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Potholes loom as key state election issue as Donato and Farraway fire up

October 8, 2022

Digitally altered.

By Peter Holmes

There must be an election in the air, as it's all getting a bit heated between Central West politicians Sam Farraway and Phil Donato over the dangerous craters that dot roads across the district.

With a state election due in March 2023, and a bubbling anger across the electorate at the sometimes woeful state of our urban and country thoroughfares, potholes appear likely to become a lightning rod at the ballot box.

Since becoming minister for regional roads, the Bathurst-based Farraway - the National Party upper house MP responsible for Orange and the Central West - has spent his time flying and driving around the state like the Energizer Bunny. He has a grasp on the size of the challenge.

Lower house MP Phil Donato from the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers Party, meanwhile, has no such portfolio concerns, and has spent his time in the electorate pounding the issue of roads.

In recent weeks he has ramped up his campaign, baiting Farraway on social media over the state of Cargo Road and others.

A pothole in Orange on October 8, 2022. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

“[Farraway] has not taken any proactive measures, he has merely reacted to those constituents (in many instances without bothering to even respond to their messages and emails) and the representations I have made … on the floor of parliament,” Donato wrote on Friday.

“Mr Farraway is THE minister responsible for the issues being raised - the buck stops with him. Unfortunately Mr Farraway has demonstrated that he is only reactive, not proactive and quite aloof. He has a raft of staff who could respond to constituents if he is 'too' busy.”

A Facebook post on Saturday.

Farraway chose to respond on Donato’s Facebook page.

“Hi Phil, just thought I’d respond to this diatribe," he began.

"I understand that Cargo Road is a concern. As soon as I started receiving requests I instructed the agency Transport for NSW to inspect the road and meet with council.

“My agency met with council on 26th September and they’re following up again on Monday 10th October. The patching work has already begun.

“I was with council today in Manildra and we discussed next steps on how we can work together to improve this road quick smart.

Patched up road in Orange on October 8, 2022. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

“Just for your information, the state government can support councils with geotechnical, engineering and project management support, which we have and are continuing to do, but it’s up to councils to repair their roads, which they receive state government [funding] for.”

Farraway said that the state government had “opened up a number of funding programs for councils to apply for that can go towards fixing potholes and repairing roads - on top of disaster funding”.

He conceded “there’s still more to do and I acknowledge that” but blamed rainfall since March for delaying maintenance schedules and increasing demand.


THERE is, of course, an element of rank populism in Donato’s demands, for he knows it’s a hot-button safety issue that revs people up. It’s a vote winner, as it triggers a visceral, emotional reaction from people who've had to swerve at the last second, or felt the thud that comes with barrelling through a pothole.

But there is also an element of simply doing what a local MP from a minority party should do, by pointing out the shortcomings of the government of the day - particularly shortcomings that can cause death, injury and significant vehicular damage - and pushing for a greater share of the pie.

Highlighting the fact that road upkeep is shared between all three tiers of government - genius! - the federal Nationals MP for Calare, Andrew Gee, also weighed in on Friday, from opposition.

Phil Donato took this photo of a pothole on Cargo Road.

“After months of wild wet weather, road systems across entire regions of Australia are pock-marked with potholes," Gee said in a statement. "The current condition of our roads is an incredibly dangerous issue that needs to be tackled immediately.

“Not only are potholes hitting our back pockets by puncturing tires and bending wheel rims, they’re costing our local councils big time.”

Gee said road crews at councils are “stretched and exhausted. Patching is the best many councils can do right now, but this is not sustainable. Funding is urgently needed to make these roads safe again. This needs to be a national priority that crosses party lines”.

The truth, however, is that Donato, Farraway and Gee know that our roads will never, ever be built and maintained to the satisfaction of the community's harshest critics.

Some people in Orange appear to be of the belief that potholes are a blight on just us and no-one else. This is plainly absurd. The damn things are everywhere. Urban. Country. Inland. Coastal.

In a country the size of Australia the issue of road quality is an unsolvable one.

A close up of a gold ball. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Just about everyone who drives, and some of those who don’t, has an opinion on why the roads are at times rubbish. It’s the fully laden trucks rumbling along the country roads and urban streets. It’s the moody weather, sunny one minute, raining the next. It’s the poor quality of the build at the start. It’s the poor quality of the patch-up job. It’s the lack of crews. The lack of funding. The gold balls.

Other than the balls, which are regularly held responsible for the city's woes, each of the above elements plays its role in ensuring we will never get the roads we feel we deserve.

But at the core of the pothole problem is surely the fact there are simply way too many kilometres of road per head of population to ensure they are all smooth and safe, all the time. Or even most of the time.

We are not Paris or Tokyo or London, piling millions of people into relatively small geographical areas. We are spread out. There aren’t that many of us. We love cars. We need trucks. The weather is changeable. The funds are limited.

We want the best, but are we willing to pay for it via a massive hike in rates?

A gold ball. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

It’s easy to say that if we didn’t spend money on public art like the gold balls we would have enough to fix the roads, but this is juvenile. First, the balls cost $92,000. That won’t get you a lot of A-grade road.

Second, if we take that argument to its logical conclusion, then Orange City Council should spend all its money on roads and rubbish collection, and forget about doing much else, aside from a bit of town planning and development application processing.

No stadium. No gallery. No conservatorium. No museum. No council parks for dogs and sports. No community grants. No sporting grants. No citizenship ceremonies. No youth workers. No public art. No pool. No cultural events. Just roads and rubbish.

Yet even then, with the city as a complete wasteland, there still wouldn’t be enough money to get all the roads up to A-grade spec.

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