective is accompanied by a set of actions, which, when implemented, will help to achieve the goal of the plan. Performance indicators have been established for each objective.’ DAWE advised that actioning the TAP:
… requires operational planning. Regional natural resource management plans and site-based plans generally provide the best scale and context for developing operational plans to manage invasive species. They allow primary production and environmental considerations to be jointly addressed and allow management to be integrated across the local priority vertebrate pests within the scope of other natural resource management priorities.
The TAP states that it ‘may be difficult to assess directly the effectiveness of the plan in abating the impacts of feral cats on Australia’s biodiversity’ because:
… feral cat management is only an element of a complete recovery plan so being able to accurately assess impact of feral cat control may be difficult. Individual feral cat control programs with comprehensive monitoring may be able to see a recovery in the threatened species populations.
Concerns with the Threat Abatement Plan
Inquiry stakeholders raised several concerns about the current TAP. The Threatened Species Recovery Hub (TSRH) commented that the EPBC Act imposes little obligation to implement actions outlined in TAPs (other than on Commonwealth land).
Suggestions for improvements to future iterations of the TAP included:
an obligation to implement or resource actions specified in TAPs;
the development of subsidiary abatement plans by each state and territory specifying intended actions, coupled with action at the local level;
requiring mandatory monitoring of threatened species and key threatening process management;
targets for eradicating cats from, and improving the biosecurity of islands;
strategically expanding the network of mainland fenced areas;
developing landscape-scale methodologies to limit cat impacts; and
intensive management of cats through trapping, shooting and other options available at locations that have vulnerable populations of native species.
Methods for the control of feral cats are discussed further in Chapter 4.
According to DAWE, the listing of threatened species and ecological communities under the EPBC Act requires the development of Conservation Advice and possibly also a Recovery Plan, if determined by the Minister. A Conservation Advice provides ‘guidance on immediate recovery and threat abatement activities that can be undertaken’.
On recovery plans, DAWE advised that:
Recovery Plans set out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline of, and support the recovery of, listed threatened species or threatened ecological communities. The aim of a recovery plan is to maximise the long-term survival in the wild of a threatened species or ecological community. Recovery Plans state what must be done to protect and restore important populations of threatened species and habitat, as well as how to manage and reduce threatening processes.
Concerns with recovery plans
With respect to recovery plans, inquiry stakeholders commented that, while feral cat management is seen as a priority for those threatened species that do have recovery plans; the EPBC Act provides no obligation to implement or fund the actions within recovery plans. The TSRH further advised that most listed species either did not have a recovery plan, or if one existed, there was no obligation to implement it.
The Committee raised its concern about the lack of operational recovery plans with the Threatened Species Commissioner, noting that only 40 per cent of threatened species have recovery plans. Dr Sally Box, Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner, told the Committee that:
We've got 1,800 threatened species on our list. I think the Threatened Species Strategy has raised the profile of the issue with the community. While we haven't hit all of our targets, I think good progress has been made against many of them and it has really focused our efforts. We need to continue on this journey. We need to continue to set outcomes and base targets for our threatened species and work towards them. That's going to require new research. It's going to require investment in on-ground action. It obviously requires an effective legislative framework to underpin it.
Threatened Species Scientific Committee
The EPBC Act establishes a Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC). The key functions of the TSSC include advising the Minister regarding:
the amendment and updating of lists for threatened species, threatened ecological communities and key threatening processes;
making and adopting of recovery plans and threat abatement plans;
approving conservation advices; and
other matters relating to the conservation of threatened native flora and fauna at the Minister’s request.
According to the DAWE website, the TSSC:
… plays a critical role in the Australian Government’s protection of native species and ecological communities, and management of key threatening processes, by providing independent scientific advice to the Minister for the Environment.
The TSSC’s membership includes experts with significant expertise in flora and fauna conservation and ecology. In discharging its functions, the Committee receives nominations for listings to be assessed. The public can comment on the assessments being undertaken and expert groups may be invited to undertake assessments. The Committee’s advice and determinations are published.
Independent review of the EPBC Act 1999 (2020)
The EBPC Act requires a review to be undertaken every ten years to examine the operation of the EPBC Act, and the extent to which its objects have been met. At the time of this inquiry, the second independent review of the Act was being conducted by Professor Graeme Samuel AC. While the terms of reference for the independent review are quite broad, some aspects were relevant to the Committee’s inquiry.
Mr Andrew Cox of the Invasive Species Council told the Committee that he was keen to see the independent review consider and recommend further improvements to the EPBC Act to better manage the threat of feral cats including:
further advances around how major threats, like feral cat predation, should be addressed; and
delivery of a more effective threat abatement planning and recovery system.
Professor Samuel released an interim report in July 2020. The interim report made observations, including that:
Coordinated national action to address key threats—such as feral animals—are ad hoc, rather than a key national priority.
Strategic national plans should be developed for ‘big-ticket’, nationally pervasive issues such as the management of feral animals … [and] should guide the national response and enable action and investment by all parties to be effectively targeted …
The listing of key threatening processes and the development and implementation of threat abatement plans ‘are not achieving their intent and many threats in Australia are worsening’.
The final report for the independent review is due in late 2020.
Threatened Species Commissioner
Dr Sally Box, Australia’s second Threatened Species Commissioner, has been in her role since December 2017. The Commissioner brings a national focus to conservation efforts and works to address the growing number of native flora and fauna in Australia facing extinction. The Commissioner works collaboratively with the national Threatened Species Scientific Committee and the community, including the non-profit sector, industry, scientists and all levels of government. The role includes building on and initiating new initiatives and strategic approaches to threatened species conservation.
The Commissioner’s role complements the government's responsibilities for threatened species protection and recovery under the EBPC Act by having oversight of the development, implementation and reporting of threatened species recovery programs.
Threatened Species Strategy
The Threatened Species Strategy (2015) sets out a road map, and highlights an approach of science, action and partnership to be used to achieve a long-term goal of reversing species declines and supporting species recovery. The Strategy sets ambitious targets for tackling the impacts of feral cats such as the eradication of feral cats from five islands; establishing 10 feral cat-free mainland exclosures; 12 million hectares of feral cat management; and two million cats culled by 2020.
The Threatened Species Commissioner publishes an annual report on progress made under the Strategy. The most recent report, covering the period from mid-2018 to mid-2019, identified a number of key successes under the Strategy. These included restoration of some threatened flora and fauna, and progress in establishing new predator-free fenced areas.
In June 2019, Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, in Central Australia, was declared free of all feral predators, including feral cats, making it the largest feral predator-free area in Australia.
Concerns with the Threatened Species Strategy
Some inquiry participants saw the Strategy as a welcome development; others were interested in establishing whether its target to cull two million feral cats by 2020 was too ambitious or even appropriate. Dr Box explained that in developing the initial target, it was estimated that there:
… were close to 18 to 20 million cats in Australia. The research that's been undertaken since then has revealed that the number of cats … isn't quite as high as we initially thought. There's a sense that the targets were ambitious. There's been some learning that's happened over the course of the implementation of the strategy which made us realise just how challenging some of those targets are …
Dr Box acknowledged that while the target was ambitious, it had brought ‘public attention to the scale of the issue that feral cats pose to native fauna.’ Dr Box was clear that achieving the targets within the Strategy was not simply a Commonwealth responsibility, noting that there existed a ‘shared responsibility across Commonwealth and state and territory governments and landholders to continue to keep up the work on feral cat control.’
Dr Box commented on how the Australian Government is working to ensure that the targets are linked to outcomes:
… our investments are very targeted at where we're going to get threatened species outcomes. And, while we might not have seen the improvements in the trajectory of as many species as we would like in a short time frame, certainly our investment in feral cat management in particular locations is bearing fruit and giving results for our threatened species.
New ten-year Threatened Species Strategy
In September 2020, the Australian Government committed to the development of a new ten-year Threatened Species Strategy. DAWE proposes developing the new Strategy in two stages:
stage one - an updated Threatened Species Strategy, which is being developed in 2020, outlining the Australian Government’s ten-year vision, objectives, prioritisation principles and action areas; and
stage two - a five-year Action Plan, to be developed in 2021, which sets out practical targets, priority species, actions, deliverables, responsibilities, partners and timelines.
In October 2020, as part of the first stage, DAWE released a discussion paper and sought feedback through a public survey on the existing Strategy and to inform priorities, prioritisation principles and action areas for the new Strategy.
Feral Cat Taskforce
The Feral Cat Taskforce was established in 2015 under the Threatened Species Strategy. It is chaired by the Threatened Species Commissioner and brings together feral cat researchers, non-government organisations, practitioners and representatives from every state and territory to track and report on implementation of the TAP, share knowledge, coordinate action and build momentum within the community for improved best practice feral cat control. The Taskforce meets approximately six monthly and at each meeting considers what work has been undertaken against the actions in the TAP.
DAWE advised the Committee that the role of the Taskforce was to drive the delivery of initiatives to tackle feral cats and their impacts by:
linking initiatives, innovations and progress on managing feral cat threats;
building relevant partnerships and national cooperation on feral cat management;
informing government policy, planning and investment on strategic feral cat management; and
providing clear and accessible data, monitoring and public reports on feral cat management activity.
Expanding the feral cat taskforce
Some inquiry participants were of the view that the membership and role of the Feral Cat Taskforce should be expanded. Ms Candice Bartlett of the Invasive Species Council proposed that the Taskforce should include the agricultural sector and other stakeholders, as well as broadening its coverage to include a leadership role on domestic cats. The Australian Veterinary Association was of the view that, as a key peak body, it should also be included in an expanded Taskforce to provide veterinary expertise in animal health, welfare and public health.
The TSRH submitted that the Taskforce ‘is a model that could be usefully applied to help coordinate actions for other nationally listed threats. However, its operation would be enhanced if it were able to fund a substantial component of the Threat Abatement Plan.’
National declaration: feral cats as pests (2015)
The key driver of change within state and territory government legislation giving effect to the use of a full suite of tools to control feral cats is the 2015 National Declaration: feral cats as pests.
In the Declaration, Australia’s federal, state and territory Environment Ministers agreed:
that effective and humane techniques to control feral cats, that do not pose an unacceptable threat to the survivability and ecological function of non-target protected species in the treatment area, should be pursued in coordination with other pest control activities to benefit threatened species;
to commit to reviewing their jurisdictional arrangements including consultation with key stakeholders and interested community members and, based on this review, remove any unnecessary legal impediments to land managers undertaking feral cat control and management within a 12 month timeframe, where possible;
that the management of feral cats will be considered a priority in threatened species recovery programs; and
to support community efforts to undertake and promote responsible pet ownership, and to pursue the development of a national best practice approach to the keeping of domestic cats.
The Committee was told that not all states and territories have declared feral cats as pests under relevant biosecurity or natural resource management legislation. TSRH submitted to the Committee that:
Feral cats are declared as pests in some jurisdictions (Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia, on public lands of Victoria, and on an ‘unassigned control’ basis in Western Australia, meaning that there is no obligation on individuals or agencies to undertake management). Feral cats are not declared as a pest in the ACT, New South Wales, or Tasmania.
Birdlife Australia was of the view that it was important for all jurisdictions to implement the declaration as it ‘is a key step in recognising the need for urgent action to address the impacts of feral cats.’ In some circumstances, the lack of a declaration could prevent effective local government action on feral cat management.
Import controls for high risk domestic cat varieties
Under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth), domestic cats can be imported to Australia under strict conditions to manage biosecurity risks. The conditions are applicable to all breeds of domestic cats. An important condition for import is that the cat ‘must not be a hybrid between domestic and non-domestic species.’
DAWE submitted to the Committee that the reason that hybrid cats cannot be imported into Australia is because:
The unique features that makes hybrid cats attractive pets to people also may mean they are potential feral animals in their own right or could breed with feral cats to produce a more effective feral animal …
According to DAWE, the EBPC Act also contains relevant restrictions. It ‘only permits a live specimen (including hybrid animals) to be imported if it is included on the List of Species Suitable for Live Import (the Live Import List).’ There are currently no hybrid cat breeds on the Live Import List, and Savannah Cats are specifically excluded.
One exception to the live import restrictions has been made for Bengal cats that were present in Australia prior to 2008. This is because these ‘were present in Australia prior to the Savannah cat decision and are considered a legacy issue.’ DAWE raised concerns about Bengal cats, submitting to the Committee that:
An average domestic cat weighs between 3.6 and 4.5 kg, a Bengal’s weight is between 3.6 and 6.8 kg. The Bengal’s coat is a mixture of marbling or rosettes that is likely to confer excellent camouflage for a hunting animal. They are described as a highly intelligent, excellent hunter, fiercely territorial and athletic cat …If these traits entered the stray or feral cat populations it is possible that this may result in a bigger more efficient feral animal that due to its size, coat and behaviour would have a positive selection pressure in the wild.
Importers of Bengal cats must demonstrate that the animal is:
… at least an F5 animal, that is the animal’s parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were not an Asian Leopard cat. To import a Bengal cat into Australia the importer must provide the Department with a pedigree which lists it and its preceding four generations.
DAWE advised the Committee that it is reviewing the policy on hybrids and the exception for Bengal cats may be removed in the future. Other inquiry stakeholders expressed support for a general prohibition on the import of hybrid cats into Australia.
State and territory legislative and regulatory approaches, and the role of local governments
Australia’s states and territories have varying legislative frameworks and regulatory responses to managing feral and domestic cats. In most cases, local governments around Australia are primarily responsible for carrying out duties in relation to cat management under relevant state and territory legislative and regulatory instruments.
Evidence to the Committee highlighted just how different each jurisdiction’s legislative frameworks were. As an example, the Ecological Society of Australia pointed out the inconsistencies of cat containment laws between NSW and the ACT, stating that:
… in New South Wales, the Companion Animals Act 1998 does not enforce state-wide cat confinement, and cats from NSW can easily move in and out of the ACT, potentially reducing the effectiveness of the ACT’s Domestic Animals Act 2000 cat confinement regulation.
The Ecological Society of Australia also highlighted inconsistencies within jurisdictions, submitting to the Committee that:
In Western Australia, for example, the Animal Welfare Act 2002 provides a defence against a charge of animal cruelty for killing pest animals (defined as an animal declared as such in sections 12 or 22 of the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007). However, the WA Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 does not list feral cats as pests, meaning that landowners and land managers who lethally control feral cats could be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act 2002.
Table 3.1 below summarises the key legislative instruments in force in each state and territory.
Table 3.1: Legislative instruments for cat control within Australia’s states and territories
Biosecurity Act 2014
New South Wales
Companion Animals Act 1998
Australian Capital Territory
Domestic Animals Act 2000
Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994
Domestic Animals Act 1994
Cat Management Act 2009
Cat Management Act 2009
Territory Parks And Wildlife Conservation Act 1976
Landscape South Australia Act 2019
Dog and Cat Management Act 1995
WA Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007
Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016
2017 Victorian parliamentary inquiry and government response
The terms of reference for this inquiry required the Committee to consider the findings of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Control of Invasive Animals on Crown Land conducted by its Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee in 2017.
The Victorian Legislative Assembly Committee’s inquiry focused on the benefits of state agencies such as Parks Victoria and the Game Management Authority using community hunting organisations and individuals in the control of invasive animals on Crown land. It included the application of these types of programs for invasive animal species control in partnership with Crown land managers; and assessment of the relative costs and benefits, financial or otherwise, of other forms of pest control in national parks.
The Victorian Committee presented its report on 20 June 2017, examining the background, control and future management of a range of invasive species, including deer, feral and wild cats, horses, rabbits, foxes, goats, pigs and dogs.
In relation to feral cats, the report found that it was difficult to establish the prevalence of feral cats in Victoria ‘as efforts to monitor their populations are hampered by the wary nature of feral cats…’
Under Victorian law, each species can be classified differently according to rules and regulations around the animals’ treatment, protection and management. With respect to the classification and management of cats in Victoria, the report noted that:
Cats (even those living in the wild) are not categorised as a pest or wildlife. Their management is prescribed under the Domestic Animals Act 1994 and Wildlife Act 1975, which do not differentiate feral cats from pet cats. Dogs are covered by the same or similar provisions, but an order of the Governor in Council has declared dogs to be ‘established pest animals’ if they are feral or wild. The same has not been done for cats.
The report found that Victorian legislation prevents any effective control of feral cats. With the exception of areas within the state that do not have a local council, the report states that ‘in most other circumstances, a cat found on public or private land must be captured and delivered to the local council so that it can be recovered by an owner (if it has one).’
Authorised officers can destroy a cat ‘at large’ if it is:
where animals or birds are kept for farming purposes (owners of the animals or birds may also destroy cats in this situation)
attacking or harassing wildlife
on certain public land and reasonable attempts have been made to catch it but these attempts have been unsuccessful.
The Committee’s report made one recommendation targeted specifically at cats:
That the Government declare feral or wild cats to be ‘established pest animals’ under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994, mirroring the way wild dogs are classified.
Many of the other recommendations relating to the management of invasive species more generally may also be relevant to feral cats. These include recommendations for the Victorian Government to develop a monitoring framework designed to better understand the relative effectiveness of control methods for invasive species to ascertain which provide the best value; to investigate barriers preventing proper consultation and collaboration in relation to invasive animal control; and that initiatives are developed to educate the public on the invasive species problem.
In its response to the Committee’s inquiry in December 2017, the Victorian Government fully supported the recommendation relating to feral cats, advising that:
The Government intends to declare the feral cat as an established pest animal on public land in Victoria under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 to help enable public land managers to humanely, effectively and efficiently reduce the impact of feral cats in areas where key biodiversity values are at risk. The declaration will not affect private land. The declaration of feral cats as pest animals is part of a national commitment to the control of feral cats and is a very important milestone in the protection of Victoria’s biodiversity and threatened wildlife.
The government response further advised that feral cats are the main threat to the persistence of threatened fauna in Australia, with some forty-three listed threatened species directly at risk from feral cat predation. The Victorian Government also recognised that feral cats are regarded as distinctly different from domestic cats, noting their importance as companion animals and the benefits that responsible cat ownership brings. The Victorian Government stated that consultations would commence as part of the pest declaration process, while ongoing consultation would be integral to the implementation of control programs for feral cats on public land.
Making and enforcing local laws
The Committee received evidence attesting to the key role of local governments in cat management under state and territory law, particularly in relation to domestic cats in urban communities. While it is beyond the scope of this report to conduct an exhaustive analysis of the regulatory regimes in operation at the local level, key themes emerged in the evidence that pointed to concerns about the management of domestic cats at the local level.
The ability of local government to make and enforce local laws relating to domestic cat management varies widely and may be constrained by state and territory legislative frameworks, and high-level cat management plans within each state and territory. In most cases, state and territory legislation allows local governments to make by-laws to suit their own particular local and geographic circumstances.
Some local governments have cat management plans in place. According to RSPCA Australia, a ‘cat management plan may be a useful tool for local councils to identify key priorities, develop strategic and operational plans as well as evaluation measures.’
According to Albury and Wodonga Councils, for example, the Victorian Domestic Animals Act 1994, requires each council to prepare and regularly review a Domestic Animal Management Plan (DAMP). The aim of the DAMP is to support the effective management of domestic animals (dogs and cats) within the city of Wodonga while addressing the issues relating to animal management in urban and rural areas. Other councils also told the Committee that they had similar plans.
Inquiry contributors highlighted some challenges associated with making by-laws at a local government level. These included that by-laws:
could be overridden or disallowed by the state government;
may be challenged by community and lobby groups;and
the lengthy process and costs associated with establishing and implementing local by-laws for domestic cats.
Examples of local government actions that reduce barriers to responsible cat ownership, including powers to regulate the registration, microchipping and desexing of domestic cats, will be discussed in Chapter 5.
One concern raised by local government and others was the power to deal with roaming domestic cats that may be predating on wildlife or otherwise impacting property.
In NSW for example, submitters raised in evidence that the Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW) limited their ability to deal with roaming domestic cats that were predating on wildlife. RSPCA Australia submitted to the Committee that under this legislation, the ability to prevent domestic cats from roaming is limited to ‘wildlife protection areas and food preparation/consumption areas … or where the cat is threatening personal property.’
In Victoria, Albury and Wodonga Councils advised that:
In Wodonga (Victoria) a night time curfew (7pm to 7am) is applied through Local Laws provisions under the Local Government Act 1989. Outside of this curfew cats are legitimately free to roam outside the owners’ property.
The capacity of local government to assist local residents in managing roaming cats varies. Evidence to the Committee suggested that the most common solutions were the provision of cat traps for residents to capture cats that have impacted on their property. Evidence highlighted the mixed successes of this approach.
Albury and Wodonga Councils commented on the need for laws relating to both dogs and cats to be better aligned, calling for the government to play a leading hand in issues relating to cat containment and:
Take the lead in influencing the societal expectations of cat owners to shift to more closely align with the obligations and expectation of dog owners. It is generally and widely accepted that dogs are confined at all times, and that there are consequences when this does not occur. Currently the same is not true for cats, despite overwhelming evidence in support of cat containment.
This alignment is a feature of laws in Tasmania. The Tasmanian Government advised that in this respect:
Local government officers authorised under the Dog Control Act 2000 are automatically authorised under the Cat Management Act 2009 to enforce compliance with the Cat Management Act within their own municipalities.
Perspectives on the need to encouraging containment of domestic cats as one method of reducing the barriers to responsible cat ownership will be discussed in Chapter 5.
Animal management facilities
One option available to many local governments is the power to have feral or stray cats caught by residents taken to local animal management facilities.
Eurobodalla Shire Council in NSW told the Committee that:
Council have cat traps for residents to humanely trap primarily feral or wandering cats which may be predating on wildlife. The animals are then managed through the animal pound and in accordance with the legislation. It may be problematic where a pet may not be registered. This becomes resource intensive to enable the return of a cat to its owner; to alternatively rehoming a cat; or to ultimately enthanize the animal if required.
One submitter observed that in relation to one facility in NSW:
… they were poorly resourced. The shelter was only open for a certain number of hours a day – mostly in the mornings and late afternoon – and that they only carried a limited number of traps. They also commented that my experience was not unique – there were a number of other individuals faced with similar circumstances, and that the shelter’s stray cat supply was regular and plentiful.
The Tasmanian Government described its approach to cat management facilities which are run by private operators in the state:
While facilities operate independently of the State Government and each has their own policies and operational guidelines, facilities have specific obligations under the Cat Management Act in relation to activities such as scanning for microchips; notification of owners; release of cats to owners; and destruction of cats.
Towards a national approach
A theme repeated often in contributions to the inquiry was the need for the Australian Government to take a national, coordinated approach to the management of feral cats.
RSPCA Australia advised the Committee that despite the inconsistencies between various state, territory and local government laws:
There has been some work towards national consistency including the draft Australian Code of Practice for the Welfare of Cats which was initiated under the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy and the Australian Cat Action Plan but further work is needed.
The TSRH submitted to the Committee that the key elements of a national framework should include mandatory pet cat registration, mandatory desexing, limiting the number of cats per household, cat-free or cat containment areas, 24 hour containment or curfews, with corresponding resourcing for compliance and enforcement, and not allowing Trap-Neuter-Release programs.
Birds Queensland also suggested elements that a national cat management strategy should include. In its view, public education, the involvement of the Australian Veterinary Association, mandatory registration, microchipping and neutering of domestic cats were all elements of a successful national framework.
Dr Tony Buckmaster from the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions was of the view that the management of feral cats should be coordinated through a role similar to Australia’s wild dog coordinator. Dr Buckmaster outlined the duties of the position of the wild dog coordinator:
It allows for community based management of wild dogs in areas. The wild dog coordinator goes to those areas, talks to those people, explains best management practice and assists them with creating management plans that are outcome based and appropriate to that area. There's no one-size-fits-all plan for Australia for any pest species. It has to be specific to the area and to the damage that's being done. The wild dog coordinator position is exceptionally good at arranging for those meetings and for those committees to be effective.
Many inquiry contributors were also of the view that for any national cat management initiative to be successful there needs to be a commensurate level of resourcing. In the view of some inquiry participants, the resources required extended well beyond financial capacity to include more streamlined sources of cat management information for local government.
Southern Downs Regional Council told the Committee that:
A potential solution is for the Federal government to co-ordinate and promote a nationwide “knowledge base” that shares details on cat management programs (including indicative costs) from across the country. Organisations running cat management programs could register their project and upload information and results. This would give pest managers the opportunity to examine a variety of management options in a single location.
Eurobodalla Shire Council submitted to the Committee that it would welcome information on best practice cat management approaches ‘inclusive of trials, case studies, website information, funding and targeted projects across the country.’
While Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, there is much that can be learned from the experiences of comparable nations. Some submitters drew the Committee’s attention to an ambitious goal in New Zealand aimed at eradicating invasive predators.
According to the New Zealand Government, the Predator Free 2050 program aims ‘to eradicate stoats (‘stoats’ includes all three mustelid species of stoats, ferrets and weasels), rats and possums.’ As an interim target, the program aims by 2025 to:
eradicate predators from blocks of at least 20,000 hectares (without the use of fences)
suppress introduced predators on a further 1 million hectares
eradicate all predators from offshore island nature reserves
achieve the capability to eradicate at least one introduced predator.
The tactics that the program plans to employ are cooperative in nature and include connecting the efforts of communities with Maori nations, private businesses, philanthropists, scientists, and government. The program will also distribute funds, including for researching new predator control technology, coordinate resources, and champion projects and campaigns which sustain threatened species and create knowledge for securing their future.
One submitter argued that the New Zealand approach should be model for a similar goal in Australia.