18/02/2009 - 22:00

PROFILE: Nick Catania

18/02/2009 - 22:00


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Nick Catania is passionate about his current role as mayor of the Town on Vincent.

PROFILE: Nick Catania

NICK Catania remembers standing just metres from Gough Whitlam, on the steps of the old Parliament House in Canberra, as those famous words after the infamous dismissal were uttered.

"I've been looking at every piece of footage to see if I could see myself," Mr Catania told WA Business News.

"I was working in the offices of the Trade Practices Commission and we all left and went to the steps of the old Parliament House and heard the famous words.

"But all this time I've never been able to see footage or photos that showed I was there. But I was."

Standing on the steps of parliament in Canberra during such an important moment in Australia's history was a far cry from Mr Catania's humble beginnings as a four-year-old immigrant from Sicily.

After school and the completion of an economics degree at university, Mr Catania alternated between private and public sector roles, before adding to his family's political pedigree by serving in the state parliament as the first ever Italian-born member of the lower house.

Entering state politics in 1989, he later held the portfolios of finance, trade and development and small business while in opposition.

But when his seat of Balcatta was absorbed into other electorates in 1997, Mr Catania moved into a small business public advocacy role as head of the WA Council of Retail Associations.

In 2001, he was elected mayor of the Town of Vincent, returning to the area he'd lived in most of his life with ideas on how he could change it for the better.

"I've lived in North Perth most of my life, so I was really determined to see it change," Mr Catania said.

"The town had been neglected when it was in the City of Perth and it really needed a regeneration - the streets, the town centres, the general delivery of services, the upgrading of facilities. That was my aim, to put the Town of Vincent on the map."

Looking over his past eight years as mayor of one on Perth's most cosmopolitan and diverse towns (now home to about 82 different nationalities), Mr Catania isn't shy about extolling the achievements of the council over that period.

"I think there's been a huge change; the town's made enormous strides to present itself as a model of a small town with its main street centre developments," he said.

"Have a look at Mt Hawthorn today, have a look at Leederville, at Mt Lawley, Beaufort Street and North Perth."

"If you think you can just sit here and send out rate bills and collect rubbish ... that time's gone. The three Rs - rubbish, rates and roads - are gone, we're expected to do a lot more."

Mr Catania's next challenge involves bringing his public and private worlds together to progress the Leederville masterplan, which aims to transform 20,000 square kilometres of council-owned land into commercial, residential and public space.

He has also put forward a plan for a $20 million redevelopment to revitalise Beatty Park, and a $75 million stage two-redevelopment plan for Members Equity Stadium, lifting capacity from 18,250 to 25,144.

All of those projects will require private-public partnerships to bring them to fruition, and Mr Catania said some innovative approaches had been adopted to make it happen, particularly in the context of the current economic climate.

"Under these present financial constraints, the day when you can walk up to the government and say 'I want $1 billion' is gone, and it won't be around for another five or 10 years," Mr Catania said.

"So you've got to be innovative, get a finance package together which includes government assistance and other forms of finance.

"In my time here I've tried to put in a sort of culture whereby you use the assets of the town as efficiently and for the town's benefit as much as possible, rather than if you need money just whacking it on the rate rise each year. I believe if you use the assets properly, you can generate a recurrent income stream.

"The lazy way is to increase rates. The smart way is to use your assets to get income and therefore take away dependence and the extra burden on ratepayers. That's come from my background."

Outside of public office, Mr Catania was also a key figure behind the establishment of the North Perth Community Bank, and has been on the board of directors of Yilgarn Infrastructure since 2005.

And the Catania political pedigree looks set to continue, with Mr Catania's son Nick the current state member for the north-west, and youngest son Stephen eyeing a berth in federal politics.


a can-do chief

Do you have a business mantra you work or live by?

Don't be afraid to enunciate and defend your convictions.

If you were premier for a day, what would be your main priorities?

Protect and create jobs, because it is the only way the state will survive this financial crisis.

What has been the influence of your family on your career?

My family has always been involved in politics: local government and state government in Italy, US Congress (a cousin of my father), myself in state parliament, my son Vincent is the present state member for the north-west, and my youngest son Stephen is eyeing federal politics.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Becoming mayor of the Town of Vincent, the town where I have grown up and lived most of my life. Being the first Italian-born member of the state lower house of parliament in Australia; and, together with my wife, raising a wonderful family.

How do you balance the various interests and stakeholders when making decisions?

Taking the realisation that you can't please 100 per cent of people all the time, and if you please 80 per cent of people I think you're doing extremely well. You have to trust your intuition and many years of experience. I've been around a long time, I have a huge variety of experiences and would like to think that I've got a lot of common sense. And that enables me to engender that enthusiasm into the town.


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