Margin: Liberal 4.0%
Region: Northern Perth, Western Australia
In a nutshell: Redistribution has softened the Liberals’ position in a seat they won against the grain in 2007, then consolidated with successive swings in 2010 and 2013.
Candidates in ballot paper order
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, and then 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.
The West Australian ReachTEL poll had Labor with a 51-49 lead in Cowan, for a swing of 5%. The primary votes were 38.3% for the Liberals, 36.4% for Labor and 6.1% for the Greens, which presumably did not involve distribution of an undecided component. The poll encompassed 731 respondents, and was conducted on May 10.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.