Cowan is a marginal seat. With recent changes to the Cowan boundaries, the Liberal margin has halved to 4%, which is the lowest in the state, making Cowan an important seat for Labor. The main issues in this electorate continue to be broadband, minor crimes such as graffiti and hoons, and road congestion.
Nestled in Perth’s northeastern suburbs and covering 180 sq kms, Cowan plays host to a diverse array of homes and businesses. These range from the semi-rural farmlands in Gnangara where locals grow strawberries and other produce; to the light industrial areas of Wangara and Landsdale occupied by new, relocated and developing businesses.
Cowan also includes existing and expanding suburban areas stretching from the suburb of Tapping all the way down to Kiara, housing people from a range of economic and cultural backgrounds. A total of 95,447 of these people are registered voters.
In terms of alignment with local government areas, Cowan contains the City of Wanneroo, part of the City of Swan and an eastern slice of the City of Joondalup.
The electorate is a high priority for both the Coalition and Labor forces with good reason. Recent boundary changes have seen the Liberal margin halved from 7.5% to just 4%, making it the most marginal seat in the state.
Labor’s new candidate Dr Anne Aly, an Edith Cowan University academic and counter-terrorism specialist, has been preselected to oppose incumbent Liberal MP Luke Simpkins.
While the seat has been safe for Liberal for the past two elections, Dr Aly has said that the redistribution has made Cowan winnable for Labor.
Estimates based on voting figures from the 2013 election predict that the recent boundary alterations, will cost the coalition 16,000 votes in the suburbs of Kingsley and Woodvale, where the Liberal vote was 65 percent, and another 2000 Liberal votes to Pearce from the suburb of Banksia Grove.
The same analysis tips that Cowan’s Labor candidate will receive 9600 votes from Beechboro and Lockridge, that used to flow to the candidate for Perth, and another 3000 votes from the suburb of Bennett Springs.
The current Labor member for Perth, Alannah MacTiernan, said Cowan is critical for the party: “It is one of the three or four [Liberal held] seats we believe we have a chance in, in Western Australia.”
According to ABC political commentator Antony Green: “Western Australia has been bad for Labor for many years, but the end of the mining boom has hit the state economy hard. With the Liberal Party in power state and federal, Labor will be hoping that its vote will rise in the west in reaction to its political opponents having to take responsibility for the state's problems.”
Created in 1984, the electorate was named after the first female member of an Australian parliament, Edith Cowan.
When the seat was first established, ALP member Carolyn Jakobsen won it. Jakobsen held the seat until Richard Evans of the Liberal Party surpassed her in 1993. Evans was then defeated in 1998 by a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran and former state minister Graham Edwards of the Labor Party. Edwards became so popular with the electorate he stayed in the seat for near on a decade until he retired in 2007.
The 2007 election saw Luke Simpkins of the Liberal Party win with 51.71 percent of the vote and a 2.49 percent swing gained from Labor. In 2010, the Liberal Party had a 5.01 percent swing, gaining 56.29 percent of the vote and in 2013 a swing of 1.17 percent resulted in Liberal winning Cowan again for the third election in a row with 57.46 percent of the vote.
During his time in office Luke Simpkins has been an outspoken Member of Parliament, which has made him well known in the seat.
He has been a strong advocate for NBN connection in Cowan, which remains the strongest argument in the region. In September 2015 he argued: “This is an issue in Cowan. I have been working on it for a long time. It has been a cause of concern for a long time. There is no doubt about that. I remember that before I was elected there were forums on this matter being held.”
Evidence of his long term commitment to fighting crime can be seen in a press release he put out in 2010 praising the Anti-Hoon Laws passed by the WA Parliament adding that he “had long been an advocate of moveable speed humps as a means of deterring hoon drivers and was pleased to see that the Liberal State Government had committed $2 million to provide these in the metro area.”
There has also been pressure to re-establish the graffiti task force, a state-funded force to deal with graffiti, as Simpkins has stated that he has no problems with penalties for graffiti of $26,000 in fines or two years in jail.
Earlier this year Simpkins announced proposed updates to Wanneroo Road and Hepburn Avenue. He stated that transport congestion has been a major issue in Cowan on a daily basis.
Known for his conservative ideals, Mr Simpkins has also attracted controversy, with his opinions against the Safe Schools program, his tough stance on crime and his concerns about Australians being converted to Islam by eating Halal meat.
Given her qualifications in counter-terrorism and her research background, ALP candidate Dr Aly is likely to have a different views about Halal food, but she has said she won’t be drawn into those types of debates, stating: “…I’m here for the people of Cowan and I want to focus on the people of Cowan.”
With two very such different lead candidates, the battle for Cowan will prove to be an interesting one.