Page 866 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 6 April 2022

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The scrutiny committee raised several concerns relating to this legislation. For example, they noted concerns relating to the right to privacy, including the collection and retention of personal information, as a result of the annual registration. It is also noted that, under section 128 of the act, a cat can be seized from a residential premise without the consent of the occupier or court warrant.

The scrutiny committee also recognises that, under this legislation, not keeping a cat contained is a strict liability offence with various exemptions, such as having a reasonable excuse, controlling the cat via a harness, or being outside a declared containment area when the cat was registered or born before 1 July 2022. Many of us will remember the case in the paper, I think it was last year, of a person who wanted to walk her cat on a leash and at that time was not supposed to do that because it was a cat containment area. So it is good that this one about controlling a cat via a harness has now been addressed.

The committee notes that, by removing the requirement to establish the fault element through strict liability or placing an evidentiary burden on the defendant before an exception to the offence can be relied on, the bill may limit the presumption of innocence protected as a right in criminal proceedings.

Finally, the scrutiny committee recognises that more vulnerable members of the community may find it difficult to comply with the requirements of cat registration and containment, whether that is due to financial hardship, people living with disability and/or people living in unstable housing situations. Consequently, this bill may have a disproportionate impact on some members of the community and limit the right to equality in section 8 of the Human Rights Act.

Following concern from volunteers and members of the Canberra community, I met recently with the Canberra Street Cat Alliance to discuss this proposed legislation. Under the ACT Cat Plan 2021-31, the Canberra Street Cat Alliance would be unable to continue their current trap, neuter and release program, whereby they catch street cats, microchip, vaccinate and desex them, and then release them back into the community. Generally, this is in industrial areas. They also often feed cats in these industrial areas.

Upon meeting with the representatives of the Canberra Street Cat Alliance, I can tell there is a lot of genuine concern, care and goodwill for Canberra street cats shared by members of their organisation. I recognise that they do this work because they love cats and want to help control the street population in a way that does not harm cats or lead to their death. I can see their argument that the street cat population here in Canberra could, as an unintended consequence, grow over time under this legislation. Without a clear street cat population management plan from the ACT government, street cats may well continue to breed, particularly in business and industrial areas.

However, I note that there is also significant support for this legislation from environmental and other animal groups, such as the Conservation Council and the RSPCA. I know that there will be some people disappointed with this legislation but, for many, this legislation cannot come soon enough to protect our precious wildlife and many environmental groups would have preferred to see it legislated much earlier.

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