Labor MP joins Nationals in WA

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Bizzarely, a regional Labor MP in the WA Parliament, Vince Catania, last night resigned from the Labor Party in order to join the WA Nationals, who are in a governing coalition with the Liberal Party. Catania is a young MP who was first elected as an MLC for Mining and Pastoral in 2005 before moving to the Legislative Assembly seat of North West in 2008.

wa_northwestCatania criticised the Labor Party for being too ‘city-centric’, which is a strange comment from a candidate largely seen as being parachuted into the seat by inner-city forces, including those who supported his father, Nick Catania, who was mayor of the inner-Perth Town of Vincent, and state MP for the Perth seat of Balcatta.

Labor leader Eric Ripper described Catania’s act as “political treachery” and described Catania as “an immature and petulant young man who wants an easy ride in politics”

I’m more interested in the unusual spectacle in Australian politics of a politician crossing between the two major sides of politics. While it is quite common in the UK and Canada for politicians to defect from one party to another, and even appears in the US (think Arlen Specter and Jim Jeffords), it just doesn’t happen in Australia. We’ve had a couple of Labor MPs defect to the Greens, and plenty of MPs on both sides become independents, although in most cases these defections have taken place in the dying days of a political career.

Can anyone name the last time that a politician switched from one major party to another?

Elsewhere: Larvatus Prodeo.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Ripper was livid, and so he should be. Utter treachery, to the Nats? Weren’t the Libs conservative enough? Very weird.

  2. No, I don’t count Cheryl Kernot. Or Peter Breen. We have two major sides of politics in Australia: Labor and Liberal/National. As far as I can tell, Catania is the first defection from one to the other since the creation of the UAP in the early 1930s, when Joe Lyons led defectors from Labor to form a new non-Labor major party.

  3. The DLP were defectors from the ALP, voted no confidence in Cain Senior and gave their preferences to the Libs so it was a floor crossing but not to the point of actually joining the Libs.

  4. That’s my point, Tom. There’s plenty of politicians who became independents then became closer to the opposite major party. But in our country people don’t go all the way.

  5. Catania defecting to the Liberals would’ve been a lot more surprising. The Nationals aren’t part of the Liberals in WA – they’re more of an independent party than in NSW / Vic. A lot of that dates back to the 70’s and 80’s, when the party split and had a very messy fight with the Liberals; one half actually merged with the Liberals, while the other half became the current Nationals under Hendy Cowan. They rolled over for a while when there was another coalition government in the 90’s, but they’ve always been a bit different. They merged with the DLP for a couple of years in the 70’s, too… try figuring that one out.

  6. There’s a fair few who changed major parties before entering parliament. And a bunch more who seem to have been indifferent between the two before entering parliament. But I don’t suppose that counts either 😉

  7. How about Carrol Bramich, the Tasmanian Labor minister who switched to the Liberals in 1956, bringing down the Cosgrove government?

  8. I’d consider any party with multiple lower house seats as at least a minor major party, if you will.

    I doubt he’ll win the next election though, and good riddance.

    I can’t imagine going to Labor branch meetings for years, ridiculing the Nats and then going to the other side. It would make some awkward street conversations.

    As said in poll bludger, his move will raise the IQ of both parties.

  9. “I doubt he’ll win the next election though”

    The Nationals did pretty well in North West last year, didn’t they?

    Reasonable base + probable boost in Lib/Nat vote + known sitting MP: he’d be a strong chance I’d have thought.

  10. Yeah, agreed. The Nationals haven’t traditionally run up north, but did in 2008 and did quite well. They overtook the Libs in Pilbara and cut Tom Stephens’ margin by a fair bit, and almost did same in the other two seats. (Also got pushed up to second on Labor’s preferences in the chaos that was Kalgoorlie.) If they’d come second in North West they would probably have won… it seems funny that swapping the conservative parties coming 2nd and 3rd would change things, but Catania apparently got a heap of Nats preferences.

    Also, don’t believe the hype about a by-election… the last thing Labor want is another one of those, considering how the last one went. It’d be funny but rather painful if Catania called the bluff of those who’ve been asking for one. He’d probably have an even better chance of winning now than in 2013, considering the Nationals are still in their honeymoon stage and haven’t racked 4 1/2 years of possibly disappointing people yet.

  11. The Nats came third, so they would need to come second to be fed preferences and win (though I wouldn’t blame Labor if they put him last).

    While he would only need to add 5%, I think his disloyalty would go down poorly there, and not just among Labor voters, but also conservative voters who would see his defection as a character flaw.

    It will be one to watch next election to be sure.

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