Seat of the week: Cowper

Labor’s win in 1961 was the only interruption to National/Country Party dominance in the north coast New South Wales seat of Cowper since the party’s foundation, although current member Luke Hartsuyker was run close when Kevin Rudd led Labor to power in 2007.

Held by the National/Country Party for all but one term since the party’s inception in 1919, the electorate of Cowper has covered a stretch of the New South Wales north coast since federation, at which time it extended from the northern shore of Port Stephens in the south to Yamba in the north. It accommodated both Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour until 1949, when Port Macquarie was transferred to the new electorate of Lyne. The electorate’s southern boundary again extended to take in Port Macquarie from 1977 to 1993, and will do so again as a result of the latest redistribution. This adds 37,000 voters who were formerly in Lyne, which is balanced out by the loss of coastal territory immediately north of Coffs Harbour, from Woolgoolga to Maclean, sending 23,000 voters to Page. The changes slightly reduce the still healthy Nationals margin, from 14.2% to 13.0%.




Cowper was held for an epic 42 years by Earle Page, who was elected as candidate of the Farmers and Settlers Party in 1918, became a founding father of the Country Party in 1920, and served for three weeks as Prime Minister in 1939 after the death of Joseph Lyons. Page contested the 1961 election despite being 81 and suffering from lung cancer, from which he died 11 days later without knowing he had finally lost his seat. The successful Labor candidate was Frank McGuren, who had achieved consecutive double digit swings as candidate in 1958 and 1961. McGuren was unable to repeat his feat in 1963 and the seat soon returned to its Country Party ways, despite close calls when Labor governments came to power in 1972 (2.5%), 1983 (2.1%) and 2007 (1.2%).

Current member Luke Hartsuyker came to the seat when Garry Nehl retired at the 2001 election, at which he outpolled a Liberal candidate 29.9% to 15.9%. Hartsuyker picked up a 1.7% swing in 2004, giving him enough fat to survive a 5.5% move to Labor when Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007. Hartsuyker well and truly recovered his footing with an 8.0% swing in 2010, and gained a further 2.4% in 2013. After the 2007 election defeat he won promotion to the shadow outer ministry in the consumer affairs portfolio, before being reassigned to regional communications, youth and sport after the 2010 election. In government he has held the outer ministry positions of Assistant Minister for Employment under Tony Abbott, and Minister for Vocational Education and Skills under Malcolm Turnbull.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

2 comments on “Seat of the week: Cowper”

  1. I will be interested to see how the Nationals manage pre-selection. This is nominally Hartsukyer’s seat but it now takes in Gillespie’s Port Macquarie heartland.Presumably due to seniority Hartsukyer will get the guernsey But what of Lyne which is now based on Taree/Foster. Some there feel that Gillespie has no interest in the district.
    Will a bright young Nat from Taree challenge for pre-selection?

  2. My folks retired in Port Macquarie about a decade ago. They, and many others in the area, are of the opinion that Gillespie is a dud local member.

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