Electorate: North West Central*
Margin: Nationals 3.3% versus Labor**
Region: Mining & Pastoral
* Name changed from North West in redistribution
** Labor seat made notionally Nationals by redistribution
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Electorate analysis: North West Central and its predecessors have been marginal to Labor-leaning over recent decades, although that may be able to change following the defection of current member Vince Catania from Labor to the Nationals in July 2009. The electorate covers the coast from north of Kalbarri through Shark Bay, Carnarvon and Exmouth to Onslow, along with inland territory at Murchison and Meekatharra (added at the 2008 election), and the northern mining centres of Pannawonica, Tom Price and Paraburdoo together with the deep interior Shire of Wiluna (added at the current election). The progressive additions of territory caused the seat’s name to be changed from North West Coastal to North West in 2008, and now to North West Central.
The latest acquisitions have made the electorate the state’s largest geographically, which owing to the large district allowance means it also has the lowest enrolment: 9,644 at the end of 2012 against a state average of 23,756. The redistribution has also substantially boosted the conservatives, turning a 3.1% Labor margin over the Liberals in 2008 to a notional Liberal margin of 3.3%. It should be noted that this is distinct from the Labor-versus-Nationals margin, which is not known because Liberal preferences in 2008 were not distributed. Since Liberal preferences would certainly have flowed to the Nationals more strongly than Nationals preferences did to Labor, the published margin likely understates the strength of the Nationals’ position, assuming they can outpoll the Liberals.
North West Coastal was created at the 2005 election in place of abolished Burrup and Ningaloo, which in turn had replaced Ashburton and Northern Rivers in 1996. Its member was Legislative Assembly Speaker Fred Riebeling, who came to the seat via Burrup and its predecessor Ashburton. Riebeling retired in 2008 and is now attempting a comeback in the distant electorate of Dawesville. His departure made North West available to Mining and Pastoral MLC Vince Catania, son of former Balcatta MP Nick Catania, who would otherwise have been precariously placed at number three on his party’s ticket. Catania succeeded in defending the entirety of his 3.1% post-redistribution margin against Liberal candidate Rod Sweetman, who had been member for Burrup from 1996 to 2005. However, the real story of the result was the Nationals’ success in polling 22.7% in a seat they had not contested in 2005. This compared with 26.7% for the Liberals, whom they fell 67 votes short of overtaking on preferences. Had they done so, a stronger flow of Liberal-to-Nationals preferences than was evident in the opposite direction may have allowed them to win the seat.
The experience of near-defeat at the hands of an insurgent Nationals evidently made a powerful impression on Catania, as he announced he was defecting to the party less than a year later. This gave the Nationals a fifth seat in the lower house, equally their standing under the regime before one-vote one-value, and increased the combined Liberal and Nationals numbers to 29 out of 59. Labor supporters who might have hoped for karmic retribution over Catania’s disloyalty were to be seriously disappointed by the redistribution, which transferred 8000 voters in the strongest Labor areas of Dampier, Karratha and Roebourne out of the electorate. This formed part of a territory swap with Pilbara, the other element of which was the absorption by North West Central of 2500 voters in the conservative-leaning inland centres of Tom Price, Pannawonica and Paraburdoo. The imbalance in the sizes of the loss and the gain was made up for by the increase in the large district allowance.
Labor’s candidate for the coming election is Jennifer Shelton, who was raised in Carnarvon and has worked in a number of government departments, most recently the Department of Mines and Petroleum. Liberal candidate Tami Maitre is a Carnarvon-based project manager for the Gascoyne Development Commission.