Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the environmental concern of feral cats

17 February, 2021


This is an important report. As a member of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, I commend this report on our inquiry into the problem of feral and domestic cats in Australia. I thank my fellow committee members and the committee secretariat for their work on this important inquiry. The inquiry sought to examine the prevalence and impact of feral, stray and domestic cats and the effectiveness of various legislative, regulatory and collaborative responses across Australian jurisdictions. The committee received 218 submissions, held six public hearings in Canberra and conducted a very memorable site inspection under just a bit of rain at Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary in Canberra's north, where we were able to inspect the sanctuary's feral-predator-free fence and had the pleasure of seeing great diversity, including the eastern quoll. It really was exciting to see good policy and a really fantastic program.

The report makes six specific recommendations which I fully support. We know feral cats are a significant problem. It's astounding. Feral cats are found on 99 per cent of the Australian continent. It's clear there is no magic solution and there needs to be a cohesive response, and these six specific recommendations seek to do that. In particular, regarding recommendation 1, the prioritisation of the problem of feral cats is a matter of national environmental significance. We need to do better. We have seen a really dramatic loss of native species as a result of the problem of feral cats. We need to better educate ourselves and understand the problem. We need to promote responsible cat ownership. Pet cats are part of the problem. The statistics are astounding: one million animals per day in Australia are, in fact, killed by pet cats. I think that is quite telling. In the recommendations, there is a call for a clear strategy to inform resourcing and a response to the problem. It is a significant problem. It is of a vast scale. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but we must be focused on it and make sure we're making gains across so many areas.

Discussions in relation to loss of biodiversity and the extinction of native species brings on debate about what we're doing in terms of environmental protections at large. Of course, we've seen the EPBC Act amendment come through the parliament. The important issue of feral cat abatement is an example of why the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is so essential in protecting our native flora and fauna. I have grave concerns around the government's move to divest the powers to the states in relation to the recent legislation that was put to the House of Representatives. I believe it is a very dangerous move. The EPBC Act provides for the identification and listing of key threatening processes. A key threatening process is when it threatens or may threaten the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community. It's no surprise that the predation by feral cats is listed as a key threatening process.

Feral cats, as I said, roam over 90 per cent of our continent and are decimating populations of birds, amphibians and small mammals. Some witnesses suggested that over 1.5 billion animals are killed by cats each year. The statistics were really scary. Our biodiversity, already under threat by so many factors, including climate change, deforestation and pollution, is being squeezed unsustainably. Once listed as a key threatening process, threat abatement plans and strategies can be developed. Regrettably, existing plans and strategies are insufficient to halt the extinction crisis driven in part by feral cats. There are concerns that, with the current legislation, there is a push for the divestment of powers of environmental approvals and assessments to the states, without critical safeguards in place. We've seen the final report of the Samuel review of the EPBC Act, and I would suggest that the government's response is inadequate. We need a firm commitment that the government will implement the national standards envisioned by the Samuel review in full. There must be an adequately resourced and independent assurance and compliance regulator. Only then can we be assured that we can reverse the extinction and biodiversity crisis that we have in Australia.

The attitude towards the EPBC Act and what it seeks to protect was on display, I would say, when we had a really inadequate debate—it was rushed through the House of Representatives late last year without proper debate. I call on colleagues in this place and in the Senate to really consider the impact on our environment and what legislation is in fact needed to make sure we do protect our biodiversity, our flora and fauna that is so unique around the world.

This report is a very important report when it comes to one of the worst predators on our native species. I thank all the witnesses and all those who participated, and also the secretariat and my fellow committee members. I commend the recommendations to the House.