Donato wins Orange: Shooters, Fishers and Farmers claim victory over Nationals

ELATED: Phil Donato surrounded by a crowd of family, friends and supporters on Saturday night at the Canobolas Hotel after claiming victory in the NSW state election. Photo: JUDE KEOGH
ELATED: Phil Donato surrounded by a crowd of family, friends and supporters on Saturday night at the Canobolas Hotel after claiming victory in the NSW state election. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

An "absolutely elated" member for Orange Phil Donato has retained his seat in the NSW Parliament by an emphatic margin in Saturday's state election.

At 10pm on Saturday night, Mr Donato had picked up nearly half of the first preference votes, and had 66 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote.

When almost half of the electorate's votes were counted, Mr Donato boasted an incredible primary votes swing of 49.3 per cent towards him when compared to his haul at the 2016 byelection.

I think we've shown over the past two and a half years we've been committed to getting out there and getting things done.

Re-elected member for Orange Phil Donato

At that poll - where he won the seat from the Nationals after it was in their keeping for 69 years - he prevailed by a mere 50 votes, or 0.1 per cent.

On Saturday, the two-party-preferred swing towards him was a remarkable 36.3 per cent and he won 49.99 per cent of the vote.

Mr Donato said despite the emphatic margin of his victory, "nothing would change" with how he approached his role as an MP.

"I'll continue to work as hard as I possibly can for my whole electorate, getting out in the community and fighting and being a voice and an ear," he said.

He commended Nationals candidate Kate Hazelton as a "formidable" opponent, and congratulated her and all the other candidates on their work on the campaign, but said the results showed people backed his track record since the byelection.

CONCEDED: Henry, Alice, Annie, Kate and Richard Hazelton after Mrs Hazelton conceded victory to Phil Donato at the Greenhouse of Orange on Saturday night. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

CONCEDED: Henry, Alice, Annie, Kate and Richard Hazelton after Mrs Hazelton conceded victory to Phil Donato at the Greenhouse of Orange on Saturday night. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

"I think we've shown over the past two and a half years we've been committed to getting out there and getting things done," he said, citing the palliative care unit, farmer subsidies and the hospital car park as a "small amount" of what he'd achieved.

Mrs Hazelton conceded her campaign just hours after counting commenced, winning just 25 per cent of the primary vote, a swing of 40 per cent against her party.

Despite the disappointing result, she thanked her team for their "fantastic" work during the campaign.

"When I took on the role two months ago I was told we would be starting at zero, and I've thanked my team and I have the most fantastic campaign team I could possibly hope for," Mrs Hazelton said.

"I would like to acknowledge my opposition, the other candidates have fought very hard. I'm glad to say we ran a positive campaign, it was positive the whole way.

"I know the other side had runs of negativity but the voters of this electorate have chosen and I will accept that with as much grace as possible."

She didn't believe her loss would signal the start of a continued stint in the wilderness for the Nationals in Orange, saying she believed "another candidate can do it next time because there was really a feeling for us".

THANKED: Labor candidate Like Sanger (centre right) with his supporters at their election afterparty on Saturday. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

THANKED: Labor candidate Like Sanger (centre right) with his supporters at their election afterparty on Saturday. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

Labor candidate Luke Sanger said he was pleased to see Mr Donato do well, but said he would have preferred more than the 10 per cent of the vote directed to them at the halfway mark of the count.

"I always like seeing a 40 per cent swing against the Nationals, we just need our count to tick up a bit," he said.

Mr Sanger said he tried to steer clear of controversy and fight his opponents on policy, but conceded he wished he'd done more work in the community to get his name into the minds of voters.

He also thanked his supporters for their work over the months-long campaign.

I always like seeing a 40 per cent swing against the Nationals,

Labor candidate Luke Sanger

"I want to send my heartfelt thanks to all my supporters and hard-working volunteers, in particular Sue Drachnaj," he said.

Elsewhere in the Central West, incumbent Nationals MP Paul Toole was re-elected for the third time in Bathurst.

Mr Toole had received more than 53 per cent of the primary votes, and 67.2 of the preference count, and had been declared the winner.

With more than 20,000 votes counted, Country Labor's Beau Riley held around 21 per cent of the votes, ahead of Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Brenden May, who had just under 15 per cent of the vote.

The race was much more hotly-contested in Dubbo, where Dugald Saunders and Mathew Dickerson were neck and neck in the race to succeed retiring former deputy premier Troy Grant.

Nationals candidate Mr Saunders held a substantial first preference advantage over Independent Mr Dickerson - about 36 per cent to approximately 27 - but the two-party preferred count was on a knife's edge.

Some predictions had Mr Dickerson leading Mr Saunders by less than 0.2 per cent when preferences were allocated, with the final result seemingly unlikely to be known for days.

On Saturday night it appeared the Berejiklian Government would be returned in NSW, but it was unclear whether it will be as a minority or majority government.