Bi-partisan cat inquiry reveals government failure to protect threatened species

Published on Fri 5 February 2021 9:11am

A report on Australia’s chronic and savage cat problem issued by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy provides a sad window into the damage being done to our biodiversity, and the shortcomings in the government’s response.

The Committee, which includes a majority of Morrison Government MPs, has called for a complete policy ‘reset’ on this issue, with an urgent focus on the needs for an expanded network of feral-free ‘exclosure’ and islands in order to prevent further extinctions.

Feral cats are responsible for the death of 1.6 billion animals each year and have already been a key factor in the extinction of 32 species. Cats are in many cases the greatest immediate threat to Australia’s most endangered species. The carnage they inflict on mammals, birds, lizards, and amphibians is exacerbated by habitat loss, climate change, and bushfires.

The report – Tackling the feral cat pandemic: A plan to save Australian wildlife – lays bare the shortcomings and blindspots in the Morrison Government’s Threatened Species Strategy, whose flawed focus on inputs – e.g. how many cats are culled – fails to deliver outcomes in the form of actual environmental benefits.

The report also expresses concern that the Government’s Threat Abatement Plan for Feral Cats is poorly focused and poorly resourced.

“This finding is unsurprising given the Liberal government’s 40% cuts to the environment department, and two damning reports into the government’s management of environmental protection from both the Auditor General and the EPBC reviewer Professor Graeme Samuel,” said Mr Wilson.

“Australia’s enduring feral cat disaster is made plain by the fact that we have become a world ‘leader’ in extinctions. Yet sixty percent of listed threatened species lack a recovery plan under the EPBC Act, and the Morrison Government has failed to properly resource and monitor the implementation of the plans that do exist,” said Mr Wilson.

Indeed, under the Coalition 170 out of 171 outstanding threatened species recovery plans are overdue, and the Morrison Government has no plan to get them done – a concern noted by the inquiry.

On the current trajectory, the future for many of our native species, particularly mammals and birds, is bleak. Yet in response to the patent lack of target achievement under the current 5-year Threatened Species Strategy, the Morrison Government has recently announced a new 10-year strategy without additional resources or funding. This is an unacceptable case of kicking the can down the road, and Australia’s native wildlife will pay the price for this neglect.

The Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy’s report on the harm done to our environment by feral and domestic cats reinforces the findings by Professor Graeme Samuel in his review – namely that our environment has been severely degraded, the trajectory is one of further decline, and the Morrison Government’s environmental protection framework and conservation policies/programs have failed.

Recommendations in the report include:
• Prioritising the problem of feral cat control consistent with its status as a matter of national environmental significance;
• Revision of the Threatened Species Strategy, specifically by setting relevant rehabilitation targets for threatened species and ecological communities;
• Urgent expansion of the network of feral-free ‘exclosures’ and islands in order to prevent further extinctions;
• Collaboration with states, territories, and other stakeholders to improve the understanding of the impact of feral, stray, and domestic cats;
• Greater investment in emerging cat control measures, such as gene drive technology;
• Expansion of the National Feral Cat Taskforce; and
• A national public education and awareness campaign.

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