Some heartening news for Victorians concerned that Ted Baillieu had junked his commitment to his notorious “big cat” search. The front page of yesterday’s Weekly Times confirms that the premier has resuscitated his pledge, floated at the last two elections, to launch an “investigation” into the 60 years of “sightings” of cougars, panthers or pumas that were apparently destroying crops from Gippsland to the Grampians.

In January, the Times was reporting that the hunt had “gone flat“, with the study downgraded to a “small desktop study of existing documents”. So what prompted the switcharoo? Three weeks ago, the popular Gather Around Me podcast aired the following discussion between its two hosts, Fairfax humourist Ben Pobjie and media savvy activist Cam Smith. Smith suggested that Baillieu’s one-seat majority was hanging by a cat whisker:

Ben Pobjie: “Some people say there aren’t panthers in Gippsland, and to them I say, ‘What about the photos people have taken of large black cats in Gippsland?’ And they say, ‘Those are probably just large black cats,’ and I say, ‘Well… what is a large black cat if not just a panther and even if that large black cat is small it’s probably
because it’s not a fully grown panther.'”

Cam Smith: “Do you mind if I get a little bit political?”

BP: “I wish you would, I’m sick of you being so neutral on everything.”

CS: “If you’ll recall, at the last state election in Victoria, the Ted Baillieu government was formed, with a majority of one seat. Will they be able to maintain that very slight majority considering that prior to the last election they promised that they would conduct a full inquiry into the Gippsland panther situation, and insofar they have failed to deliver on that promise.”

BP: “There’s the thing, right, because they’re just one bad by-election result from losing government. And if there is a by-election, who’s going to vote for them when they’ve done nothing to find the Gippsland panthers? … Ted Baillieu would prefer to stick his head in the sand, rather than look for panthers, or for yowies,
and it’s going to be the end of him politically.”

Now, Baillieu agriculture minister Peter Walsh, despite his government’s sacking of 4200 public servants, says departmental resources are available to “review existing literature, reports, correspondence and other evidence for the presence of big cats in Victoria, and it includes liaison with relevant community groups and individuals who have reports or records of possible sightings.”

Coincidence or black cat-style conspiracy? Swinging voters will decide.