Another seat of the week: Cowan

The first in a series of Seat of the Week double-ups ahead of a looming federal election looks at the most marginal of the Liberals’ 12 seats in Western Australia.

Cowan covers Perth’s northern suburbia inland of the Mitchell Freeway, including low-income Girrawheen and Koondoola in the south, the outer urban centre of Wanneroo further to the north, and burgeoning suburban territory around Tapping at the city’s northern fringe. Traditionally a marginal seat, the tenure of Liberal member Luke Simpkins since 2007 has reflected his party’s dominance in Western Australia over the past decade. Simpkins’ position has been seriously undermined by the latest redistribution, which transfers 16,000 voters in its most affluent area around Kingsley and Warwick to Moore in the west, and compensates it with Labor-leaning territory around Beechboro in the east, adding 10,000 voters from Perth and 3000 from Pearce. The changes have cut Simpkins’ margin from 7.5% to 4.0%.




The electorate was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1984 out of marginal territory that had previously been in Stirling and Moore. At that time it extended to the coast at North Beach, before assuming its current orientation east of the Mitchell Freeway in 1990. Much of the rapid growth of Perth’s northern corridor is occurring within the electorate, particularly around Darch in the south and Sinagra and Tapping in the north. Carolyn Jakobesen held the seat for Labor from 1984 to 1993, when a statewide anti-Labor swing against the national trend overwhelmed the effect of a favourable redistribution. Richard Evans then held the seat for the Liberals until 1998, when he was defeated by Graham Edwards, a former state government minister who lost his legs to a land mine while serving in Vietnam. Edwards retained the seat in 2001 and 2004, although a 4.7% swing reduced his margin to 0.8% on the latter occasion, and retired in 2007. Aided by the loss of Edwards’ personal vote, Cowan was one of two seats the Liberals gained in Western Australia against the tide of the 2007 election, together with Swan (although they also lost Hasluck).

The successful Liberal candidate was Luke Simpkins, a former officer in the federal and military police who had taken up a staff position with Senator Chris Ellison in 2003. Simpkins first ran unsuccesfully in 2004, before securing the seat with a 2.5% swing in 2007. This was followed by a handsome swing in his favour of 5.0% in 2010, followed by a further 1.2% swing in 2013. Simpkins has remained on the back bench in his three terms in parliament, but has made a name for himself as a social conservative. He told parliament in 2011 that Australians were being sent “one step down the path of conversion” by “unwittingly eating Halal food”, and more recently joined a chorus of conservative criticism against the Safe Schools program, which provides support to gay, lesbian and transgender school students. Despite his conservative disposition, Simpkins moved the unsuccessful spill motion against Tony Abbott in February 2015.

Labor’s candidate for the coming election is Anne Azza Aly, a counter-terrorism expert at Curtin University and founder of People Against Violent Extremism. Aly migrated to Australia from Egypt at the age of two, and identifies as a moderate Muslim.

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.

8 comments on “Another seat of the week: Cowan”

  1. My childhood seat, and first vote cast down at the Creaney Primary School. I think Labor have their best chance here for years and have a good candidate. I’m hoping we do not see shady and opportunistic islamophobic campaigning here.

  2. Labor have kept preselected a really good candidate, Simpkins will need to keep his mouth shut or face serious embarrassment.

  3. This is the type of seat Labor has to win in WA to have a chance at government next time around. Not that it matters all that much as the election is usually decided long before the count is finished in the west.

    However there may come a day when the seats in the west will be part of a cliff hanger decision – something the media will love on the night.

    A bit like the medal counting for various sporting competition.

  4. Anne Aly will be a very, very strong candidate for Labor. I’ve purchased her anti-terrorism book, had the distinct pleasure of meeting her on multiple occasions and worked with her colleagues at Curtin. She’s dedicated, logical and very very hardworking.

    If she’s up, the question of my preferences becomes moot – they go to Labor, in the hopes of sending her to Canberra!

  5. Edwards retained the seat on narrow margins in 2001 and 2004, before retiring in 2007.

    I don’t think the 2001 result of 55.5 to 44.5 can really be described as narrow. Indeed my recollection is that the closeness of the 2004 result came as a surprise. For unlike the then Labor-held Hasluck, Stirling and Swan, Cowan was not considered endangered.

  6. I think in 2004 Libs comfortably outpolled Labor + Greens in Senate in Cowan clearly a personal victory for Edwards, wasn’t there some disaster with the Libs Swan candidate as well that year that may have helped Labor hold it?

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