Hendy's regional legacy

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian
Hendy Cowan.
Camera IconHendy Cowan. Credit: The West Australian

The name Hendy Cowan is synonymous with regional WA.

The former State politician, Narembeen farmer and leader of the WA National Party might be happy to be away from the spotlight these days, but the legacy of his achievements are everywhere you look across the regions.

After 27 years in WA Parliament, and as a former deputy premier, minister of regional development, commerce and trade, and small business, there are not many areas and industries untouched by Mr Cowan.

His distinguished career was recognised recently when he was awarded an Officer in the General Division in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours for his service to the Parliament of WA, to tertiary education, and agricultural and regional development.

As a board member of the WA Cancer Council, he was also acknowledged for his contributions to cancer control organisations.

But Mr Cowan said the award was not so much about his career, but the people and organisations he had worked with over many decades.

"This is also a great recognition of those people who I have worked with," Mr Cowan said.

"There is no way in the world you can do any of these things alone, there is always a whole heap of people who help you out," he said.

Mr Cowan cited the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research as one successful and satisfying project, where a report he commissioned was the catalyst for the establishment of the highly regarded institute.

"I commissioned (UWA Emeritus Professor) Reg Appleyard to look at how we went about getting more of our own taxpayer money back here for medical research in WA," he said.

"Harry Perkins, who was then chairman of Wesfarmers, picked up this report and decided it was the right thing to do and persuaded other people to pitch in and produce what we have now.

"It was just one little idea, but from that idea, other people picked it up and I'd never take any credit for the overall Harry Perkins Institute, but I take credit for starting the pathway, but my role was very, very small."

Mr Cowan cited his involvement in the establishment of the nine regional development commissions as another of his success stories.

While he says this was already a work in progress when he came into Parliament, he said it was satisfying to complete a project that has had such a significant impact on the development of regional WA.

"Politicians need to be prepared to think long-term," he said.

"All the things I regarded as something that ended with a good outcome were long-term decisions."

Mr Cowan said despite having no regrets throughout his extensive political career, his biggest disappointment was the 1978 split in the Country Party.

"In 1978, we ended up with a very divisive organisation and it split into two groups, the National Party and the Country Party, and it took eight years to get it back together again, so yes, undoubtedly the biggest disappointment for me was the split in the Country Party and the fact that we couldn't get results without having to go down that path," he said.

"We were divided, and any division is not a good thing, it's very hard to make progress from that."

And in a veiled swipe at today's WA Nationals hierarchy, Mr Cowan said he believed the Liberal Party was dictating terms to the current party.

"Just at this particular moment, they aren't having any influence on the decisions of government, even though they might be participating in decisions, but they must decide they are a genuine coalition member and take the responsibility and cop the punishment that comes with that," he said.

"But at the moment, all they do is meet the dictates of the Liberal Party.

"Tier 3 is an example of where they have not moulded or shaped the policies of government.

"Tier 3 is blatantly wrong. The National Party did not stand up and say this is nonsense."

But Mr Cowan concedes the Royalties for Regions concept was "an absolute masterpiece".

"You can overcome all those unelected officials in Treasury who say we can't spend money there," he said.

"You've now got it enshrined in legislation."

Now chancellor of Edith Cowan University, Mr Cowan says he fits comfortably in the academic world for the moment.

"I've spent 12 years as the chancellor of ECU and that's been very rewarding," he said.

"I have another two years to run with that, and I won't be seeking any more terms.

"And I won't be seeking another term on the Cancer Council either.

"I'll be 74 at that time, and it will be time to indulge in a little bit of farming when I feel like it, indulge in some of the issues that allow a community to thrive.

"I will go out to the farm when I can, just to add a bit of nuisance value to my younger brother's farming operations."

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