Murray council contest: 5 want 3 Greater Wakool seats

THE campaign is on for five candidates vying for three positions on Murray River Council representing the Greater Wakool Ward. 

Nominations for the New South Wales border municipality's inaugural council closed at noon yesterday, giving candidates a month to campaign before the election is held on Saturday, September 9. 

The former neighbouring Wakool and Murray Shire Councils were amalgamated in May last year by the New South Wales Government, despite widespread opposition to the move. 

While the Greater Wakool Ward incorporates the entire former Shire of Wakool, including the townships of Barham, Wakool, Moulamein, Murray Downs and Tooleybuc, all but one of the candidates are from Barham.

They include Christine Dartnell, Neil Gorey, Alan Mathers and Katherine O'Brien, while Ann Crowe is from Murray Downs.

The Murray River Council area covers 11,865 square kilometres, with a population of 11,456. It will comprise three wards, Moama, Greater Murray and Greater Wakool. Each ward will be represented by three councillors.

Former Wakool mayor Neil Gorey and former councillor Alan Mathers were unsurprising Greater Wakool Ward candidates, having already declared their intention to run for election, while fellow former councillor Ann Crowe had been undecided about her intentions. 

Christine Dartnell has previously stood for council, losing to Mr Mathers in a Wakool Shire Council by-election in April last year, a month before the council was abolished. 

Katherine O'Brien is a new candidate, having moved to Barham in 2013. 

In the neighbouring Greater Murray Ward, there are also five candidates for three positions, including Tony Aquino and Geoff Wise of Moama, Nicole Stenhouse and Tom Weyrich of Mathoura, and John Pocklington of Bunnaloo.

The new council's remaining three representatives will be elected from the Moama Ward, where candidates include Chris Bilkey, Genevieve Campbell, Nicole Cohen and Geoff Mackenzie, all Moama residents. 

All candidates across the three wards have either not declared a party affiliation or are running as independents.

Administrator David Shaw and interim general manager Margot Stork have been in charge of the council since May 2016. 

THE five Greater Wakool Ward candidates have expressed their desire to see services maintained, tourism promoted and population decline arrested - and to be part of a harmonious and functional new council. 

Alan Mathers, a dairy farmer near Barham, said his decision to stand for election came after being encouraged by "quite a number of people". 

"Both the former Wakool Shire and Murray Shire went through a pretty difficult period where there was a lot of disunity within the council so I was like many ratepayers concerned about that sort of conduct," he said. 

"My objective will be to make sure the new council functions as a united team and focuses on ratepayer services and I would like to think I can make a difference." 

Despite the vastness of the amalgamated shire and the disparate nature of its member communities, Mr Mathers didn't believe outlying areas would be neglected. 

"It doesn't matter which community a councillor comes from, their obligation and responsibility is to govern in the interests of all ratepayers," he said. 

"This is not about being tribal, this is about making sure the whole community grows and develops together."

Fellow farmer and candidate Neil Gorey said he hoped to be re-elected to continue unfinished business. 

"I've got the experience serving on council over many years and I feel I've got a lot more to offer and I'm certainly keen to pick up where I left off," he said.

"I would hope to get the best deal for our businesses from the Murray Darling Basin Plan, I want to see fair delivery of services right across the shire and I want progress on infrastructure projects." 

Like Mr Mathers, Mr Gorey said he hoped the new council could work collaboratively and productively. 

"I would really like to be part of a council that is about putting our local government area back in the hands of our community," he said. 

Mr Gorey welcomed a field of five candidates and encouraged all residents to take an active interest in the election. 

"It's not an easy thing to put yourself out in the public eye and have a go so all candidates should be congratulated," he said.

Candidate Christine Dartnell has lived in Barham for nine years and currently works part-time at the Great Australian Squeeze, having served in the Royal Australian Navy for a decade from 1978 before working in Adelaide as a medical typist. 

She helped create the Barham Koondrook Men's Shed, is a director on the cluBarham board and is a member of groups including the Returned and Services League, Barham District Services Memorial Angling Club, Barham Landcare and Wakool Soldiers Settlers Memorial Walk Action Group. 

"I'd like to make a difference in my community in regards to improving local roads and footpaths and access to services, especially for the elderly," she said. 

"I'd like to see more business come here to create more employment opportunities for young people."

Candidate Katherine O'Brien moved to Barham with her family in 2013, and runs a cleaning business, which she said gave her an insight into the needs of other local businesses. 

"I'm reasonably involved in the community and we've all been through a lot with the council amalgamations," she said. 

"I'd like to make sure our service levels in the Wakool Ward are not eroded in the future, to make sure the council does well with its financial and strategic planning, and to support local businesses to work toward a strong future." 

Murray Downs candidate Ann Crowe decided to stand for council again after there were no other candidates in the north-west part of the ward. 

"I was concerned about the potential lack of representation in our end of the shire if we didn't get somebody to stand and it didn't look like anybody else was going to put their hand up so I did," she said. 

"If I do end up on council I hope we can have an effective group of councillors to address issues that make life difficult, such as population decline."

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