We do not need direct access to any secret internal party polling to know how the voters of Tasmania’s north-west coast intend voting. John Howard told us via You Tube yesterday morning with his announcement of federal funds to save the Mersey Hospital for the people of Devonport. If ever there was a risky move by a politician facing defeat this was it.

Risky in more ways than one. For a start, buying votes is not as easy as it seems. True it is that almost all the 15,000 people of Devonport would prefer to just pop down the street for an operation or to visit a patient rather than drive 30 kilometres to Burnie. But most people, in their strange and different ways, do not make the decision on who gets their vote on the basis of a single issue. The calculations of the mind considering political matters are complex, with gifts from a visiting Prime Minister as likely to be interpreted as an “about time we got what we deserve” as they are a wonderfully charitable act which should be rewarded with a vote.

In my experience, politicians receive fewer votes for giving people something than they lose by taking something away. Therein lies a real risk. The reason the hospital at Latrobe (really a suburb of Devonport but one whose residents pretend is separate) was being downgraded was that the region could not support two full service hospitals. The State Government decided that the hospital at nearby Burnie was best-suited to be developed. Without the expected influx of patients from Devonport, Burnie hospital’s future is now threatened.

Do not be surprised if the State Labor Government announces that if Mr Howard goes ahead with his promise to financially support Devonport, Burnie will be downgraded. Telling the 19,000 residents of Burnie that a vote for a Liberal will mean that it is they who will have to drive the 30 kilometres for treatment will more than even the voting score.

Perhaps most dangerous risk of all from this little exercise in parish pumpery is what can best be described as the jealousy factor. I can hear already the cries of “What about me?” from towns and suburbs throughout the country. A voter spurned means a vote potentially lost which is what those desperate men doing the desperate things would do well to remember.