Will Baston launches campaign as Libs challenge Nats for North West Central by-election

Headshot of Jake Santa Maria
Jake Santa MariaGeraldton Guardian
Will Baston with WA party leader Dr David Honey (left) and Liberal MLC Neil Thomson (right)
Camera IconWill Baston with WA party leader Dr David Honey (left) and Liberal MLC Neil Thomson (right) Credit: Facebook

Will Baston was officially recognised on Wednesday as the Liberal Party candidate to stand in the North West Central by-election promising to “give a voice back to the bush”.

In a launch ceremony out the front of the Carnarvon Visitors Centre Mr Baston, who was flanked by Liberal WA party leader David Honey and the Federal Member for Durack Melissa Price, put his case forward promising to focus on issues of community safety, environmental safeguards and provision of services.

The Liberals face an uphill battle to win the seat which has been held by Vince Catania and the Nationals since its inception and has suffered humiliating swings against them in the most recent State and Federal elections.

However, Dr David Honey was bullish on their chances.

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“The only poll that matters is the one on the day,” he said.

“Melissa Price did strongly in the recent Federal election in spite of swings elsewhere, we’ve always run a candidate here we think it’s important to stand up for the region.”

If the Liberals do win the by-election it would see them have three seats in the House the same as the Nationals.

It could set up a potential rift between the parties as there isn’t a precedent of who gets official opposition status in the event of a tie.

When asked whether the party would seek to regain official opposition status Dr Honey said that decision was for further down the road.

“We didn’t come into this by-election with that in mind,” he said.

“We have a fabulous working relationship with the Nationals and we will continue to work together no matter the outcome to provide a strong opposition.”

“It was important for us to provide the region with choice, we have always run a candidate and we couldn’t have picked a better one than Will.”

National candidate for the seat Merome Beard said she was not surprised by the Liberal challenge.

“I expect anything to happen at this point, I have no objection to the competition of ideas but I look forward to continuing the strong Nationals record in the area,” she said.

“I’ve seen the difference the Nationals can make, I think we provide a strong voice for the regions which have made things like Royalties for Regions possible.

“We have a massive shortage of workers and we need to provide better access for all services including aged-care, child care and the like and I will continue to campaign on these issues.”

Mr Baston is a sixth-generation pastoralist hailing from the Jimba Jimba Station on Gascoyne River and has a background in planning.

A key focus of his platform was on the provision of quality maternity and other services to regional centres.

“The current plan for enticing retired midwives to come back into service is clearly not good enough,” he said.

“We’ve seen issues in infrastructure planning we can’t get these services back into the regions without adequate housing and support for these critical people.

“The Labor party has neglected the regions for too long and I want to be a strong voice for local people.”

His chance to make changes may be short-lived, however, as the WA Electoral Commission has not ruled out a redrawing of the district which could see the seat abolished come the next election, but Mr Baston said he was not deterred.

“I’m not thinking about the future I’m here for today, I’m very proud to stand for the region,” he said.

“Labor is destroying representation for the region and I will make sure that if elected I would bring local matters to the fore.”

The Labor Party has not yet decided if they will pick a candidate, but by-elections don’t usually go well for the sitting governments and with such a large majority they have little to gain.

A date for the by-election has not yet been set as Mr Catania is yet to formally hand in his resignation despite publicly announcing his retirement last month.

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