Political commentator Dean Jaensch dies aged 85, remembered as academic ‘shining star’

Eminent politics expert and psephologist Dean Jaensch, who was familiar to ABC audiences for his electoral analysis in South Australia, has died at the age of 85.

Key points:

  • Professor Jaensch secured a reputation for “trenchant” commentary and education over several decades
  • Politicians, colleagues, friends and his family are paying tribute to the psephologist
  • Flinders University said he brought “wit and wisdom” to political education in South Australia

The emeritus professor was a regular guest and commentator on the ABC in South Australia, analysing federal and state electoral trends.

“When I first sat down and watched an election count, be it state or federal, there was this bloke that bobbed up,” Flinders University colleague Haydon Manning recalled.

“Before we had Antony Green and all the computer graphics, he’d be explaining preference flows and who might win.”

As an academic, Professor Jaensch was most closely associated with Flinders University, where he lectured in politics and international studies over several decades until his retirement in 2001.

The university is among many to pay tribute to Professor Jaensch, reflecting fondly on his “trenchant observations on the machinations of state and federal Australian governments” and praising his “engaging and dynamic” teaching.

“Fiercely intellectual, Professor Dean Jaensch was never afraid to speak his mind or to engage in vigorous but respectful debate,” vice-chancellor Colin Stirling said.

“He encouraged his students to observe keenly, think deeply, and act without fear or favour, making him a mentor par excellence.

“The political firmament has lost a shining star with Professor Jaensch’s passing.”

Professor Jaensch also secured a reputation as an author, historian, commentator and columnist, and was a popular guest on ABC Radio Adelaide.

“Known and respected by generations of South Australians for decades of columns in the Advertiser and appearances on ABC radio and television and commercial radio, Professor Jaensch will be missed for his wit and wisdom,” Professor Stirling said.

Former ABC presenter Michael Smyth said he had “fond memories” of working with Professor Jaensch on radio.

“We’ve lost one of SA’s great political minds with the passing of Professor Dean Jaensch,” he tweeted.

“His experience and insight, unmatched. A great teacher to generations.”

Professor Jaensch had a long career as a lecturer in politics and international studies at Flinders University until his retirement in 2001.(Supplied: Flinders University)

Professor Jaensch is survived by his three children and wife Helen, who released a statement saying her husband had “made an extraordinary contribution” to the standard of political education, “touching many lives through his teaching”.

“Dean had the most amazing life and has been a wonderful husband and father to our children and our grandchildren,” she said.

“He gave so much to so many and gave freely of his time to many thousands across the community.

“He was just an amazing person and I am so lucky to have had him part of our family and as my best friend for more than 60 years.”

Before becoming a political expert, Professor Jaensch worked as a teacher at country schools. 

Professor Manning said he was known for his “knockabout Aussie humour”.

“He spent quite a bit of time as jackaroo up in the north,” he said.

“He worked in the north of the state before he did his teacher training

“Students … simply adored his lectures because he always put on a show.”

Senator Simon Birmingham said Professor Jaensch “always sought to educate rather than commentate” and brought “intellect, wisdom and impartiality” to his roles.

“A fine South Australian whose teachings were always pitched to be accessible and informative. Vale.”