Councillor profiles - Mayor Richard Marsh, Balonne Shire Council
The Balonne Shire is located 500km west of Brisbane and covers 32,000km2 of South-West Queensland – an area a little bigger than Belgium. Our small population (4337, 2016 ABS census) resides in St George, our main centre, and six smaller centres, which are all located on waterways that make up part of the Queensland Murray Darling catchment area.
Balonne has a diverse range of industry including irrigated and broadacre dryland cropping, broadacre sheep and cattle properties and various industries and suppliers necessary to support the productivity of our land. We have rich prime agricultural land in the Shire and the saying “add water and it will grow” is very applicable to us. The main crops grown are cotton, grains, pulses and there has been some good development in horticulture, particularly in the areas of onions, garlic, broccoli and more recently a move into carrots. Our soft loamy soil is very conducive to these crops.
The diversity is the aspect of our shire that encourages me most. The diversity, the will to have a go at something new, the ability of the people to bounce back from a failed crop or an extended dry time, their will to continually improve their patch whether it be a town or some sporting facility in a far flung corner of the Shire that a group of property owners develop – what amazing people make up a community!
Returning to the community
In 2000 my wife and I returned to Balonne Shire after 30 years away. We purchased the St George Newsagency and two years later, a sitting councillor approached me using my past business and finance experience and my rapport with people as a reason to stand in a Council by-election. I considered it, discussed it with my wife, was successful, and have since retained my seat. The decision to stand for the mayoral position in 2016 was much harder, but, after sleepless nights and much discussion, the decision was taken with a successful outcome in a close contest.
Having spent eight years as Deputy Mayor, I did not truly anticipate the magnitude of the transition to Mayor and the complexities it would bring. As a shire we had, and still have, challenges. The early challenge was to secure a permanent CEO. This was achieved and after some initial changes and reorganisation we have a very strong team in place.
Balonne, along with many other smaller local government areas, faces the challenges of a decreasing population while trying to build and maintain financial sustainability with a limited rate base. Our council is reliant on Federal and State support to maintain our essential infrastructure. Our region’s economy and communities have been severely impacted by the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, which reduced the productive irrigated cropping area. Our producers have been battling an ongoing dry period since the damaging record floods of 2010-2012. Feral pests, dingoes in particular, are impacting sheep graziers in Balonne and surrounding shires.
It is said challenges create opportunities. Our team is united in its drive to strengthen the economic profile of our shire by introducing new industries which will in turn increase employment demand and offset the impacts of reduced irrigated cropping land, dry spells or droughts. We are also working on collaboration between landholders whereby large tracts of land can be secured against predators to improve the financial return to our grazing community. This can be encouraged by collaboration between landholders, Council and covernment bodies to provide some subsidy towards costs. As for improving our sustainability, we know it cannot come from our rate base and we are looking at business ventures, such as contract work and other activities to supplement our revenues.
All in all, this does not leave a lot of spare time, but I do like to do a number of things when time permits. There is nothing like a weekend with the grandchildren in Brisbane – a 1000km round trip – catching up with family and friends, relaxing with a good book, spending time with our newsagency customers, or spot of outdoor work, a walk along the Balonne River in St George or hitting the squash court. While I do subscribe to the theory of “healthy body – healthy mind”, it is sometimes difficult to achieve.
At the “Declaration of Office” ceremony in April 2016 I stated I was a one-term mayor and it was my intention that Council develop as a team for the advancement of our shire and its communities. As always, there are differing opinions, but generally we are recognising the challenges and a working to achieve favourable outcomes. I hope that I, as Mayor and as part of the Council team, will be able to look back at the end of our term and celebrate how we have
progressed our Shire.