Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, this bill has been looked at by many people across Tasmania for many years now with a great deal of hope and a great deal of mitigation. There is an enthusiastic desire across many sectors of the community, a broad church, if you like, of different groups to mitigate the damage of feral cats on the environment and also domestic cats. This is an impact not just on native wildlife but also on agricultural production and has threats to human health.
One less human-introduced pressure into the landscape and agricultural production would be very welcome. Indeed, all the surveys that have been undertaken show that not only the majority of Tasmanians who were asked about this matter but the majority of cat owners support strong legislation to manage the impacts of cats in Tasmania.
This is within the context of a wildlife extinction crisis which is happening across the world. In May last year in Paris a broad group of international scientists, 455 different experts from 50 countries, delivered a very substantial report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. They laid out a deeply concerning picture of the status of wildlife extinction across the globe and the likely threat in the near term. Their report shows that 38 per cent of all known species on a global scale are on the verge of extinction. That is a truly staggering concept to come to terms with and I think most people struggle to come to terms with that in any measurable way.
When we look at the small scale of the role of native bees or other insects in pollinating crops and in keeping the biodiversity in our trees and forests we start to appreciate the value of insects. We need to understand that 40 per cent of all amphibians are on the verge of extinction or that a third of coral reefs and all mammals across the planet are threatened, as are 12 per cent of all birds. These are things which are not in the far-off distant future anymore but right here, right now. Over the next couple of decades we are facing more than a million animals on the verge of extinction.
In Tasmania what we can do is take some pressure off the native wildlife that we know that cats are involved in contributing to in very large manner. The Australian Government did an assessment of the impact of predation by feral cats in 2015. They found that feral cats are a serious vertebrate pest in Australia that have severe and catastrophic effects on native fauna. The predation of native species by feral cats is the cause of not just the loss of wildlife but also disease transmission.
Cats prey on mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates and depend on live prey as the sole source of food. They also predate on grasshoppers, centipedes, fish and frogs. While some cats can become specialists in particular types of prey, others remain generalists.
The impacts as a result of disease-causing agents are from the viruses that feral cats breed. In Australia there are three known species of bacteria - fungi, protozoa helminths and arthropods. All of these can be transmitted to native species, particularly mammals, but also to humans. Toxoplasmosis is one significant protozoan species that uses the cat as the host and is a particular problem not only for people who are immuno-compromised and pregnant women but also for native Australian animals.
The Australian Government report was very clear in the finding that best-practice management of feral cats must involve reduction of the threat at the source. The source of course is the domestic cat population. If we can control the source we still have a problem to deal with the existing feral cat population but it is not being increased from the domestic population, it is a contained population which is then possible to do our best to manage. We know that is not just feral cats killing native animals. On average a feral cat kills 740 animals a year and this was from Australian research released last year on the impact of feral and pet cats killing animals in Australia each year.
They also found that domestic cats on average kill 75 animals a year. This is enormous and as another member, maybe Dr Broad, mentioned, people like to be deluded in thinking their sweet, loving pet could not possibly go off and kill birds and insects but the evidence is against them and that is exactly what happens.
The dangers of toxoplasmosis have been well documented. I will not go into detail about that except to say that this also affects native animals. We are very aware of the impact on miscarriage of sheep and the impact on agricultural production costs. I notice that the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association in the draft consultation for this amendment bill included their comments of concern about the enormous and understated problem of cats that prey on native wildlife, have an enormous environmental impact on agriculture and threaten human health. Mr Skillen said at the time that feral cats are the major host of toxoplasmosis and that the TFGA believed the disease had caused tens of thousands of dollars of losses of sheep in Tasmania as well as killing wallabies and other native animals. The TFGA is one major stakeholder and has been a strong proponent of cat confinement. I will speak more about that as I go on.
The other impact on Tasmanian wildlife is of bandicoots. We often see some of these Tasmanian mammals stumbling around blindly during the day. It may be that the Bennett's wallabies or pademelons that we see in this state have been infected by toxoplasmosis and are not only vulnerable to death but also to predation from raptors or other animals and to being hit by cars. This unfortunately often happens.
The evidence is that some 84 per cent of feral and stray cats that have been tested in Tasmania are infected with toxoplasmosis. We have strong evidence about the impacts on human health and miscarriage and stillbirth. My experience in my previous work with people living and dying with HIV AIDS showed they were extremely careful about not associating with domestic cats. They were even concerned with trying to make sure cats stayed out of their backyard so there was no possibility of contamination with cat faeces or cats urinating in their vegetable patch. It was a live issue for those people I spoke to at the time. I can only imagine that anyone else who is immune compromised, who is going through cancer treatment, for example, should also be aware of the need to take precautions against toxoplasmosis in that condition.
The other issue, which sounds small compared to the gravity of the things I have mentioned, is the nuisance factor. Anyone who works in a local council and has responsibility for picking up the phone will know that as well as people making complaints about barking dogs people will complain about cats coming into their backyard, threatening bird life, meowing and having cat fights. People can do nothing about that. It is hard to catch a cat. It is hard to keep a cat out when a cat wants to come in any time of the day or night.
People were warm in their support for the Liberals' announcement. In the minister, Mr Rockliff's media release in 2016 he said that the draft cat management plan was up for consultation and that he had established a cat management reference group as key stakeholders. The management plan included proposed amendments to this bill to improve it, to include the compulsory desexing and microchipping of cats, to allow an earlier age of desexing, limiting the number of cats allowed at a property without a permit, improving arrangements to make it easier for farmers to control cats on their properties, and confining cats to premises to prevent nuisance and roaming cats.
That was an important commitment and it was enthusiastically supported by the members of the cat management reference group, which included the TFGA, cat shelters, vets, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust and a whole range of other people who have been involved in that process for many years. They were most enthusiastic in their support for the Government's plan on confinement. Unfortunately, what has happened is the Government has quietly left out the most important part of this bill.
There were 136 submissions. I have read as many as I have been able to. From the word of the staff, there is strong agreement within those submissions, about 80 per cent, in support of containing cats. People describe this in various ways. Basically, it means taking responsibility for your cat, keeping it on your property, and making sure it does not go into anyone else's. It is that simple.
There was strong support for proposed section 12, microchipping. The Greens support this. There was also strong support for proposed section 14, which has reduced the age at which kittens must be desexed from six months to four months, and proposed section 16, removing the care agreement section. I could see no comments in the submissions that I read against those things. There was very strong agreement. It is not often the case when members of parliament are looking at bills as large and as important as this one where there is such unanimity from people.
However, while almost everyone was in close agreement, if not unanimity, the bill fails to introduce confinement, the one thing that is actually required to effectively control cat damage, the one thing that is required to put the onus of responsibility on the owner of the cat, which is what happens under the Dog Control Act.
People want cats to be treated like dogs in this manner. They want people to take responsibility for their pet. It is simple. It beggars belief that the Government has gone soft at the knees on this one. It is disappointing. Some people feel more than disappointed because of the grave impacts it has. Cat shelters work incredibly hard. To have cats constantly coming through their doors without this important amendment to the bill is for them very disappointing.
Minister, you said in your speech that a number of stakeholders had raised the subject of compulsory confinement of cats to the cat's property. Well, it was more than 'a number'. The majority of stakeholders have done that.
You said that 'we recognised cat management is a shared responsibility, and the Government strongly believes that compulsory confinement requires the combined support of the broader community, and that includes pet owners and local government'. I do not understand why the state Government believes it has no responsibility in this space, to create laws, as it does with the management of dogs, so that pet owners understand their obligations very clearly under law, so that there are penalties for not taking responsibility. There is no support here. The Government is just passing the buck to local government. Local government is at the coal face in this situation.
Minister, you said that the Government has consulted widely on cat management and believes these amendments reflect the balance of communities' views.
Well, no, they do not, minister. I am sorry. I would like you to come to this in your second reading wind up, if you would not mind. There is no balance of community reviews that this reflects because the overwhelming majority of the community want cat confinement, so that is not reflecting the balance. That is reflecting a tiny minority. I am not sure who they are because they are not coming out and making themselves known and they are certainly not the majority of Tasmanians.
By the evidence of the submissions, 80 per cent of them are pro-confinement. The staff told me about a survey that was undertaken. They have the three cat coordinators, one from each region in Tasmania. A survey was undertaken of people about their views on the matter of confinement. People who do not own cats want cat owners to keep their cat on their property. That is understandable. You have an interest. I asked the staff what the survey responses were from cat owners. Cat owners who have the cats obviously may have an interest in this. They are most at interest. Of the 344 people who were surveyed, 160 were cat owners. Of these, 78 per cent of cat owners were pro-confinement. Not only that, 68 per cent of people who allowed their cats to wander, as in they recognised that their cats wandered or left the house, were pro-confinement.
I do not understand how the figures that the minster is talking about reflect the balance of community views. I do not believe that they exist because that is not what I have seen. The minister said that the amendments support the principle of shared responsibility and at the same time allow statutory authorities such as local government to allocate effort and resources to areas that reflect the individual councils and their community's profiles. That is just buck-passing, if I have every heard it.
Essentially, the state Government is walking away from the leadership it promised that the community enthusiastically looked forward to in 2015-16. It has just said that is too hard: it might cost them money. Maybe it will cost them money but what are the costs of not acting? Where is the work that has been done on the cost of not acting? What about the costs to agriculture and to livestock, which the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association was talking about? What about the costs to the loss of native wildlife every year? These are not costs that this Government puts a monetary value on. It ought to because they are an essential part of a functioning Tasmanian economy and natural environment.
It has been an issue that the Government has walked away from, trying to deal with it in the bill in another way. Instead of the person who owns the cat being made to take responsibility for keeping it on their own property, the Government has created a workaround which, in our view, does not work. It has some unpleasant, unintended consequences.
The proposed new section 17 in the bill - Protection of property from cats - does not put the responsibility for managing the cat's damage on the owner. Instead, it shifts responsibility to the aggrieved person to take some defensive action against cat damage on their property. It allows any person who owns or resides on a property to trap a cat for 24 hours. It also allows for the destruction of cats by a wider category of primary producers and also by a new category of food producers. Such groups include people who might prepare or store food for commercial purposes. As I understand it, that would be the preparation or storage of food on any scale and in any area. It is not in a prescribed commercial area, it could be in a residential area.
We have concerns that this new group of people who are allowed to trap and destroy cats, people who produce food or store food; those people who may make or store food for sale in the suburbs, such as a shop or a café, would be allowed to trap and kill cats that might have wandered across over the back fence, without any obligation to inform or find the owner. That is hardly an ideal and possibly not an intended consequence for this workaround the Government is attempting.
The failure to make confinement laws a part of this amendment and to only provide for 24-hour cat trapping anywhere opens up a Pandora's box of neighbourhood disputes. It continues the aggravation for people who do not want cats defecating or killing birds on their property. It legalises the potential for petty vindictiveness between neighbours, with people being allowed to catch their next-door neighbour's cat and hand it to a cat management facility without having to inform the owner. This is hardly a desirable situation and I suspect not one the Government has anticipated or thought through properly.
The Circular Head Council has made a submission in this respect and they made this point very clearly. They said -
While all the amendments are considered useful, the apparent Cabinet rejection of the concepts of compulsory enclosure of all cats and compulsory registration of all cats is considered to undermine their opportunity to provide an appropriate solution to the continually growing cat nuisance problem.
Failure to legislate to require cats to be confined and/or always be controlled when not within their owner's property, coupled with the expectation that people with nuisance cats roaming on to their property should be responsible for catching cats and returning them to their owners is unfair and naïve. It appears to render the increased measures to protect private landowners from roaming, stray and feral cats unworkable.
How and why are affected property owners expected to identify the owners of roaming nuisance cats in regional Tasmania, to handle, house and transport those cats some distance to humanely deal with the nuisance that is not caused by them.
It is accepted that microchipped cats will be able to be identified; however, will the resources, time and finance expended by the aggrieved person be able to be recouped from the cat owner?
The Tasmanian Land Conservancy is also strongly of the view that -
Cat containment is required to make sure that domestic cats are under effective control because they roam day and night into neighbouring properties, bush reserves and other conservation areas and continue to wreak havoc on wildlife, irrespective of being desexed, microchipped or having bell collars.
The RSPCA was also strongly of the view that the 78 per cent of people recently surveyed were in favour of cat containment and a larger percentage, 100 per cent of people who work with stray and feral cats would agree with confinement.
I will leave some other comments until later in the bill. We will be going into Committee and foreshadow that we will propose an amendment that will deal with the situation that the Government has found itself in. We would like to help reduce the prospect of neighbourhood disputes and also find a solution to the issue of roaming cats.
The minister talks in the speech about putting money into education, but there is not a cent of money in the forward Estimates has been committed towards anything to do with the management of stray, roaming and feral cats in Tasmania. The $1.4 million the minister talked about finishes this year - there is no forward Estimates commitment and the money has gone only to three regional officers. Nothing has been given to the cat shelters - Ten Lives, Just Cats, the Southern Cat Rescue and the RSPCA - that do the hard work.
I want to give a shout-out because this puts it in perspective. Ten Lives is having a fundraiser to raise money to build a project, and is starting it on Saturday, 29 August. They are trying to raise money for a revamp of their cat shelter, which is very inadequate given the amount of work they have. The CEO, David Reeves, will be riding a quarter-length Tour de France, cycling around for three weeks with 21 stages. People can get involved starting on 29 August or just contribute money, which would be great.
The point is that this is something which needs state government support. It is a leadership issue for the state to confine cats; while the Greens support this bill and the changes it will bring in, we have a number of concerns about unintended consequences and particularly about the failure to include confinement. I think we all want a solution to this, and it is available - people can take responsibility for the pets they choose to have in their lives. Pets bring love, but I think everyone in Tasmania agrees that feral cats can cause destruction. We want to do everything we can to mitigate what is happening in that space.
Clause 14 -
Section 17 substituted
Dr WOODRUFF - This section deals with the protection of property by cats and the destruction of cats on properties. We made our views very clear in my second reading speech response. This is a very inadequate response by the Government to the overwhelming support for cat confinement across Tasmania.
There is overwhelming support and the majority of people in Tasmania want to have cats confined. The majority of cat owners want to have cats confined and this is the evidence that has been established by the department's own surveys. We also know that the majority of cat owners who allow their cats not be contained - 68 per cent, under the Government's survey that was conducted - are also comfortable with legislation that contains cats. So it is overwhelming. It is very interesting that the coalition of people who combine together on the working group for the cat management plan, when the government established that in 2016, comprised the TFGA, vets, conservationists, people from cat shelters and it comprised a wider range of people in the community, as well, who were unanimous in their view that cat confinement is what we need in Tasmania to manage the stray domestic cat and the feral cat population.
We need to manage the stray domestic cat so they do not become feral cats, but also from animal welfare view for those cats. People just dump cats and it is tragic. We need to manage it for the human health view so that we do not have the increasing circulation of toxoplasmosis in the native animal population, and also through domestic cats roaming into neighbour yards and defecating in the yards, and being a source of toxoplasmosis in the soil, potentially in people's vegetable patches, and being a risk for humans, especially women who are pregnant, but also people who are immune compromised. Toxoplasmosis is highly dangerous and can lead to miscarriage, other disorders, even death.
From the human health point of view, there is a very strong case for this. There is also an agricultural productivity point of view. That is why the TFGA and farmers in Tasmania are so keen to have everything they can, every bit of legislation possible, to try to limit the increasing numbers of feral cats in the population, because of the damage they do to livestock also from toxoplasmosis. The miscarriage rate for livestock because of toxoplasmosis is substantial according to the evidence provided in some submissions. One farmer made the comment that 20 per cent of births were miscarriages and it had a huge impact on his business.
We have a chorus of people singing together across Tasmania. If that was the only thing that this delivered, that would have been a fantastic result. With microchipping and desexing, that is the trifecta. We also needed to see registration in there.
We do not understand why this Government has not taken the same approach to cats as the Dog Control Act takes for dogs. We support the overwhelming view that people who are cat owners should take responsibility for their cats. It is fundamental.
Section 17 in the bill talks about the protection of property from cats. It talks about how cats are to be destroyed, but our view is that the Government has bungled this by making a decision not to go with confinement. I do not want to put motivations into the Government's mind. Who knows who was concerned about it, but they certainly were not speaking up, and they certainly represent the minority of people in Tasmania. We know that. I have no idea why the Government refused to pick up the ball on this one. Maybe it was a cost issue, but the bottom line is that this legislation as it is, is not going to do the job that people have been expecting and hoping it would do.
This section in the proposed new section 17 and 17A, creates serious unintended consequences of neighbourhood disputes. We are deeply concerned that it tried to fix a problem by creating another much worse problem that does not actually fix the first problem. The fact that any person can trap a cat for 24 hours, which is a big change, tries to deal with the issue by putting the onus on the neighbour, not on the cat owner, but it creates the strong possibility for neighbourhood disputes, for animal welfare issues and for vexation between neighbours.
Mr Deputy Chair, I move -
That clause 14 is amended by deleting everything after 'substituted' and inserting the following instead:
Protection of property from cats
(1.) In this section primary production land has the same meaning as in the Land Tax Act 2000.
(2.) The following persons may seize, detain or humanely destroy any cat found on primary production land:
(a) a person managing primary production on the land;
(b) a person who is the occupier of the premises; or
(c) a person acting on behalf of the person specified in paragraphs (a) or (b).
(3.) A person may seize, detain or humanely destroy a cat found on their private premises,
(a) if the location at which the cat is found is more than one kilometre from any structure or building used as a place of residence; or
(b) in prescribed circumstances.
(4.) If a person sets a trap with the intention of trapping a cat in accordance with this section the person must check the trap and remove any animals contained in the trap at least once within every 24-hour period after first setting the trap.
(5.) If a person sets a trap with the intention of trapping a cat in accordance with this section and the setting of that trap results in the detention of an animal other than a cat the person must release the animal subject to a prohibition on releasing the animal contained in any other Act as soon as practicable but in any case no later than 24 hours after first setting the trap.
(6.) A person who traps, seizes or detains a cat under this section may:
(a) if the owner of the cat is known to the person arrange for the return of the cat to the owner;
(b) whether or not the owner of the cat is known to the person arrange for the cat to be taken to a cat management facility;
(c) whether or not the owner of the cat is known to the person arrange for the cat to be taken to a person, business or organisation nominated for that purpose by a cat management facility; or
(d) whether or not the owner of the cat is known to the person humanely destroy the cat.
(7) A person within 24 hours after trapping, seizing or detaining a cat under this section must take an action under subsection 6 A, B, C or D on relation to the cat.
Seizure and detention of cats at large
(1) The owner or person in charge of a cat must ensure that the cat is not at large. Penalty - fine not exceeding 10 penalty units.
(2) An authorised person may seize and detain any cat at large.
(3) If a cat is seized and its owner is identifiable the general manager is to notify in writing the owner of the cat that -
(a) the cat has been seized and detained;
(b) the owner may reclaim the cat.
(4) If after five working days after the notice has been given to the owner the owner does not reclaim the cat the general manager may sell, destroy or otherwise dispose of the cat.
(5) If a cat is seized and its owner is not identifiable the general manager not less than three working days after its seizure may sell, destroy or otherwise dispose of the cat.
(6) The general manager is to take reasonable steps and make reasonable inquiries to identify the owner of a cat.
(7) The general manager may cause a cat that is seized under this section to be implanted in an approved manner with an approved microchip.
(8) The owner of the cat is liable for the costs associated with the implanting.
(9) For the purpose of this section a cat is at large if it is -
(a) in a public place and not restrained;
(b) on private premises without the consent of the occupier of the premises.
Mr DEPUTY CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, just for clarification, on the second page of your amendment, you did not read the penalty just before section 17A, 'Penalty, a fine not exceeding 100 penalty units'.
Dr Woodruff - Did not read what?
Mr DEPUTY CHAIR - Penalty, fine not exceeding 100 penalty units. You did not read that into Hansard. Do you still want that included in your amendment?
Dr WOODRUFF - I read penalty, fine not exceeding 10 penalty units.
Mr DEPUTY CHAIR - Yes, and above that there is one that says 100 penalty units.
Dr Broad - Have you got a different version to us?
Dr WOODRUFF - I gave you the same version as this.
Dr Broad - That is about trapping, that one.
Dr WOODRUFF - They are identical. That is about the humane trapping and releasing so there is a penalty associated with that.
Dr Broad - That is still there.
Dr WOODRUFF - It is on your copy? It is not on my copy.
For the purposes of Hansard, under the new section 17, at the end of subsection 7, after
In relation to the cat -
It should say -
Penalty Fine not exceeding 100 penalty units.
Section 17 of the current Cat Management Act allows for a person carrying on primary production relating to livestock on rural land or a person who finds a cat on their property and is more than one kilometre from any place used as a place of residence, to be able to trap
Dr BROAD - Point of order, Mr Deputy Chair. Have you actually moved the amendment?
Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, I have moved it. I moved it before I read it in.
Dr Broad - Have you enough time to read it in? That is what I am getting at.
Dr WOODRUFF - I have done it and we are on the amendment.
To trap, seize or humanely destroy a cat. The bill we have before us repeals the section of the Cat Management Act, proposed section 17, and replaces it with a framework that allows owners of any primary production land, or a person who finds a cat on their property and is more than one kilometre from any place used as a place of residence, or owners of a wide range of premises involved in the commercial preparation or storage of food, to humanely destroy a cat. It adds in an extra group to the bill before us.
It also allows for anyone who owns or leases a premise to trap, seize or detain a cat on the premises and to hold that cat for 24 hours.
Our amendment brings together the two issues that were of most concern during the consultation. It provides for confinement and it also deals with the concern that this section stands, will create serious neighbour disputes and the potential for vexatious trapping of domestic cats. It retains the provisions in proposed section 17A of the bill that allows owners of any primary production land or a person who finds a cat on their property and is more than one kilometre from any place used as a place of residence, to humanely destroy a cat. It also contains the provisions that allow those two classes of people to trap, seize and to detain a cat.
We are very comfortable with the extended definition that the Government has provided in section 17A. However, our amendment inserts provisions for mandatory cat containment. It uses sections from the Dog Control Act and simply replaces it, word for word, 'dog' for 'cat'. It is based on the provisions for dog control because there was such a strong theme and support from the consultation process. People are normalised to the rules around dog control. They see synchronicity between responsibility for domestic dog and domestic cat owners. People can no longer understand the logic of treating dogs and cats differently under the law and they would prefer to not have the vexation of cats wandering onto their property.
Our amendment also removes the provisions in the Government's bill that allows for anyone to trap a cat. It also removes the provisions that allows for commercial food facilities within residential areas to trap or destroy cats.
The reason that we have omitted those provisions that are currently in the Government's bill is because there needs to be mandatory cat containment. Simply requiring that neighbours deal with the problem of a cat coming onto their property instead of the owners dealing with it at the source and taking responsibility for their cat is not good enough.
The community enforcement measures put forward by the Government are a token gesture, in our view, to the real underlying failure of this bill to provide for containment. I want to make it clear that there is nothing that we have written de novo in this amendment. Our amendment is drafted exclusively using the provisions within the Dog Control Act and within the bill before the House.
In relation to the part of the amendment, new section 17A -
Dr BROAD - Mr Deputy Chair, this amendment is very interesting and we will not be supporting it. I will give an explanation. This amendment, as the member for Franklin has outlined, tries to do two things. One side of the amendment is about the so-called humane trapping of cats whereas the other side - if this is enacted as it is - would force local government to exterminate large numbers of cats because of the way that this is drafted.
I will go through that. The first point is that the fine is not exceeding 10 penalty points; if I am not wrong, at the moment 10 penalty points stands at $1720. So if your cat is not on your property and it gets seized you are facing a fine of $1720. That is a substantial amount of money for most people. You are going to want love little Fluffy a lot to want to pay $1720 because your cat has been captured off your property.
The problem with cats, and the reason this whole bill has come, is that they are significantly different from dogs. Fences are common on properties and fences are quite effective at keeping dogs on a property, as are chains. You can chain up a dog, not that I am recommending you chain up a dog. If you move into a rental property and you do not have a fence you can chain your dog up for a period of time until you build a fence but there are options for keeping your dog on your property that are very common.
Cat runs are not common and it is not always possible to keep a cat in your house while you build a cat confinement. Cat confinement runs are quite expensive. If this bill is enacted as it is written and it comes into place, if you are attempting to keep your cat on your property, for example keeping your cat indoors, and one of your kids or you yourself are not quite quick enough at closing the door on that cat and little Fluffy goes over the fence to the neighbour and gets caught, you are facing a fine of $1720. The cat is then handed over to the general manager and I assume that is referring to local government having the responsibility for looking after these cats.
This would mean that if there was - and the term that the member who has resumed her seat talked about was 'vexatious trapping of cats' - if this is enacted and enforced then there will be large numbers of cats trapped that will be handed over to local government. It will be their responsibility to look after that cat and people will be faced with a $1720 fine. The option for a large number of cats, the only option would be for that cat to be put down. If your cat gets out once you will get a $1720 fine; if your cat gets out again you will get another fine. Whether it is $1700 or $500, or the discretion is made, once this is enacted that immediately puts a huge burden on the owners and local government. If we supported an amendment like this it would lead to a large number of cats being put down by local government.
Dr Woodruff - That is a nonsense argument. It is a maximum penalty.
Mr DEPUTY CHAIR - Order, Dr Woodruff.
Dr BROAD - It is a maximum penalty but they have five working days to find the owner. If people are trapping cats -
Dr Woodruff - They will be under this.
Mr DEPUTY CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, you were heard in silence.
Dr BROAD - You get a fine if you do not confine. I think this would be cat carnage. That is what would happen, in effect. There will be large numbers of cats trapped and local government will have no alternative but to exterminate large numbers of cats. As I said in my second reading speech contribution, confinement is something that the community needs to brought along with. The compulsory desexing and microchipping will reduce the number of cats, as will the reduction in the numbers that people can have on their property as will, hopefully, an education campaign.
The reduction in cats and those numbers will happen over a period of time but confinement will have an immediate impact. People will not be aware of that impact. All of a sudden they will find that their cat has been captured and they have to pay a fine, otherwise that cat will be put down. We are better off taking a staged approach, educating the community and then thinking about confinement as a long-term thing rather than bringing in something like this which is more of a sledgehammer-type approach. It will have significant repercussions and will not be supported by the community.
Mr BARNETT - Thank you, Mr Chairman, for the opportunity to respond. I thank Dr Broad for his contribution, a very commonsense approach and well expressed. I will say up front, it is a little mischievous to receive this amendment literally less than an hour prior to debate on the amendments today.
It is different from the one that was circulating in the public arena on 15 August when the Greens released their plans. Their plans included an amendment with a fine of 20 penalty units not the 10 penalty units that Dr Woodruff is referring to in the amendment before the Chamber. Nevertheless, as was outlined in my second reading speech in response to Dr Woodruff and the Greens, and likewise Dr Broad, we do not support compulsory confinement that would impose according to 20 penalty units $3440 or $1720.
Dr Woodruff - No, it is not 20; it is 10. Do not mislead the House.
Mr DEPUTY CHAIR - Order, Dr Woodruff.
Mr BARNETT - The original amendment that was put by the Greens was 20 penalty units at $3440. Today's amendment is 10 penalty units, which is $1720. That is the cost of putting the cat out the door, either the front door or the back door, or in any other respect in not having it confined. This is compulsory confinement. The Greens would want you to spend that $1720, or up to that amount of money, to have your cat returned. In addition to that, through this amendment the Greens would also be requiring you to modify your property to keep your cat contained. How much will that cost?
Dr Woodruff - Shut the door. That does not cost anything. It is free.
Mr BARNETT - It may if you want some fresh air for the cat out the back. It might require some changes or rebuilding or further controls in modifying your property. That might cost hundreds of dollars; it might cost more than that. It might be a thousand or more to do that.
As I said in my response earlier, we encourage responsible management of cats and we encourage confinement. But we do not support penalising Tasmanians with potentially thousands of dollars of penalty to modify their property or to pay up to $1720 to have the cat returned within a short amount of time.
As Dr Broad indicated correctly, the consequence of that is that local government unfortunately would be in the position of either euthanising these domestic cats that have been found and these are people's loved pets. We do not want that. We want people to love their pets, to look after them, be responsible for them, to care for them.
Dr Woodruff - What do you think happens when they find them now? They get out now.
DEPUTY CHAIR - Order, Dr Woodruff. You will have an opportunity to make another contribution if you want to. Please allow the minister to speak.
Mr BARNETT - That is what we are on about and the very strange, peculiar approach from the Greens is even if it is 10 penalty units or $1720 - that is twice the penalty under the Dog Control Act for a dog being at large. That is the fine of not exceeding five penalty units for a dog at large, but under the Greens proposal the penalty is 10 penalty units for a cat being at large. So you have a double whammy for the cat owners across Tasmania under the Greens proposed amendments put forward today.
I am not sure if that is because you do not like dog owners, or you like cat owners twice as much as you like dog owners. It does not make sense. That is the effect of your poorly drafted amendment. It makes no sense whatsoever and is entirely inconsistent with the Cat Management Plan we have been working through that is supported by the key stakeholders in and around Tasmania. Thanks again to the department for working through and with these stakeholders to implement the Cat Management Plan. That is what this legislation does - it implements a Cat Management Plan. Desexing, microchipping, putting a maximum limit on the number of cats held at home - these are all very good, positive measures that will ensure more responsible management of cats in our community.
The amendment put forward is poorly drafted; it makes a muddle of the legislation. It is certainly not supported by us. I note in the amendment put forward by Dr Woodruff under section 17 - at the end the actual penalty for that particular section, not 17A but section 17 in the proposed amendment there is a penalty unit of 100 penalty units -
Dr Woodruff - Hello? This is from your bill. We copied it from your bill. When you talk about bad legislation, all of this is from your bill. It is total rubbish what you are saying.
Mr BARNETT - You have 100 penalty units but you are recommending a 10-unit penalty for the seizure and detention of cats at large.
Dr Woodruff - We are modelling it on the Dog Control Act, minister. Hello? This is ridiculous.
Mr BARNETT - I think you have yourself in a bit of a muddle.
Dr Woodruff - False hysteria. You are the one who is muddled. You are trying to find an argument. It does not make any sense whatsoever.
DEPUTY CHAIR - Order, Dr Woodruff.
Mr BARNETT - In terms of your amendment to further confirm the muddle you have created for yourselves in terms of the proposal, it significantly modifies the provisions for the protection of property from cats. The bill is very clear on the definition of primary production land and production premises. I have the bill right here in front of me and it talks about -
production premises means premises used -
(a) in relation to -
(i) agriculture; or
(ii) horticulture; or
(iii) viticulture; or
(iv) aquaculture; or
(b) for the preparation or storage, for commercial purposes, of food for humans or animals; or
(c) as an abattoir –
or for any associated purposes.
It is very clear what it is and now you put forward an amendment that is going to be totally confusing and unfortunately not clear at all. The Greens amendment would also introduce new provisions for the destruction of cats on private premises. This is quite different from what we consulted with the community through the Cat Management Plan. We cannot go changing our proposal now when we have consulted. We are responding to those consultations. We have the Cat Management Plan and have no intention of acting differently to our efforts to seek, to implement the objectives of the Cat Management Plan.
As I said, I still believe there is general consensus across the board, across this parliament, in terms of the vast majority of what we are trying to achieve here except for this issue of cats being at large and cat owners being penalised unfairly in that regard. That is where we agree to disagree. We want to put into practice what we have consulted with the community in the Cat Management Plan. That is the objective of this bill, and that is what I believe this bill will do.
We have not proposed for the destruction of those cats in urban settings as well. That is another part of the Greens amendment that we simply do not support. As I have said, we do not support the compulsory confinement in section 17A.
That is a reasonable summary from the Government's perspective. As I say, I concur with and support the comments of Dr Broad in not supporting this particular amendment.
Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Deputy Chair, what a load of rubbish. Minister, what you have said is total nonsense. For starters, everything in this amendment came from the bill, or it came from the Dog Control Act - everything, absolutely everything. You might like to say it is a jumble. Look at your new section 14, and look at this, which is far simpler. What this does is it fixes the problem that you have created, and it fixes the problem that you did not deal with, which is cat confinement.
If you would like to move an amendment to our amendment to reduce the penalty unit for a cat being at large to five, go right ahead, we support that. We are more than happy to do that. The bottom line is we are trying to strike a balance here.
The Dog Control Act was written in 2000 and has not been changed since. It is 20 years old. Here we are now, with a big problem with stray cats in Tasmania. I find it amusing that you and Dr Broad are both speaking so vehemently about everything except the issue for farmers. Self-confessed Dr Broad talking about the issues for agriculture -
Mr DEPUTY CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, refer to the member with respect, please.
Dr WOODRUFF - The point is, why are the minister and Labor refusing to talk about one of their key stakeholders - our farmers on production land? This is top of the list of what they wanted. Top of the list of what the RSPCA, cat shelters and vets wanted. Top of the list. What we are trying to do here is to fix the problem the minister has created.
Dr Broad had some truly sensationalist hypotheticals, one of which I cannot possibly imagine: a cat would walk out the door, council officers would pounce on it, and charge them $1720. Get real, Dr Broad. Go and spend some time in a local council. I can tell you that is the last thing a council officer would do to a person who had genuinely not been able to - or their cat had strayed. It would take councils years before they started exacting penalty units.
What this provides is the opportunity for council officers, or other authorised officers, to have a conversation with people and say, 'Look, this is against the law. You have to do something about this'. Then the person would say, 'I cannot afford to build a cat-containment thing'. Then they would say, 'We will point you to cat shelters, we will point you to all the other voluntary organisations in Tasmania'. They would be more than happy to help with supporting people to create cat shelters, especially people who are on low incomes. People are desperate to have a space to start the conversation about how we keep cats confined.
Let us not forget it is the veterinary associations who are making it crystal clear that it is good for cats to stay indoors. Cats do not like competition in the landscape with other cats. It does not make them feel good. This is not an act of cruelty, this is an act of kindness.
There is no sense to any suggestions that either the minister or Labor have made. The point is, there is going to be a problem under this bill with people trapping cats in their backyards. They are allowed to. Anyone in a house. If a cat gets onto their property, they can trap it and keep it there for 24 hours - and then who is going to pick up the problem? You do not have to return it to the neighbour or the owner. You are not allowed to release it. You have to give it to somebody to deal with.
This bill makes it other people's problems. Everyone's problem except the owner's. That is what makes no sense.
Dr Broad and the minister, you can make up all the silly little scenarios you like, but it does not wash with the 12 per cent of people you are trying to speak to. You might want to make the Greens out as being crazy, and we are going to jump on people and force them to pay these big fines. It is total rubbish. Absolute madness.
This is about incentive to move in that direction. There are no council officers I have ever seen around the state who vindictively go around and exact penalties. It is the last thing they want. They want to work with their community; they want to bring them along. They want to have a tool to do it with. That is what they are expecting the Government to provide them.
There is, of course, a cost to treating dogs when they stray, and the vets pay for that cost, and there is a cost for cats when they stray. Everyone else is paying the costs in the community, except the owners taking responsibility. I reject the idea it costs a fortune to confine a cat. I reject that.
Of course, everyone would have to learn how you manage to stop the cat going outside. Of course it is a training exercise. That is why we need some leadership from the Government providing some education to people about how to confine your cat. Letting people know it is a transition period: it is okay, we are not going to monster you, we are not going to jump on you. We understand that we are all doing this together. But there is the requirement to do the right thing and take responsibility for your own cat. You want it, you take responsibility for it. It is really basic. I do not understand why the Liberals do not understand this.
I understand why Labor does not understand it, because they are not going to support anything that we propose. That is the only reason. This amendment fixes the bill, and it helps all the people who made submissions and wanted the community to have an incentive to do the right thing.
If you do not need to hear it from me, what about the department? Your own department, minister. What your own department has written on cats and wildlife makes it really clear:
Cats can happily live indoors in a suitable enclosed area. Cats are skilled hunters and are a threat to the survival of many native animals and birds. When combined with threats like habitat loss, Tasmania's native wildlife is facing a battle to survive.
Your department's words, minister.
Cats in the suburbs away from bushlands are not a risk to wildlife. True or False? False. Cats, especially males, can roam many kilometres, and in doing so may hunt wildlife. Many species of native animals, birds and lizards are found in suburban areas of Tasmania. Do neighbours love my cats? False. Complaints and disputes about roaming pet cats are common. Complaints include roaming cats entering homes, defecating in vegetable gardens and sandpits, fighting with and disturbing other pets, killing wildlife and potentially affecting people's health.
I should be a good neighbour? True, says DPIPWE. Just as dogs in Tasmania must be confined to their owner's property, there is increasing demand within our community that cat owners should confine cats to their property.
In addition to causing community disputes and killing wildlife, roaming cats are also at risk of being injured in fights catching disease and being killed on the roads. Keeping your cat confined to your property will avoid all these problems.
People have had years to do this stuff voluntarily, but for all the reasons that the DPIPWE staff have mentioned in this written brochure, and for all the reasons the consultation people said their submissions - the increasing losses to wildlife and agriculture, the impacts on neighbours - there needs to be the same law for cats as for dogs.
It is that simple.
Mr BARNETT - I will respond to some of the comments from Dr Woodruff. First of all, dogs and cats are not the same. Let us be very clear. They are not, and they should be treated and managed differently. That is why we have a Cat Management Plan, and the local government is responsible under the Dog Control Act.
I would say right up front that two key differences with dogs and cats are noise and safety. With regard to noise, you have barking dogs, they can bark day and night, up hill, down dale and can be very annoying for neighbours.
With regard to safety, dogs in particular can be very aggressive. They can have dangerous behaviours, attack and bite people. There have been serious injuries from aggressive dogs, chasing vehicles. It is absolutely a sensible approach from our point of view as a Government, to apply a different approach to the management of cats to the management of dogs. It is most effectively performed locally by people who know the area and often know the individuals involved.
We absolutely agree with regard to feral and stray cats. It is a dreadful time in Tasmanian history to be a feral cat under this legislation. We want to make it absolutely easier for farmers and primary producers to deal with feral cats. I agree with the comments of Dr Woodruff with respect to disease and toxoplasmosis and the impact of that in the farming communities, on animal health and on human health. You mentioned pregnant women earlier, in your contribution.
We want to combat that and this bill will do this through a whole range of measures, whether it be microchipping, desexing, the limits in houses so there is not hoarding of 10, 20 or more cats. There is no limit at the moment and we are fixing that with a limit of four. There are so many good things happening here.
We are implementing the education and awareness campaign and you mentioned the importance of that. We are totally on the same page regarding the importance of education awareness and making responsibility of our cats as a top priority.
The Greens approach to penalising Tasmanians with potentially thousands of dollars of $1720 fine, that is like having a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It is simply not on. I have said quite clearly there is going to be a transition period over the next 12 months as we implement this Cat Management Plan via this legislation, all working together, yes team Tasmania working together and we will deliver on that.
I mentioned the impact on farmers and primary producers, the disease toxoplasmosis, I have talked about feral and stray cats, particularly in those areas and this legislation makes that access to the destruction of cats on those primary production properties absolutely easier.
With regard to native wildlife, native birds, it is dreadful what these feral cats can do. This bill will progress opportunities to ensure the protection or at least provide further protection for native wildlife, birds and the like.
We simply do not support the sledgehammer to crack the nut. Imposing financial penalty on Tasmanians for putting their cat out the front or back door, imposing further cost on Tasmanians to modify their homes or to do a renovation simply to provide that confinement. We support responsible management of cats and support and encourage confinement, but we are not going to penalise Tasmanians with a financial penalty to make that happen.
In conclusion, in response to Dr Woodruff, we are broadly on the same page. There is a view you are trying to put this is a terrible thing, but broadly there is a thrust here across the parliament and certainly with the Labor Opposition support for which on behalf of the Government, I am appreciative of. For all these positive measures in the Cat Management Plan, we want to implement them, get on with the job and make this a safer and better place for keeping and caring for our pets, specifically our domestic cats in our homes.
People love their pets and their cats and we want to make a better environment for them to look after them and to be responsible for them. That is our key objective.