Our say | The safest seat sits outside the sanctum

PHILIP Donato’s first bold foray into public policy has illustrated both the great strengths and weaknesses of an independent member of parliament.

The new Member for Orange issued a strongly worded media release on Thursday calling for his neighbouring MPs Paul Toole and Troy Grant to join in him in fighting “to save Lifeline Central West”.

Mr Donato urged Mr Toole and Mr Grant’s support to “save Lifeline Central West from $800,000 in funding cuts over four years”.

“When the Premier went ahead with the greyhound racing ban earlier this year, Lifeline's 13 11 14 hotline number was cited at the bottom of the press release,” Mr Donato was quoted in the media release.

“Now defunding these services is a further insult to people living in the bush.”

Of course, Mr Toole an Mr Grant are both members of the Nationals, the party rolled by Mr Donato at the November 12 orange by-election.

So while the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate’s rallying call might have been portrayed as something of an olive branch, in reality it was more a wedge designed to back the Nationals into criticising their own Coalition government.

Only problem was, the $800,000 funding cut Mr Donato spoke so strongly against was a fallacy – as confirmed by the CEO of Lifeline Australia Peter Shmigel. Mr Shmigel confirmed the government had cut no funding to Lifeline. 

The dispute is really an internal Lifeline debate over how the organisation is structured and whether the Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo arms should be treated as separate entities or a single Central West entity.

The government MPs in the area are aware of that dispute and also aware there is little they can do about it.

Mr Donato, speaking from outside the inner sanctum, was clearly unaware of such subtleties and waded in where he really had no role. That’s the disadvantage of being an independent in parliament.

But the great advantage for Mr Donato is that the electorate will not judge him harshly for such a misstep.

Independents have unfettered freedom to make demands on the government coffers safe in the knowledge they will never be charged with balancing the budget.

That makes them popular with the voters, but less so with those sitting beside them in parliament. And Mr Donato has already shown that that’s exactly how he likes it.