A LITTLE more than a week since he won the seat of Orange by 50 votes, state member-elect Phil Donato has already begun meeting with constituent groups.
Mr Donato said his first challenge had been Lifeline, after the state government decided to count the Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo call centres as one centre, leaving the organisation barely able to keep the Orange and Dubbo centres open for the 30,000 calls they received a year.
“I was surprised at how busy it was,” he said.
“They take calls from the central west, but they can come from anywhere in Australia – they’re really struggling to continue to operate when there’s a three-times higher suicide rate in regional areas than in the city.”
Mr Donato said the organisation would have to vote on changes to the constitution to count the three centres separately, but he would push for adequate funding and had already made representations to state ministers.
“Predominantly it’s volunteers and it takes $3000 to professionally train them,” he said.
“They have a high burnout rate because they can spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half talking to someone and if they’ve taken some pills or come to some serious harm, they’ve got to call police and be with them until police arrive, it’s a stressful job.”
While the Orange electorate office has remained open and sent concerns to the relevant ministers since former member Andrew Gee resigned to campaign for Calare six months ago, Mr Donato believed it had been quiet.
“There’s been no sitting member since June and with the election now determined, they’re starting to stop by and air their concerns, which is what we’re there for,” he said.
He has already met with residents concerned about forced council amalgamations and is due to meet with the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of Orange, Orange Push for Palliative and Futuring Orange in the coming days.
He also set his sights on a $20,000 hoist for the Orange Aquatic Centre’s pools following the funding announcement for an upgraded change facility on Tuesday.
He encouraged people who wanted to see him to make an appointment by calling 6362 5199 or go to the office at 123 Byng Street.
“We generally see someone within a few days or a week,” he said.
“I rang [Local Government Minister and member for Bathurst] Paul Toole’s office because I wanted to make an appointment to see him and discuss a few things and I was told to send an email but he was pretty chockablock til Christmas.”
Mr Donato and his staff were due to attend electorate office training in Sydney on Thursday and fresh signage was expected within the next two weeks.
He will be sworn in as the member for Orange when State Parliament resumes on February 14.