Will Baston – nephew of former Barnett Government Minister Ken Baston – appears set to contest the North West Central by-election for the WA Liberal Party.
A sixth generation pastoralist, Mr Baston manages his family’s Jimba Jimba cattle station about 150km east of Carnarvon in the Gascoyne.
The qualified urban and regional planner also works as a contractor for The Pew Charitable Trusts, a global not-for-profit, on conservation efforts in WA’s northern outback.
The West understands Mr Baston is the only person who nominated for pre-selection, with his candidacy expected to be rubberstamped by State Council in coming days and announced next week.
Geraldton town planner Kathryn Jackson, who was second on the Liberals Upper House ticket for the Agricultural Region at the 2021 election, was linked to the seat but is understood not to have nominated.
Mr Baston did not respond to a request for comment from The West.
His uncle Ken spent 16 years in Parliament representing the Mining and Pastoral Region between 2005 and his retirement in mid-2021.
That included a stint as Agriculture and Fisheries Minister between 2013 and 2016.
Mr Baston will contest the seat against Nationals candidate Merome “Mem” Beard, who has owned and run the Port Hotel in Carnarvon for two decades.
Both have longstanding family ties to the Gascoyne but Ms Beard will begin the contest as heavy favourite in the race to replace former incumbent Nationals MP Vince Catania, who sparked the by-election when announcing his shock retirement earlier this year.
Mr Catania held North West Central from 2008 – initially winning the seat for Labor before defecting to the Nationals the following year.
He survived a swing of 13.5 per cent towards Labor candidate Cherie Sibosado to narrowly retain his seat by just 259 votes at the 2021 election.
The Liberal candidate at the same election – Alys McKeough – ran a distant third with just 7.9 per cent of the primary vote.
However, Labor has not yet decided whether it run a candidate, with party sources telling The West contesting the by-election was considered risky with little upside for the party, which already holds 53 of 59 Legislative Assembly seats.
Labor also failed to win North West Central in 2021 when Premier Mark McGowan – who is understood to be opposed to running a candidate – was near the peak of his popularity.
The regional electorate, which has the fewest constituents in WA, is also expected to be abolished or substantially redrawn at the next election, creating a headache for Labor if it wins and finds itself with an MP without a seat ahead of 2025.
If Labor does not run, the contest between the Nationals and Liberals is expected to tighten, although the country party would remain short-odd favourites.
An unlikely win for Mr Baston would see the Liberals draw level with the Nationals at three seats apiece in the Legislative Assembly, potentially allowing the party to reclaim the mantle of official opposition – and the significant additional government resourcing that entails.
A deadlock would require negotiation between the two parties – and potentially legal intervention – to determine whether Liberal leader David Honey replaced Nationals counterpart Mia Davies as Opposition Leader.
The West understands the Liberals have sought advice from Parliamentary staff which confirmed there was no known precedent or tiebreaker in the event both parties found themselves with the same number of Legislative Assembly seats.