Bass – Election 2010

ALP 1.0%

Incumbent MP
Jodie Campbell, since 2007.

Bass covers the north-eastern corner of Tasmania. It covers the LGAs of Launceston, George Town and Dorset, along with small parts of West Tamar and Meander Valley LGAs to the west of Launceston. Bass also covers Tasmania’s north-eastern islands, including Flinders Island.

Bass was left largely intact by the redistribution, while it gained two small areas from Lyons to the south of Launceston. This had no impact on the 1.0% margin in the seat.

Bass is a very homogenous white Australian-born community. According to the 2006 Census, Bass has an above-average proportion of residents born in Australia and solely English-speaking. Over 92% of Bass residents only speak English at home, compared with 78.5% across Australia. Bass is a relatively poor seat, with average household income about three-quarters of the national average.

Bass was created for the 1903 election, after Tasmania’s MPs were elected at large for the 1901 election. Bass has always been centred on Launceston, and has long been a marginal electorate. Indeed, the seat has changed hands from one MP to another 13 times in its history, and only once has an MP been succeeded by a member of the same party.

The seat was dominated by the Barnard family in the middle part of the twentieth century, with Claude Barnard holding the seat from 1934 to 1949, which included a period as Minister for Repatriation in the Chifley government. He was defeated by Liberal candidate Bruce Kekwick in 1949, who himself was defeated by Claude’s son Lance Barnard in 1954. The younger Barnard went on to serve as Deputy Prime Minister under Gough Whitlam from 1972 to 1974, and his resignation triggered the June 1975 Bass by-election, which saw a 14% swing to the Liberal Party, a major blow to the Whitlam government.

Kevin Newman (father of current Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell) held the seat from 1975 to 1984, during which time he served as a minister in the Fraser government. He was succeeded by Warwick Smith in 1984. Kevin Newman is the only Member for Bass in the seat’s history to retire on his own terms, with every other MP being defeated for re-election at the end of their time holding the seat. Smith served up to the 1993 election, when he too was defeated by Labor candidate Silvia Smith. Warwick Smith defeated her at the 1996 election, and he served as a minister in the first Howard government. He was then defeated again in 1998 by Michelle O’Byrne, who held the seat for two terms as a Labor MP before losing in 2004 as part of a backlash against Mark Latham’s forestry policies. She too went on to become a state MP for Bass at the 2006 state election. At the 2007 election, the sitting Liberal MP Michael Ferguson was defeated himself by Launceston alderman Jodie Campbell.

Five of those who have been Member for Bass have gone on to serve in the Tasmanian Parliament following their defeat. Silvia Smith was elected as a Labor independent in the Tasmanian Legislative Council in 1997, while Jens Jensen, Claude Barnard and Michelle O’Byrne all were elected MHAs for Bass after losing their federal seat. Most recently, former Liberal MP Michael Ferguson won a seat in Bass at the 2010 state election.


Political situation
Bass is the most marginal seat in Tasmania. Bass is at the centre of the political battle over the proposed Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, close to Launceston. When you consider this in relation to the seat’s marginality, it makes the seat an enticing target for environment campaign groups.

2007 result

Michael FergusonLIB27,76943.50-5.63
Jodie CampbellALP23,76437.23-1.99
Tom MillenGRN9,74515.27+7.17
Sven WienerIND1,1231.76+1.76
Ixa de HaanFF9301.46-0.37
Shem BennettLDP2850.45+0.45
Adrian WattsCEC2190.34-1.02

2007 two-candidate-preferred result

Jodie CampbellALP32,55351.00+3.63
Michael FergusonLIB31,28249.00-3.63

Booth breakdown
The vast majority of voters in Bass live in Launceston and surrounding areas. About 80% of votes are cast in the urban part of Launceston LGA and the few suburbs in West Tamar and Meander Valley LGAs. Urban Launceston was won by the ALP, but not by a huge margin, with the ALP winning about 52% of the two-party-preferred vote. The ALP also won in most booths in rural Launceston LGA and George Town, while rural areas in George Town, Dorset and Flinders LGAs were dominated by the Liberal Party. When you divide the electorate into those booths close to the centre of Launceston, and those outside of that area, there isn’t a massive variation, although the Liberals did win in rural Bass with 50.6% of the two-party-preferred vote. The chart below does not take into account the minor impact of the redistribution.

Voter group
Total votes cast
% of votes
Urban Launceston14.8051.7643,83668.67
Rural Bass (incl. George Town)14.3049.3510,59416.60
Other votes17.4348.3010,24414.73
Polling booths in Bass. Launceston can be seen in the southwest corner.
Polling booths in Launceston and surrounding areas


  1. Ben, you do realise don’t you that above average proportions of people born in Australia and only speaking English is common to practically all of regional Australia? It’s largely only Sydney and Melbourne that go the other way. How the seats rank compared with others in those respects might be a better indicator than simply whether they are above or below average. I think the Parliamentary Library produced a briefing paper that ranks seats according to some of these criteria. Your observations are true, but it’s true of a great many seats.

  2. I heard that Senator Guy Barnett was shunted down to the third spot on the Liberal Senate ticket and was considering whether he had a better chance there or contesting Bass. He’s based in Launceston too so it would make a bit of sense.

  3. Yeah Ben, doing fine. I can understand the difficulty in figuring out how to do the demographics, there’s so much to potentially include. I know when I’ve previously tried putting together demographic info on particular areas (for campaign targeting) I couldn’t work out the best approach and what topics should and shouldn’t be included. Wish I had some good suggestions, but maybe the best I can make is just to stick to the things which really stand out as, say, highest or lowest in the country. Obviously you know about the census QuickStats as a nice easy reference for some of the key numbers compared with the national averages (shame it doesn’t include data on education though, which is another topic that may be interesting to look at).

    I only made the comment because you seemed to be suggesting those points were more remarkable than they really are. Sorry if I was a bit too harsh.

  4. Nah, I’m going to retract that criticism now after looking at the electorate rankings. Whilst Bass was ranked only 28th, 31st and 26th from the bottom in the three categories in question (old boundaries), it is significantly below the median electorate in all three cases. Was getting a bit too picky in my post-midnight reading there.

  5. I have a post up on the recent Bass pre-selctions, both federal and state, on my Tasmanian Politics blog:

    Titmus will find it hard for the Libs, largely because of the popularity of the Rudd government, providing of course that that holds for the election. But, this is Tasmania, where personalities and local reactions count … a lot will depend on the campaign. Jodie Campbell has some fierce critics in Launceston. Labor has to be favourite at this stage, but I say that without confidence.

    Guy Barnett’s political career from here on is at the cross-roads. He’s been dropped to third on the Liberal Senate ticket, and his only real chance of the Libs winning three is if Christine Milne misses for the Greens. I discuss this here: Milne is no shoe-in, but is better than even money. I don’t know if Barnett was a serious contender for Bass, but regardless that opportunity is now lost to Titmus. Also, with Michael Ferguson now a definite starter for Bass at the state election, there appears no room for Bartlett on the state ticket either. It looks like he will take his chances at the Senate election and hope for the best. If he misses, he remains in parliament until 30 June 2011 (under the Constitution), and who knows what will be happening at state level by then? A minority outcome in Tas is favourite (about 70% probability at this stage) and previous minority governments have not lasted long. So a free Guy Barnett, come mid 2011, might be looking at a crack at state parliament about that time? Who knows!

    Cred to Ben on this detailed post. He obviously doesn’t sleep.

  6. Thanks Peter, if only I didn’t sleep I would have more of these done.

    I hope to post the remaining Tasmanian guides this weekend as well as make progress on the Senate guides, so I’ll have the Tasmanian Senate guide done soon enough.

  7. So now that Campbell has announced her retirement, this really gets interesting. Titmus may have a strong chance.

    Is the pulp mill going to be as big an issue this time around? Obviously the issue is still there, but what I mean is, is it an issue that is as likely to influence voters as much as last time, when the doubling of the Green vote clearly showed its effect?

  8. An EMRS poll has Titmus ahead on primary votes, but not by much, 41 to 39 with Greens on 17. Presumably if those numbers were seen at the election Labor would retain the seat after preferences.

  9. Link is no longer up as Examiner tends to paywall articles quickly. Sounds like that 41-39-17 is with those leaning to a party added in and with undecideds redistributed and that the undecided rate is low.

    It was interesting to see Titmus say the result was a rejection of Labor and Lyons say they were the underdogs when actually the poll is a good one for Labor, which would win the seat quite easily on those figures. They won it with a primary deficit of 6.3 points last time after all.

    Also the Greens made a big deal of it being a good poll for them but it is not significantly different to the pulp-mill boosted figure they got last election (not to mention EMRS’s tendency to overcook the Greens vote) and it doesn’t really suggest that the limited impact of their preferencing decisions will decide the outcome.

  10. Interesting that every poll so far, internal or public, conducted re this seat has shown an ALP win, and most of them have shown a hefty increase in margin. By my count there have been four, each of them probably too small to draw viable conclusions from alone, but together that trend is very promising for Labor. It suggests, as some have thought, that Bass is really less marginal than it looks and that to run Labor as close as he did was a very strong effort by then-sitting member Michael Ferguson.

  11. My prediction: A very difficult one. I’ve always thought the Liberals had a good chance of gaining this, but all signs seem to indicate Labor favoured to retain it. I really don’t know, but I’ll say Liberal gain on a 1.5-2% swing.

  12. I’m predicting Labor retain with close to 3 point swing to Labor because the Libs only won it in 2004 because of Latham’s blunders, and only almost held it in 2007 because of a very strong local member with incumbency advantage against an ordinary opponent. I just see absolutely no reason why it should flip back to Liberal again now, apart from its history of flipping.

Comments are closed.