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Inside Story: The councillors, the sausages, the MP and the "conspiracy theories"

September 9, 2023


Phil Donato (second from right) and councillor Glenn Floyd (right). Facebook.

By Peter Holmes


It was about two hours and 40 minutes into Tuesday night’s marathon council meeting when talk turned to Phil Donato, bacon, onions and the monthly Mr Perfect barbecues in Cook Park.


Started in Orange by state MP Phil Donato, and now organised by Donato and Orange councillor Glenn Floyd, the Mr Perfect barbecues are put on as a way for men to meet, chat about life and maybe open up about some of the challenges they are facing.


The Mr Perfect group is a "registered health promotion charity".


Once a month on a Sunday Donato and his staff lug a barbecue, gas bottle, tables, plates, napkins and food into Cook Park.


Sausages, onions and chicken sticks are barbecued and taken with bread, and men talk.

Getting men to talk is not always easy. Donato knows the stunning, sledgehammer shock of learning about a suicide, and by putting on the barbecues he is trying to do something to get men to talk.





Which is not to say that all - or even many, or any - of the men who turn up on any given Sunday are lonely or sad or isolated or bereaved or lost. The point is it’s there if somebody needs it.


Donato is happy that friendships have been made, and men have kept in touch in the time between the barbecues.


Facebook.

Tuesday’s meeting dragged on for about four hours. The topic of the Mr Perfect barbecues came up at around 9:07pm, as councillors waded through a list of 13 grant applications.


The Mr Perfect charity had put in a grant application for $3,000. It writes to many councils seeking assistance. The money - equal to $250 a month over 12 months - would be used to help pay the costs associated with putting on the barbecue.

Not all grant applications - even worthy ones - are approved by the councillors.



They don’t have an endless pot of cash to dole out, as there is a yearly cap on what can be given away. Often the ones that are rejected are submitted by for-profit companies looking for assistance with an event.


Typically, a grant over 12 months of $3,000 for a non-profit group that organises barbecues for men to talk in a relaxed setting, would be waved through. Who would vote against that?


But on Tuesday night the matter became the subject of a debate that at times became a little snippy.

The Mr Perfect monthly barbecues were raised during the Finance Policy Committee part of the meeting.



It was listed as the twelfth of 13 agenda items related to small grants for community endeavours.


Other grants on the agenda included $2,500 (the category maximum) to Blossoms Rescue to help cover food, litter and vet bills; $2,500 towards a request of $10,000 from Lions Australia District 201N4 Camp Licola towards the costs of running a camp for people with either a physical/mental disability or both; and $2,300 to the Central West Antique Machinery and Collectors Club to help cover costs of members travelling long distances to work at the Lake Canobolas Pumping Station.



Rather than endorsing the full $3,000 amount requested by Mr Perfect - “to support the running of their monthly BBQs in support of men’s health” - council staff had recommended councillors vote in favour of giving the maximum of $2,500.


The application from Mr Perfect said it had “been running for just 5 years, and each Sunday they have thousands of men turn up to their local BBQs which provide an easy way to make connections with other men, creating the opportunity to either give a hand, get some advice, and feel a sense of community”.

“The Orange BBQ is held monthly,” it added, “and Council’s donation would help promote the event, pay for equipment and food. The event is hosted by Phil Donato, MP and Cr Glenn Floyd.”


When the matter arose for discussion on Tuesday night, councillor Glenn Floyd left the chamber, so as not to influence the discussion or participate in a vote.

Council agenda shows the applicant was Mr Perfect.

Chairing this part of the meeting, councillor Kevin Duffy made it clear the request for financial support was made by Mr Perfect. Councillor Tammy Greenhalgh moved the motion to support the staff recommendation, and it was seconded by councillor Jeff Whitton.



Duffy then asked for any discussion.



Councillor Melanie McDonell raised her hand. We can’t report everything she said because Orange City Council’s appalling livestream audio hasn’t recorded it for posterity.


From what can be heard, McDonell wanted to know how else Mr Perfect raised money. Council staff director Rachelle Robb - whose microphone technique is exemplary - rose to answer the question at the lectern.

She said that service clubs were sometimes involved with Mr Perfect, but that the application hadn’t given any detail on how it fundraises.



Councillor Frances Kinghorne then spoke. “I just think we need more information about this. I see it on Phil Donato’s Facebook page and it looks like it’s well attended and it’s a good thing to have something specifically for men who feel a bit disengaged …




“But it’s been going for a long time anyway, so obviously there’s already been funding from somewhere else.


"That’s $250 a month for the $3,000 they’ve requested, and if there are 30 people there, working out how many eggs and a bit of bacon - I don’t think it’s going to cost that much.”

Although the grant had stated the “donation would help promote the event, pay for equipment and food”, Kinghorne wanted more detail: “I thought there was very little information in the application, so while I support the initiative, I’d like some more information. Maybe we should defer it.”


Phil Donato (left) and Tony Mileto on election day in March 2023. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Councillor Tony Mileto then weighed in. Mileto was the Nationals candidate at the March state election. He ran against Phil Donato and lost quite badly. Mileto said he supported Kinghorne’s statement.


“Whilst I strongly support [the] mental health initiative, I guess the question is whether council has the discretion to contribute to an event that is organised by a state politician,” Mileto said.

“The local member, with all due respect, has used this as part of his platform at the last state election.



"I think we may need to get clarification whether or not council can do this, as the last thing I want is for council to become embroiled in some sort of controversial (sic), because my understanding is we may not be able to support this. I do see some barriers to that.”



Then Mileto veered off track. It was rather strange.

“I just have a follow up question, regarding the same issue. People obviously read our council notes and I’ve been asked by several residents - is it permissible for people to take their own private barbecues to Cook Park and use and, if so, do they require their own indemnity insurance to do so?”



Mileto seemed to be saying - and I may be wrong - that several people in Orange had waded through council and committee agendas (published on the internet on a Friday), discovered the item about a grant application from Mr Perfect, been triggered into wondering if they too could take a BBQ into Cook Park like Phil Donato and Glenn Floyd, and made representations to Mileto on this very matter ahead of the Tuesday night meeting.




Council CEO David Waddell was next. He said Mileto had raised some “solid issues”.


“It’s a good question and I think we’ll take this whole thing on notice”.


But Mileto’s questions, and the CEO's endorsement of those questions, begged another question: If there were concerns about giving to a charity that state MP Phil Donato was associated with, why did council staff under Waddell recommend to councillors the grant be given?


Councillor Jeff Whitton then spoke. “Look, I'm happy to support it. These are ratepayers that live in the city that get together for a barbecue to talk about life that are struggling through different reasons. We've just given away $10,000 to a bunch of organisations, half of them that don't even come from Orange.


“Here we are, a couple of blokes having a barbecue in Cook Park and we’re trying to figure out reasons - make up reasons, excuses and conspiracy theories - why we shouldn’t support them. It just baffles me.”



Councillor Tammy Greenhalgh backed Whitton. “The brochure that has been produced by Phil, it has every single contact, place in Orange that you can get support for mental health. If you’re not on there, you can email and get on that list. Anyone that’s after some sort of support knows where to go.



“When I picked it up and went through it I was actually blown away by the list of places where you could get help. With my bereaved parents’ group, I thought we should be on that as well, and flicked off an email to get us on that when it’s reproduced.


Brochures and bread. Facebook.

“There’s not a lot of places for men to go to do these sort of things. I think women are better at this, so to start putting in barriers in that they can’t use a park would be ludicrous.”


Councillor Jack Evans said that although he endorsed comments made by Greenhalgh and Whitton, he “would like to see this deferred for further information to be brought back".

"I don’t think I would have an issue supporting it, with further information," Evans said. "We do all these mental health initiatives for the younger demographic, but this particular demographic is generally an older bloke. There’s nothing wrong with getting in there and giving them a hand too”.





Whitton jumped in and said: “We gave the same money to rescue cats. Which is great. They got up.”


Duffy then announced that he would throw his “$2 worth” in. “I’m going to support it for a number of grounds: men's health is extremely important, I mean you go to Lifeline and the health services there and ask the suicide rates of men compared to women, it’s horrific. Anything we can do to support our own people is truly a huge plus.”


Duffy went on to raise Donato’s position as a state MP. But he was not coming from the same angle as Mileto, Evans and Kinghorne.




“We need to be a little bit more political savvy about what we’re doing here," Duffy said.


"We've got a local member who has a fair bit of say in Macquarie Street - a lot of say - and I think on this occasion because the intent is absolutely fantastic, we should be seen supporting him, irrespective of what our political beliefs are.”


It wasn’t clear whether Duffy was aiming this at MIleto; himself (Duffy is a Labor man, while Donato is ex-Shooters, Fishers and Farmers); or no-one in particular.


Facebook.

McDonell then spoke again: “I don’t think anyone here doesn’t support more action for men’s mental health. Given the CEO said they were valid points raised by councillor Mileto, I certainly don’t want to have my neck on the chopping block for having signed away a donation to technically a political candidate.

"I'd rather make sure we have all our ducks in a row. We need to be extra careful in these situations.”


To which Whiton replied: “Big accusations.”


Voting to defer: (L-R) Councillors Melanie McDonell, David Mallard and Steve Peterson.

Voting to defer: (L-R) Councillors Jack Evans, Frances Kinghorne and Tony Mileto.

Six councillors voted in favour of the amendment to defer any decision: Evans, Kinghorne, Mileto, Peterson, Mallard and McDonell.


Four voted against deferring: Whitton, Duffy, Greenhalgh and deputy mayor Gerald Power.


Four councillors were in favour of giving the grant to Mr Perfect: (L-R) Kevin Duffy, Gerald Power, Jeff Whitton and Tammy Greenhalgh.

The amendment - to defer - then became the motion. Other than Duffy, who flipped to vote in favour of the motion to defer, the votes remained the same.


Mr Perfect is a non-profit group that helps men set up barbecues around Australia.


Any men wanting to start a barbecue where men can talk to other men about how they’re doing can contact Mr Perfect.

Phil Donato was none too happy about his name being dragged into the events at the meeting. He told The Orange News Examiner he had nothing to do with the grant application.





The actual grant application was part of the agenda papers, and it showed that the group applying for donation was the non-profit Mr Perfect.


“Our great charity organisation runs on the smell of an oily rag," it said.


Facebook.

"We are an organisation with 50 volunteers and a couple of internal administrative staff paid nominal amounts.


"Our endeavour through this application is to raise a contribution by the council to help us to promote our monthly BBQs in Orange, and to pay for the equipment and food as required by our Orange Hosts (Phil Donato MP + Glenn Floyd).”


MR PERFECT FOUNDER - TERRY CORNICK


Terry Cornick is a Sydney-based father of three young boys, working in the healthcare industry. He also battles depression, anxiety and PTSD. And he used to be damn good at hiding it.


After escaping the UK, his life in Australia on the surface looked ideal, so much so that his best mate called him “Mr Perfect” regularly.





But like many men, our founder realised he was not Mr Perfect. After a lifetime of mental challenges, he finally navigated a path to tackle them and found there was something missing in the support he accessed, with a desire that no man be left behind.


Lifeline: 13 11 14



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