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Insiders say many voters in Orange have no idea there is a NSW election on Saturday

March 20, 2023

The official electoral list for the seat of Orange. Candidates (L-R) Heather Dunn, Philip Donato, Tony Mileto and David Mallard. Candidate images supplied. Artwork: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes

Many adults in the Orange electorate are not aware that there is a state election on Saturday, political insiders have told The Orange News Examiner.

And there are also many voters who are not aware that sitting Orange MP Phil Donato has quit the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers Party and is running as an independent.

Donato is campaigning for a third term. He was elected in a 2016 byelection - after Andrew Gee quit state politics to go federal - by a handful of votes and won again in 2019, in a landslide.

Donato's 65.2 percent of the two candidate preferred vote means that the Nationals candidate Tony Mileto needs 1,530 out of every 10,000 voters in the electorate to move away from Donato and vote Nationals, or at least preference the Nationals above Donato.

There are around 50,000 registered voters in the seat. Are 7,500 of them ready to bail out on Donato, or push him right to the bottom of their preferences?

It would be a Herculean task, and few outside of rusted-on Nationals are suggesting Mileto has any real shot at unseating a popular local member. The Nationals, meanwhile, are hoping that a spending spree across the electorate in recent months will resonate with voters.

One of those loyal rusted-ons is former Nationals MLC Rick Colless, who served in the NSW parliament from 2000 to 2019.

Colless remains an active member of the party, and reckons Mileto is “in with a chance” in Orange on Saturday.

The candidates.

“We’re pretty positive,” Colless said, “but obviously Phil Donato is going to be hard to beat.”

Colless said the number of Mileto posters around Orange, and the booking of TV ads on his behalf, showed that the Nationals felt they were in with a shot.

He said the party had focused on reminding voters what the Nationals had achieved for the regions since coming to power 12 years ago.

The Orange News Examiner contacted a senior political figure in the NSW Central West who is not aligned with Donato or Mileto. They predicted that Donato would not only be returned, but with an increased majority.

Colless said that even if the Nationals don’t win the seat, they would be hoping to make a notable dent in Donato’s massive buffer.

Another source - again not aligned with Donato or Mileto - who has been doorknocking on behalf of a candidate, told The Orange News Examiner recently they were surprised at how many voters didn’t know there was an election coming up, and how many didn’t know that Donato had quit the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers Party.

Colless said that, anecdotally, he had heard the same thing regarding ignorance of the forthcoming state poll.

It suggests that national cost-of-living issues such as mortgage rates and inflation on groceries, utilities and other products are at the forefront of people’s minds, rather than the meat and veg state issues of health and education.

That said, roads are a key state issue, and people are talking a lot about roads - or at least the craters in the roads.

Labor and the Nationals are promising vast wads of cash for roads, but there is a risk it's all white noise and the electorate no longer cares about promises, only the state of the roads they drive on.

The Orange electorate includes Parkes and Forbes.

The Nationals hope to do well in smaller booths around the electorate, but Colless said the real test will be in larger booths such as Orange High School and Forbes Town Hall. Around 2,000 votes will likely be cast at each of those polling stations.

Colless said by around 8pm the Nationals will know if they've got a shot against Donato, or whether it's time to pop the balloons and head home.

In the 2011 state election then-National Andrew Gee won the two-candidate preferred vote 74.2 percent to Labor's Kevin Duffy with 25.8 percent.

At the 2015 state election Gee won 71.7 percent two-candidate preferred over Labor's Bernard Fitzsimons with 28.3 percent.

The byelection following Gee's resignation in 2016 to go federal saw the Liberal-National state government hammered by the electorate of Orange over issues relating to greyhound racing and council mergers.

Although Gee handed his successor Scott Barrett a 21.7 percent buffer, it was a poisoned chalice.

Donato, backed by the greyhound industry and radio broadcaster Ray Hadley, crawled over the line by just 50 votes.

They greyhound ban was overturned and the council mergers abandoned, but the voters took a shine to Donato between 2016 and 2019, and in the 2019 state election he increased his two candidate vote from 50.1 percent to 65.2 percent.

Who will get your first vote on Saturday?

  • 0%George Bate - Sustainable Australia Party

  • 0%Gillian Bramley - Public Education Party

  • 0%Patricia Holt - Legalise Cannabis Party

  • 0%Philip Donato - Independent

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