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This letter was sent to all ACT Greens candidates 6 October 2016. A response was provided by the ACT Greens 14 October and is included in full below the letter.

ACT Greens policy: “Enforcing cat containment”

Thank you for sending your Protecting our environment election policy and for being the first of the current sitting parties to release environment policies in this 2016 ACT election campaign. You have have brought forward some useful ideas and provided for resources in important areas.

However your policy on cat containment is going backwards and seems to be denying the impact that domestic cats can have on wildlife. You would be aware that the Conservation Council has been for some years seeking a declaration that all of Canberra be declared as cat containment from 2025. We have engaged in community engagement and education on this matter and have tried to work with the Government to provide educative material widely across Canberra. We are very concerned that your policy would undermine this work to protect Canberra’s biodiversity.

The ACT Greens policy as published reads:

Enforcing cat containment

Cats have a major impact on native wildlife in our suburbs and in our nature reserves. While cat containment areas have been declared in new suburbs, better enforcement is required and research undertaken into the effectiveness of cat containment.

The ACT Greens will:

  • Continue to ensure that cat containment areas are established in all new suburbs, and those adjacent to key nature reserves, for example Jerrabomberra Wetlands;
  • Increase the level of enforcement to ensure compliance in existing cat containment areas
  • Research to assess the effectiveness of cat containment areas in reducing impacts on wildlife; and
  • Undertake detailed feasibility of cat registration and microchipping as occurs in other jurisdictions.
A key document on cat containment is Responsible pet ownership and the protection of wildlife: Options for improving the management of cats in the ACT by Kathy Eyles and Michael Mulvaney which was presented to the ACT Government on 22 July 2013. Among other things this work points out that about three-quarters of Canberra’s residents live within a kilometre of a natural area (Bush Capital) and this is also within the range of a domestic cat.
Our concerns with the ACT Greens policy are:
  • Calling the policy “Enforcing cat containment” rather than “Cat containment” starts with a punitive rather than a cooperative approach and limits opportunities to put community first to develop community engagement and build community ownership.
  • Given that cat containment is meant to be a community engagement activity the enforcement should be unnecessary or at the worst a lower order activity.
  • Research on cat containment has been done through the Kathy Eyles and Michael Mulvaney work. Domestic cats take wildlife – the science should not be denied. There seems to be no reasons to develop alternative science unless the aim is to cease cat containment.

The Conservation Council’s community engagement in 2014-2015 indicated broad support for cat containment. There is a need for a package of measures including micro-chipping and de-sexing and we are pleased that your policy mentions these measures. There is also a need for ongoing community education initiatives and some strategic enforcement.

Members of The Greens have previously supported cat containment. Caroline Le Couteur and Dr Bob Brown were both signatories to an open letter to Minister Rattenbury supporting Canberra-wide cat containment.

Will the ACT Greens be saying any more on cat containment or is the published policy the final position you will take into the election? Will you carry a policy of enforcement rather than cooperation and education? Will you undertake research to seek to deny that cat containment reduces impacts on wildlife?

Given the nearness of the election your early reply would be appreciated in order to inform the Conservation Council’s assessment of the various environment policies.

Thank you

Larry O’Loughlin
Executive Director, Conservation Council ACT Region
14/26 Barry Drive, Canberra ACT 2601 (GPO Box 544 Canberra ACT 2601)

Response provided by the ACT Greens 14 October

Hi Larry,

Sorry about the delay in responding. We are out campaigning a lot at the moment. 

As you know, the Greens are committed to biodiversity protection, and see it as a key priority for the ACT.

The ACT Greens fully appreciate the damage cats have on native wildlife.  We do support the concept of Canberra-wide cat containment in principle. As TAMS Minister, Shane Rattenbury declared a number of new suburbs – some of these were new suburbs, but also a cat containment declaration for Jacka, which already had residents, with a phase-in period.  We also initiated community consultation for Casey and the Kingston/Causeway area around Jerrabomberra Wetlands that also have existing residents. This community consultation was underway when Minister Fitzharris became Minister for TAMS, but unfortunately there does not seem to be any progress in this area, so there needs to be follow up to ensure that these go ahead. The aim of piloting these new containment areas was to test implementation in established suburbs to inform a wider roll out.

One of the issues with declaring more cat containment areas in existing suburbs is that we do not know the level of compliance. We would not want to risk an ACT-wide roll out ending up being just seen as a hollow gesture because everyone just ignores it. That’s why we want to undertake research to assess current levels of uptake in cat containment suburbs, and see how we can improve compliance.

Community education and awareness, and working with the community would be a key part of this “enforcement” role. We also want to see the Government undertake some investigation into the levels of compliance in current cat containment areas, including looking into the number of cats roaming in suburbs like Forde and Bonner. We think that a Government officer could work with the community to ensure greater compliance. This is the aim of both the research and additional resources for “enforcement”.

The Greens have worked to improve the Government implementation of cat containment, including community education and increasing signage in cat containment suburbs, but there is clearly more to be done.

We are supportive of initiating a discussion on a Canberra-wide cat containment scheme, but note that any scheme would require extensive community education to ensure we take the community with us. As you are aware, any Canberra-wide scheme would need a substantial lead-in time (possibly around 10 years).

Cheers, Indra

Indra Esguerra
ACT Greens candidate for Ginninderra 2016