Federal election battle emerges in Cowan seat as Anne Aly and Vince Connelly push for votes

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A mother of four, Adelite Smith works two jobs but still struggles to make ends meet.

“Childcare is so expensive,” she said.

“I used to always buy the same things, but now the same amount of money doesn’t stretch like it used to.”

A first-time voter in Western Australia’s most marginal seat, Cowan, Ms Smith is someone both major political parties are hoping to win at the polls on May 21.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), around 440,000 new Australian citizens will vote for the first time in this federal election.

Political parties will target 440,000 new voters in this year’s elections. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Although Ms Smith received her Australian citizenship in 2014, she said the fact that the vote withheld in her home country of Zimbabwe did not matter influenced her decision not to vote in 2017 .

“If you come from a place where voting really doesn’t make sense, it’s really hard to change that perspective and start believing that your vote here matters,” she said.

Working with vulnerable clients as a domestic violence social worker at the Ishar Multicultural Women’s Center in Mirrabooka encouraged her to do more research ahead of the elections.

“With the pandemic, it’s been really difficult, and a lot of people are dealing with more things. Domestic violence is on the rise, mental health [issues are] riding, alcohol and other drugs [use] increases,” Ms. Smith said.

“So the bottom line is that now I can see what a vote really means…and what having the right party actually means for our communities.”

But the 27-year-old says she is still a “political baby” and is busy learning more about Australia’s electoral system.

“I found out the other day that Scott Morrison and Mark McGowan weren’t from the same party…because I just thought if we had Liberal leaders, everything would be Liberal in every state,” she said .

Cost of living and house prices among top issues

With Ms Smith, 27, still unsure where her vote is going, cost of living pressures and housing affordability are at the heart of her concerns at the polls.

Adelite shopping at a local market
Adelite Smith is concerned about the rising cost of housing in the area. (ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

“The city of Stirling used to be one of the most affordable places to live…but we are really struggling to find accommodation for customers because the houses have just gone up,” she said.

“Social housing is absolutely non-existent at the moment and even [the waitlist for] priority housing is like two to three years now, so how can it really be priority housing? »

Ms Smith said she was also looking for a leader who embraced multiculturalism, with Cowan containing some of Perth’s most culturally diverse suburbs.

“I want more options for multicultural people to be not just an Australian citizen, but a meaningful Australian who can engage and participate in the community.”

The seat changes hands five times in 38 years

The average income in the seat of Cowan is about 10% lower than the rest of the state, and for nearly two-thirds of its residents, at least one of their parents was foreign-born.

It is an oscillating seat, having changed hands five times since its creation in 1984.

A head and shoulder shot of Anne Aly sitting in her office.
Labor’s Anne Aly has held Cowan since 2016, but the seat sits on a narrow 0.9% margin. (ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)

The electorate, covering 95 square kilometres, includes Perth’s most diverse north-central suburbs such as Greenwood, Marangaroo and Alexander Heights on the northern edge and Osborne Park, Dianella and Nollamara to the south. It is named after Edith Cowan, the first woman elected to the Australian Parliament.

Due to a boundary redistribution last year, the electorate now occupies much of the abolished Stirling seat, meaning two incumbent MPs will be battling each other.

A side view of Vince Connelly smiling outdoors
Vince Connelly was endorsed as the Liberal candidate for Cowan when the decision was made to abolish the Stirling seat. (ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

Labor’s Anne Aly has held Cowan since 2016 and hopes to hold it again, despite a wafer-thin margin of 0.9%.

His seat is contested by Liberal candidate Vince Connelly, who was elected MP for Stirling in the 2019 election.

The fight for the seat will be a ‘fascinating contest’: analyst

Notre Dame politics professor Martin Drum suspects Cowan’s redistribution helped make it a difficult seat to predict.

Martin Drum standing outside the door of his house
Dr Drum says the narrow margin of the electorate means he could swing either way. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)

“I think Cowan is really important because it’s a Labor-held seat that the Liberals are campaigning in, and in the event that they lose seats elsewhere it could make a big difference,” he said. declared.

“It’s a very mixed community with a lot of different multicultural groups, so it’s pretty hard to say how it will pan out.

“There is a Muslim community in the southern part of the headquarters and then there are other neighborhoods, which are really very different, in the northern part of the headquarters.”

However, Mr Drum said the narrow margin of the electorate means he could swing either way.

“It’s a softer marginal seat than before, and it gives Vince Connelly the opportunity to be incumbent and appeal to the voters he previously represented,” he said.

The parties in a hurry to keep their promises

Although cost of living pressures have also resonated with Nollamara resident Roland Tsang, it is support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) that he says will be key to winning his vote in this election. .

Roland wears a bright red sweater photographed outdoors in a wheelchair
Roland Tsang will vote for the party that prioritizes the NDIS. (ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

Born with cerebral palsy, the 51-year-old has expressed his frustration with the current state of the disability industry, after having to wait six months to get new wheels for his wheelchair.

“Why does the funding request have to sit on someone’s desk for so long before it’s approved?” said Mr. Tsang.

In his budget speech last month, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg pledged $157.8 billion over four years for the NDIS and said it would be “still fully funded” as part of the Coalition.

Meanwhile, Labor has pledged to implement a six-point plan to ‘return the system to its original vision’ if it wins the election.

But Mr. Tsang wonders if the parties will keep their promises once in power.

“They campaign but when they come in do they do what they say? They never do what they say,” he said.

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