Page 871 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 6 April 2022

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The introduction of the amendments in this bill will ensure consistency of responsible pet ownership requirements across both cats and dogs, acknowledging the equal value of cats as pets and family members for Canberrans, as well as the equal value in managing them responsibly. I commend the bill to the Assembly.

MR STEEL (Murrumbidgee—Minister for Skills, Minister for Transport and City Services and Special Minister of State) (4.53), in reply: I would like to start by thanking members for their contributions to the debate. I take this opportunity to table a revised explanatory statement to the bill.

This bill is another step forward for the ACT as a jurisdiction that cares for animals and promotes responsible pet ownership so that our four-legged friends can live long, happy and safe lives. This bill underpins the implementation of our Cat Plan and the reforms in it, particularly in introducing cat registration and city-wide cat containment for animals born after 1 July this year.

These reforms are based on best practice and are recommended by animal welfare and environmental stakeholders as being the gold standard in domestic cat management. They will ensure that Canberrans benefit from and enjoy the great companionship that pet cats provide, while better protecting our city’s native wildlife from the predation of feral and roaming cats.

I will cut my remarks short. I particularly want to comment in relation to the wellbeing of cats who may be semi-owned or are roaming. The Cat Plan envisages that all cats will be owned, wanted and cared for by responsible owners. A key shift in this approach is to formalise our policy prioritising trap, neuter and adopt arrangements for animal welfare agencies that work with unowned and semi-owned cats.

We recognise that this will be a significant shift for some local organisations like the Canberra Street Cat Alliance. I acknowledge their advocacy for alternative models like trap, neuter and return that currently form the basis of their work. The ACT Cat Plan does not support the release of semi-owned or unowned cats, owing to animal welfare concerns about the release of domestic cats without ongoing care and the ongoing impacts to native wildlife.

Cats that are not responsibly owned are at risk of harm to themselves and native wildlife. Indeed, semi-owned and unowned cats have shorter life spans and higher risks of hunger, illness, injury and disease. The adoption and rehoming of desexed cats, rather than their release, is essential to prevent welfare issues for semi-owned and unowned cats, to minimise nuisance complaints and prevent wildlife predation. The ACT’s Animal Welfare Advisory Council has recently provided updated advice to me in relation to trap, neuter and return schemes. This advice indicates:

TNR strategies are difficult to recommend as a suitable or effective strategy in Australia, since resources for cat control are limited and will be better spent on education, increased community awareness about responsible cat ownership, targeted desexing programs, and better laws and regulations.

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