North West Center voters still don’t have a date for the by-election to replace National MP Vince Catania

Voters in Western Australia’s largest constituency are still weeks away from knowing when they will go to the polls, despite their local member announcing his retirement more than a month ago.

Longtime National MP Vince Catania announced on June 10 that he would be quitting politics and his North West Central seat, saying he had “nothing left in the tank”.

Since then, his party and the Liberals have announced their candidates for the by-election, but without a date for the holding of it.

Indeed, the process of holding the elections can only begin once Mr. Catania formally submits his resignation to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, which has not yet been done.

The delay between Mr Catania’s announcement and his formal resignation is something veteran political commentator Peter Kennedy has described as virtually unprecedented.

“It’s almost unprecedented, and one can only wonder what his motive is.”

That was the plan all along, say Nationals

In a statement, the WA Nationals said Mr Catania still plans to retire in early August.

“[He] continues to be committed to his role as MP for North West Central thus far,” a spokesperson said.

“When he officially resigns, it will be up to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly to set the date for the by-election.”

This means Mr. Catania will continue to receive an annual salary of $173,495 as vice-chairman of the standing committee on economy and industry.

Mr Kennedy said one possible reason Mr Catania had not resigned earlier was to push back the date of the by-election.

“No one really knows the motive behind Mr Catania’s decision to announce his resignation and then stay on,” he said.

“But the point is that it gives his own party a good chance of selecting a suitable candidate.

“Keeping in mind that the date of the by-election is really, officially, with the President, but is formally in the hands of the government.”

Based on the timing of previous by-elections, there would be at least a month gap between the official resignation of Mr. Catania and the holding of the elections.

This could place the election date around the beginning of September.

Local businesswoman pitches as Nationals candidate

The Nationals were the first to announce their byelection nominee, revealing Merome Beard was shortlisted two weeks ago.

The Nationals chose Merome Beard, a small business owner, as their candidate.(Facebook: Merome Barbe)

Mrs Beard is a resident of Carnarvon and runs one of the town’s leading pubs with her husband.

Before raising her hand for the by-election, she had worked for several months in Mr. Catania’s office.

The Liberal Party threw its hat into the ring yesterday, announcing that Will Baston would run as its candidate.

A smiling man wearing a jacket with a shirt underneath stands in front of trees.
Will Baston, pictured in Carnarvon, will stand for the Liberals in the North West Central by-election. (ABC News: Kate Ferguson)

Mr. Baston runs the Jimba Jimba station on the Gascoyne River with his parents.

Previously, he worked as a manager for the conservation group Partnership for the Outback.

The result could affect the opposition alliance

Although unlikely, a Liberal victory in the North West Central could put the party on a level playing field with the Nationals in the lower house, as they would each have three seats.

A man and a woman in front of microphones
Vince Catania pictured with Mia Davies the day he announced his exit from politics.(ABC News: James Carmody)

That would almost certainly create tension in the current Opposition Alliance arrangement, which has Nationals leader Mia Davies at the helm, given that she leads the dominant opposition party.

It is understood that there is no precedent for the two opposition parties to have an equal number of seats in the lower house.

This could mean that the Liberals and Nationals would have to reach a new agreement on the arrangement.

At this point, it’s unclear what that would look like.

The work did not participate in the competition

Prime Minister Mark McGowan said yesterday that no decision had been made on whether Labor would contest the seat.

But Mr Kennedy said there was little benefit to doing so, particularly because by-elections are rarely won by incumbent parties.

“[A loss] would be seen as a blow to the McGowan government,” he said.

“The Labor Party could step back and let the Liberal Party and the National Party fight, and it won’t change the total number of MPs in the Legislative Assembly.”

The Nationals currently hold four seats in the lower house, compared to two for the Liberals.

Mr Catania has held the seat since 2008, having originally been elected to the upper house in 2005.

In the 2021 election, its margin was reduced from 10.1% to just 1.7%, making it one of WA’s most marginal seats, with just 259 votes to decide the winner.

North West Central is WA’s largest constituency geographically, comprising towns like Carnarvon, Coral Bay and Exmouth.

Mr Catania delivered his farewell speech at the final session of WA Parliament on June 23, which could suggest he is unlikely to return when Parliament resumes on August 9.

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