Vince Catania retirement: WA Labor weighing up whether to contest retiring by-election

Peter Law and Caitlyn RintoulThe West Australian
Will Mark McGowan try and make WA Labor even more powerful by contesting the by-election?
Camera IconWill Mark McGowan try and make WA Labor even more powerful by contesting the by-election? Credit: The West Australian

WA Labor may not contest the North West Central by-election created by the shock retirement of Nationals MP Vince Catania, who said he had “no more fuel left in the tank” after 17 years in State Parliament.

Labor’s candidate in the vast regional electorate at the 2021 State election, Cherie Sibosado, said she was stunned by the announcement and told The West Australian she would consider standing again.

Mr Catania held onto North West Central — which includes the coastal communities of Kalbarri, Canarvon and Exmouth — by just 259 votes last year, withstanding an 8.4 per cent swing to Labor at the height of Mark McGowan’s pandemic popularity.

Ms Sibosado, who lives in Canarvon and owns a consultancy business, said: “If the opportunity presents itself, I will absolutely consider it. It was a great result at the last State election and if I am successful in preselection then I will give it my all once again.”

Upper House Labor MP Peter Foster, who represents the Mining and Pastoral Region, is also believed to be tempted by a switch to the Lower House given his Upper House seat will be in jeopardy at the 2025 election. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Cherie Sibosado.
Camera IconCherie Sibosado. Credit: Geoff Vivian/The Geraldton Guardian

Despite the ALP’s success in WA at last month’s Federal election, Labor sources said the party was weighing-up whether to contest the by-election, which are always difficult for governments.

There’s also a belief the seat, which has just 8000 voters, will be abolished by the WA Electoral Commission’s ahead of the next poll.

This by-election would also put the spotlight on local issues, such as the McGowan Government’s response to Cyclone Seroja, which smashed Kalbarri in April 2021, as well as Canarvon’s ongoing maternity crisis and crime wave.

Winning 53 seats at the March poll was thought to be the high watermark for Labor in WA, so if the party were to gain North West Central just 15 months later it would raise questions about the performance of Nationals and Opposition leader Mia Davies.

Ms Davies, who with Mr Catania now out of the picture has no real challenger to her leadership, would not be drawn on the implications of an already depleted Opposition being further weakened.

“It certainly wouldn’t make it easier to lose a seat. Politics is about arithmetic, we need to make sure we’ve got as many people (as possible) holding the Government to account,” she said.

“We’ll be putting in 1000 per cent effort to make sure that we’ve got a strong candidate and somebody sitting on our side of the Parliament to continue that advocacy.

“If you look at the things that this Government has done since coming to power five years ago, some of the challenges that those communities face, they need someone that is fierce and allowed to speak out as you are in the Nationals, that is not another voiceless member of the Labor Party in a massive partyroom.

“That’s what we’ve seen from both incoming (Labor) members of Parliament, particularly in regional WA. There is a choice for the people of North West Central and we need them to send a message to the McGowan Government that they will not be taken for granted.”

The WA Liberal Party is set to hold talks on Saturday about whether it runs a candidate or vacates the field for the Nationals, its conservative partners in the State Opposition alliance, which holds just six of the 59 seats in the Lower House.

Education Minister Sue Ellery on Friday said she was “quite glad” to see the back of Mr Catania and said his exit from politics, 14 years after he defected from Labor to the Nationals, was no surprise.

“I’d say two things: don’t slam the door on your way out. And the second thing I’d say is he has form of leaving parties when it’s the worst time to leave those parties. It’s the second time he’s done this,” the senior Labor politician said.

She said Mr Catania, who cited wanting to spend more time with his family as a reason for quitting, had broken a promise to represent the electorate’s residents for the next four years.

“He knew when he ran in March last year how many kids he had and how old they were, and he chose to run in any event,” Ms Ellery said.

Mr Catania, who will formally resign in early August triggering a by-election to be likely held in September or October, responded to the jibe from his former party colleague.

“Don’t let the door hit you in the way in, Sue. I have no animosity towards (the) Labor Party. I think over time it may heal some wounds,” he said.

“I’m leaving politics and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and I’m hopeful that some of the Labor Party members can see what I’ve achieved and how you need to work as a member of Parliament to make those achievements happen.”

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