The 31-year-old will have only one warmup before the World Cup, a game against Samoa on Sept 7, to prove his body is still up to the rigors of test rugby.
The squad, captained by Michael Hooper with Samu Kerevi as his deputy, boasts 1406 caps of Test experience, 200 more than the squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Ashley-Cooper, 35, becomes the oldest Wallaby selected for a World Cup and Petaia, at 19, the youngest.
Rookie Jordan Petaia is the only uncapped player is in the squad.
Petaia suffered a serious foot injury in early March and has won selection on the back of recent club action on return to fitness.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
A born-again James O'Connor attended 2011 but missed 2015.
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In one picture posted to social media, Cheika can be seen standing behind a podium in a Qantas hangar while reading out the 31 names for next month's tournament. - with microphones 3, 6, and 0 visible in front of him. Nine of his squad have started a Test at inside or outside centre, and Petaia is poised to become the 10th.
"He's an aggressive style player and I think that's going to be essential".
"I'm definitely confident", Cheika said.
"It's also important that we select a squad that will handle the tournament play and our draw in particular at the Rugby World Cup, as well as maintain a strong competition for places in the team".
Among the unluckiest omissions are fullback Tom Banks, halfback Joe Powell, hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and flankers Liam Wright and Luke Jones, who will join the World Cup squad as train-on players at a 10-day preparation camp in New Caledonia.
"We've become a really tight group and it was a very hard process in picking only 31 players, but I know each player selected will travel to Japan with the full support of those team-mates who won't board the flight", said Cheika, who included Powell, Tom Banks, Liam Wright, Luke Jones and Tatafu Polota-Nau as extended members for the team's pre-World Cup camp and Test against Samoa.
Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Jack Dempsey, Folau Fainga'a, Michael Hooper (captain), Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese.