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Donato makes call on future as Shooters look to state poll in March

May 26, 2022


By Peter Holmes

Before the pandemic, state MP Phil Donato from the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers party reckoned he was clocking up more than 60,000km a year tootling around the Orange electorate, and back and forth to NSW Parliament House in Macquarie Street.

The man likes to drive.

"I drive all the time; I do enjoy it, as strange as that might sound," Donato told The Orange News Examiner.

"I don't see it as arduous or an inconvenience. I can drive eight, nine, 10 hours a day no problem, if I have to. Sometimes I've got to go to Sydney and back in a day, no problem.

"It gives me an opportunity to relax and unwind. Listen to some music, or just zone out."

It's been an incredibly challenging few weeks for Donato. He dropped a boat trailer on his foot, requiring surgery at Orange Hospital, and then his father Luciano died following an illness.

This interview with Donato was conducted between these two events. Publication was held over following the passing of his dad.

Asked if he had made a firm decision on his future ahead of the next state election, which is only 10 months away, Donato said: "Whilst ever I’m enjoying the job, my family is supportive of me doing the job, and thirdly - and most importantly - the community wants to keep me in the job, I'll keep doing it. You need all those three pillars.

"I'm 50 this year so I've still got a lot of working years in my life."

The state MP said he wasn't aware of a date by which he needed to let his party know he would stand again.

"I think they assume if I wasn't going to run I'd tell them, and if I haven't told them they assume I’m running."

Donato describes himself as "not someone who likes sitting in an office".

"I like getting out and about and meeting people and getting out and doing things - that's always been my approach."

Given the National Party took the loss of Orange badly, and would rather like to take it back next March, it's likely the Liberal-National state government will throw considerable resources at regaining the seat.

Sam Farraway. Supplied.

Nationals MLC Sam Farraway, the Bathurst-based roads minister, told The Orange News Examiner on Thursday morning that the Nationals would hold pre-selection for Orange in the second half of the year.

It is understood there are already a small number of candidates for pre-selection.

A key issue is whether Farraway, whose term as a casual vacancy in the Legislative Council expires in 2027, will resign as an MLC, face pre-selection and - if successful - challenge Donato.

"I've been asked by a lot of people - and not just Nationals voters - if I would consider running," Farraway said. "Business owners in Orange, community groups, people in Cabonne, Parkes, Forbes."

Farraway said he was "flat stick" as roads minister dealing with issues such as the Ballina and Lismore floods and the Blue Mountains tunnel, and would consider his future in coming months.

Risking a secure term until 2027 as an MLC to challenge a popular sitting member of the lower house in 2023 seems on the surface like madness.

But the lower house is where the main action occurs, and Farraway will need to be there if his long-term ambitions include leadership.

The seat of Bathurst is locked up by deputy premier Paul Toole, which means Farraway would have to move into the Orange electorate. He already holds an office here.

One possibility is that Farraway could resign as an MLC, contest Orange, lose, and be chosen again to fill the casual upper house vacancy until 2027. It's what might be called a lose-win situation.

Or he could wrest the seat back.

For his part, Donato says he is not concerned about who the Nationals put forward.

"I don’t know and to be perfectly frank I don’t really care who it is - it's going to have to be somebody. It's a matter for them. Doesn’t bother me one way or the other.

"You just do your job to best of your ability and trust what you’ve done as the local member holds you in good stead."

Meanwhile, Farraway said the moment the new federal Labor government announced its infrastructure minister he would write to them immediately "seeking a meeting on a range of projects in regional areas" including the Great Western Highway.

"There is a lot to discuss," he said.

Federal funding is required to build the proposed tunnel on the western side of the Blue Mountains from Blackheath to Little Hartley.


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