Electoral Form Guide: Cowan
Margin: Liberal 1.2%
Location: Perth Northern Suburbs, Western Australia
In a nutshell: While mortgage belt seats across the land flocked to the Labor banner in 2007, the northern Perth seat of Cowan went the other way, becoming one of two Perth seats which Labor gained from the Liberals. A retiring Labor member and sturdy housing prices were likely factors on that occasion; this time mining tax concerns are believed likely to keep the seat in the Liberal fold.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: Cowan covers Perth’s northern suburbs inland of the Mitchell Freeway and north of Beach Road, including low-income Girrawheen and Koondoola in the south, more affluent Kingsley and Warwick further west, the outer urban centre of Wanneroo further north, and newer suburbs beyond. The electorate was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1984 from an area that had previously been in Stirling and Moore. It originally 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. This has necessitated the removal of two areas in the redistribution: Noranda south of Reid Highway in the south-east, which goes to Perth (accounting for about 6400 voters), and Carramar and part of Banksia Grove, which go to Moore (actual enrolment of 3143 as of December 2007, but projected to reach almost 5000 by mid-2012).
Cowan was won for Labor on its creation by Carolyn Jakobesen, who held the seat until the statewide anti-Labor swing in 1993 overwhelmed the effect of a favourable redistribution. Richard Evans was the Liberal member for the next two terms before being defeated in 2008 by Graham Edwards, a former state government minister who lost his legs to a land mine while serving in Vietnam. After increasing his margin in 2001, Edwards survived a 4.7 per cent swing when Labor was buffeted by a swing throughout the Perth suburbs in 2004. He was opposed on that occasion by Liberal candidate Luke Simpkins, a former officer in the federal and military police who took up a staff position with Senator Chris Ellison in 2003. Edwards retired at the 2007 election, and the loss of his substantial personal vote proved more than Labor could bear: a 2.5 per cent swing, evenly distributed through the electorate, was enough to deliver victory to Luke Simpkins on his second attempt.
Faction arrangements in the ALP originally had the nomination for the coming election set to go to Jon Kelly, a Wanneroo mayor who had contested the state seat of Girrawheen as an independent in 2005 after a split in the Right faction put him on the opposite side of its sitting Labor member, Margaret Quirk. However, Kelly was fatally undermined in December 2009 when a Corruption and Crime Commission report criticised him over his interactions as mayor with Brian Burke. Burke presumably knew what he was doing when he subsequently endorsed Kelly, going on to say he had “sought my help on many occasions and I’ve always been available to assist him”. Kelly agreed to withdraw, which The West Australian reported was the product of a “mutual” decision reached after ”a week of talks with Labor officials” including federal campaign committee chairman and Brand MP Gary Gray.
Labor was initially reported to be struggling to find a replacement, as almost everybody in local politics suffered the same problem as Kelly (indeed, it was long thought Burke’s daughter Burke had a strong claim on the seat). Names mentioned as possibilities were Dianne Guise and Judy Hughes, who respectively lost their local seats of Wanneroo and Kingsley at the 2008 state election; Karen Brown, and former West Australian deputy editor, adviser to Opposition Leader Eric Ripper and unsuccessful state election candidate for Mount Lawley. The nod was eventually given to Chas Hopkins, who was lord mayor of Perth from 1988 to 1991.
Cowan was one of four Perth marginals covered by a Galaxy survey of 800 respondents in the second last week of the campaign, and it showed a 2.1 per cent swing against Labor across the four. The JWS Research-Telereach poll conducted during the final weekend of the campaign, covering 400 respondents in the electorate with a margin of error of about 5 per cent, had the Liberals leading 51.7-48.3
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.