Prime Ministerial populism doesn’t seem to be striking a chord even amongst his own party.
The government has performed poorly in Question Time this week. The only minister to really make a mark has been Joe Hockey. Tony Abbott was missing on Tuesday and yesterday, as he does all too often, went in too hard.
But Question Time is really won or lost by the Prime Minister – and at the moment, his own side say he’s failing.
Failing so badly, some say, that if he should go – as early as next week.
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The big gestures – the Murray-Darling plan, the Budget bribes – have failed.
So he’s going for scrappy and ratty local measures – like Queensland hospitals and the Mersey Hospital.
He sounds shrill. And when some of the details sink in, his own troops are likely to be even less impressed with their leader.
Take the Mersey Hospital. Despite the repeated claim of the Prime Minister and Health Minister, the Mersey Hospital at Latrobe does not provide services to 70,000 people. That it doesn’t is pretty easy to work out from the population of local councils.
Sited in the Latrobe local government area, the council has a population of around 9,000. Despite parts of the council being suburbs of Devonport, the good denizens of Latrobe bitterly resisted amalgamation with Devonport during the Groom government’s process of council amalgamations between 1992 and 1996, when the number of Tasmanian councils was cut from 49 to 29.
Devonport itself is a city of 25,000 people, while the other local council that is closest to the hospital is Kentish, another small council with a population of 6,000. So in all, the population of the immediate local area to the Mersey hospital is 40,000 -30,000 fewer than the PM claims.
To the west lies Central Coast council, covering Ulverstone and Penguin and with a population of 21,000. This council lies exactly half way between Devonport and Burnie. Further west is Burnie, with a population of 19,000, Waratah-Wynyard with 13,000 and Circular Head with 8,000.
Stanley in Circular Head council area is as far from Burnie to the west as Latrobe is from Burnie to the east. Both lie in the Braddon electorate. You could say that if saving Mersey Hospital wins the Latrobe vote for the Liberal Party, it may be at the cost of losing the Circular Head vote.
To the east of Mersey Hospital lies West Tamar Council with 22,000 people, and to the south Meander Valley with 19,000. Given geography and roads, the population of both naturally gravitate toward the much larger Launceston Hospital, which also caters for Launceston City Council with 65,000, plus another 26,000 people in the George Town, Dorset and Northern Midlands local government areas.
So the geography of northern Tasmania sees Launceston Hospital covering a population of 130,000 people. Burnie plus two councils to the west cover 40,000 people; there are another 21,000 in Central Coast between Burnie and Devonport, plus 40,000 in the councils around Devonport.
So, if you were state government with enough money and staff for one fully functioning hospital west of the Tamar Valley, and having to decide between keeping Burnie and Mersey Hospitals working as fully fledged facilities, what decision would you make?
Why, apart from politics, would a Federal government want to buy into the argument?
Why will a few people in Canberra be able to make a better decision?
The Commonwealth may have the power to intervene. But federalism is about more than just laws. It’s about local knowledge – and parochial prejudice.
That’s yet another detail the PM appears to have overlooked.