Balonne Shire Mayor Samantha O'Toole at a special ceremony recognising the contribution Former Mayor Richard Marsh made to the Murray Darling Association.
Balonne Shire Mayor Samantha O'Toole at a special ceremony recognising the contribution Former Mayor Richard Marsh made to the Murray Darling Association.

Former mayor ‘kept shire afloat’ amid water woes

FORMER Balonne Shire mayor Richard Marsh has been recognised for his leadership which proved instrumental in keeping the shire from sinking.

Current mayor Samantha O’Toole presented Mr Marsh with a recognition plaque for his leadership during the restructuring of the Murray Darling Basin system, which threatened the viability of the Balonne Shire.

Mr Marsh played a key role in protecting St George and Dirranbandi from irreversible damage under the Federal Government’s water buyback scheme.

At Council’s meeting on Thursday, Cr O’Toole said the Murray Darling Association allowed local governments across the government to work together to lobby state and federal governments on behalf of their communities.

“From late 2016, as mayor of the Balonne Shire, Richard Marsh chaired the Murray Darling Association Region 12, which covers the Queensland portion of the northern basin,” she said.

At the time, the water buyback debate was at its peak, and Cr O’Toole said the Balonne Shire was ‘fighting for its life’.

“The series of water buybacks, aimed at returning water to the environment, left our communities reeling,” Cr O’Toole said.

“Cropping production was slashed, businesses closed, jobs were lost, and people left.”

At that time, council had social and economic impact data which showed St George and Dirranbandi would be the worst affected communities in the country under the Federal Government’s plan.

Cr O’Toole thanked Mr Marsh for being a vocal advocate in lobbying the government to abandon water buybacks as a tool to recover water in the northern part of the basin.

Mr Marsh rememberers several trips to Canberra to explain the Balonne region had done its fair share of the heavy lifting, and was fed up with being continually targeted.

“Our catch cry was simple: enough is enough,” he said.

“If we hadn’t stood up, the Balonne Shire would have been left with no water and no recompense for that loss.

‘We pushed hard to limit the Federal Government’s water recovery and attract increased grant funding to soften the blow for our region.”

Mr Marsh thanked Cr O’Toole for the plaque, saying he was surprised and delighted.

“At the time, the Murray Darling debate was all-consuming and we fought for the best possible outcome,” he said.

“You never expect your efforts to be appreciated, so this is a very special moment.”

Cr O’Toole said the fight was never over, as council now concentrates on consolidating the Balonne Shire’s access to water, and looks for new ways to build a stronger future.


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