September 08, 2017

PEOPLE living in Murray River Council will go to the polls tomorrow.

And ahead of the election of the recently amalgamated council, we asked the candidates in Greater Murray and Moama wards the tough questions.

And this is what they had to say …


Nicole (Nikki) Cohen

Gen Campbell

Chris Bilkey


John Pocklington

Nicole Stenhouse

Geoff Wise

Tom Weyrich

Tony Aquino

Geoff Mackenzie

1. Why should you be elected to this council?

Nicole (Nikki) Cohen: I am not fancy and I am not fake, I am just like you.

I am a true worker bee.

I will offer no grand promises, but I do promise to work hard for you and for our community.

Our diverse community is all about working together so that we can be proud of ourselves, proud of where we live, and ultimately proud of our council that is elected to represent you.

Chris Bilkey: I believe the community wants a council that can demonstrate unity and leadership without the pursuit of personal agendas and factional infighting.

Creating that unity doesn’t come from a gung-ho do-as-I-tell-you style of leadership, but rather from sensible leadership that respects others, that engages everybody and builds trust.

I believe I have the skills and experience to contribute to building that unity and providing that leadership.

Gen Campbell: I have been fortunate to be given a second opportunity to represent the people of Moama in the Murray River Council elections.

I am a hard working councillor, approachable and prepared to listen.

Geoff Mackenzie: I believe I will be an asset to the new Murray River Council.

I have an infinite knowledge of the area. Fifty years of livestock trading has taken me to properties and people all over the new and large shire area.

John Pocklington: My experience, five terms covering 16 years and my knowledge of the council area and people.

Nicole Stenhouse: I am honest, hardworking and passionate, I’m keen to learn and make the best-informed decisions to do right by the whole community.

I will base all my decisions on all information presented to me that best supports community.

I’m community orientated and want to see small towns thrive, now and in to the future.

Geoff Wise: I believe I have the life skills to make good practical decisions.

Having lived in the shire since 1987, starting out as an irrigator and a dry land cropper, I understand the issues confronting both the people on the land as well as the business community.

We live in a fantastic area with enormous assets such as agricultural diversity, tourism and location to Melbourne with a strong business community.

We need the vision to work together as
a council.

Owning and operating Echuca Mitre 10 for 10 years along with family members and great staff was a life changing experience for me.

Skills such as negotiation, staff selection and learning to read a balance sheet and understand what the market required.

Tom Weyrich: I am hardworking, approachable and I have a good relationship with our community; a community that I am passionate about.

My 18 years’ experience in local government has seen me develop a strong understanding of protocols and procedures.

I believe this knowledge and drive is important if we are to meet the challenges facing our communities at this time.

Living in the rural sector and working in the main township gives me an excellent prospective of what is required.

I have served on numerous committees over the past 17 years and have a strong local focus.

Tony Aquino (answering question two as well): Thanks for this opportunity, at the age of 64 I have had a very successful and fulfilled life.

Before retiring to Moama I ran and owned a building company along with my wife and one supervisor in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, there we built up to 100 homes a year in some years, this meant start to finish two on a weekly basis.

It has taught me about time management financial management dealing directly with clients, councils drafting personal, engineers tradespeople etc.

From Melbourne we also ran another business in Moama and that is still running successfully today.

It is the past 46 years’ experience that I feel will enable me to perform to the required level in council if I am elected, I am certain my past work and ethics history can be an asset to the Murray River Council.

2. What do you think is your biggest single strength/asset that you will bring to this role?

NC: Integrity – our community can have confidence that any decision making I am involved in will be honest and made with all facts considered.

Flexibility – I will listen carefully to all sides, hear the arguments and also learn from them so that council can identify the best solution.

I am passionate about community, and a community like ours is something that you
just do not have when you are a resident of
a large city.

CB: Leadership skills.

I have pursued a successful career in which a leadership style of inclusiveness has been my hallmark.

This doesn’t mean that councillors should agree on everything, but that they should respect and support the democratic processes of debate and decision making.

GC: I have the time to commit fully to council expectation.

GM: Common sense and knowledge of the area.

JP: My knowledge of the council community.

NS: I’m a current business owner that is new to this area and I see things through fresh eyes.

My greatest strength is that I see great potential in the region and know that council has a very important part to play in balancing business and employment growth while maintaining and strengthening our current assets.

GW: Practical problem solving by negotiation. Setting of long-term goals.

TW: A strong voice for all Murray River Council residents and ratepayers and a clear focus to do what is in their best interest.

TA: Answered in question one.

3. If elected, what will be your primary goal?

JP: Short-term is to bed down the merged council into a cohesive entity.

Medium-term is to get the councillors, staff and the community to regard the whole council area and its people as part of their own community and to respect the differences.

Long-term is to improve the viability and resilience of the community.

NC: To be part of a leadership team that serves our diverse shire and to be involved in positive decision making that ensures our shire has a council we can be proud of.

GC: 1. Ratepayer representation.

2. Lobby the NSW Government for an undertaking to ensure our existing Moama bridge is maintained and remains functional.

3. Recycling, including green waste and food waste.

4. Ongoing repair and maintenance of our roads.

5. Ongoing bindi weed eradication around our footpaths, walkways and bike tracks.

CB: To contribute to a productive council
that gets on with the business a council is supposed to do.

Besides the fundamentals of roads, rubbish and rates, I believe the council should be looking to build a strategic vision of how the communities within it can strengthen and grow.

GM: Careful consideration and planning to minimise spending therefore keeping rates to a minimum and services to a maximum. Trying to ensure quick determinations of development applications.

NS: If elected my primary goal is to strongly support keeping our current assets safe, to maintain and protect current jobs in Mathoura, Moama and the new wards of the shire.

GW: All businesses require great staff who are the hub that keeps the wheel turning.

We need to encourage great people with good work ethics and skills to stay in the shire to enable it to run smoothly.

Current shire assets need to be protected before any major business decisions are made without community being fully informed.

TW: First and foremost to form a cohesive council. I’ve been involved in four previous councils and know how well a good council can work.

Support for the rural sector and smaller towns is vital for their health and wellbeing.

Support for local business and encourage industry.

There remains much to be done in tourism. Growth in this area will benefit our communities for years to come.

TA: My primary goal is to help the local ratepayers regain confidence that a newly elected council can get on with the job they are engaged for, that is work for the community not self indulge in personal matters where the community has no interest.

4. Have you had any involvement in politics or similar structures that make you suited for this position?

NC: I have always had a strong interest in local and national politics but this is my first time standing for any council.

Prior to moving to Moama in 2007 I was president of the local school council that my children attended.

Upon making our home in Moama my children showed interest in Echuca-Moama Little Athletics and at the conclusion of the first season the call went out for committee members so I started to volunteer.

I was vice president in 2010–11 and then secretary from 2011–16.

I was also secretary of the Northern Country Region of Little Athletics for two years and a volunteer at all State Championship events.

As secretary of Little Athletics I was a representative of the Murray Shire Recreation Reserve Committee, the committee that really vetted my appetite for being involved in our community.

In 2013 I became secretary/treasurer of Echuca Masters Football Club.

GC: Yes, I was a former Murray Shire councillor.

CB: Besides my previous stint on council, I have been involved in a wide range of roles that are relevant.

I have sat on advisery boards to Federal Ministers, peak industry bodies, and have led very substantial national companies.

I have also owned and operated small businesses.

More recently, I have been a member of the Echuca Regional Health board for the past seven years, and am currently its chairperson.

I’m also involved with a number of other community-based organisations.

GM: I have had a baptism of fire into council politics from the former Murray Shire (bad press, left in the dark on important council information by executive and the ruling faction of council). This view is supported by the findings of the public inquiry.

JP: Yes. Thirty years at State and Federal electorate council level with the National party, though I firmly believe that party politics has no place in local government.

I also created or helped create two local organisations that brought millions into the old Murray Shire and brought farmers together on two large projects to improve their environment.

NS: I have managed large to small business and been heavily involved in various community groups, this is my first time applying for a council position.

I look forward to the experience and learning how council functions and approach each issue presented with common sense.

GW: I have had no involvement in politics.

I have owned businesses with a lot of staff and I am sure at times it involves political skills to keep everyone on the same page.

TW: I was a Murray Shire councillor from 1999 to 2016. Deputy mayor for four years and mayor for three years.

TA: Although I’ve not been fortunate enough to have participated in any level of politics in the past I can say that many times through my working life new adventures were taken without too much homework or full understanding of what was to be expected, sometimes jumping in the deep end and learning to swim there and then makes for decisive action.

Procrastinating would only allow you to drown.

5. What do you think are the biggest assets of the new council?

NC: Our people and the sense of community that is Murray River Council.

This is a fresh start and an exciting opportunity for a bright future.

Murray River Council has magnificent natural assets with our Riverina location, and council staff provide experience and commitment that ensures our natural environment is well managed and our built environment maintained to enviable standards.

GC: A nucleus of interested intelligent people who will work together to bring about positive change.

CB: The major asset is the vibrancy and health of the community in which we live.

Unlike many regional and rural centres, Moama and its surrounds are thriving.

We need to support and nourish that growth.

The council staff have undertaken a massive task in merging the two previous councils, and have created an organisation that properly reflects the very diverse and widespread nature of our new shire.

This will hold the new council in good stead.

GM: The communities and the people. The waterways and our forests.

JP: The people, the staff, the river and water.

NS: We have new and previous councillors standing for election.

This will bring new enthusiasm, energy to one of the greatest regional areas this side of the Murray River.

We have great assets that create tourism, jobs, and business growth along with new housing estate being developed showing that our community is growing.

This is very exciting times for our shire.

GW: A fresh start with hopefully a good team of councillors willing to work together to achieve a great result for the community.

TW: We have a significant opportunity at our fingertips with this newly formed council and I look forward to having a council that can work together despite our differences to the greater benefit of the community.

Seventeen years of experience tells me that there will always be differences between councillors but at the end of the day and within reason this is a good thing as it ensures all different views and potential options are considered for all important council decisions.

TA: A new council with some new blood I feel will want to operate with more enthusiasm as some of the mistakes of the past council will still be fresh on everyone’s mind.

6. What do you think are the biggest problems of the new council?

NC: No problems — we have many exciting challenges and opportunities.

Council’s biggest challenge may be to unite an amalgamated shire but as history shows, such circumstances lead to positive engagement and growth.

GC: With any large rural shire I expect the tyranny of distance, road conditions and communications to stretch council resources.

CB: Distance and remoteness of some communities.

Managing to properly ensure the delivery of services, infrastructure and support to those areas will be a challenge.

Having key functions based in a number of centres will assist in this delivery.

GM: Balancing our diverse communities from the growth centre of Moama to the sparse grazing area to the north.

JP: The size of the new council and the distance from Sydney.

NS: We are a newly formed shire with lots of change, some like change and some don’t like change.

It also brings new councillors like myself with three extra councillors on board, it will require all to be adults and professional in moving forward.

I strongly believe this is very achievable.

GW: The biggest problem of a new council is finding their feet and establishing a good working relationship.

TW: There will be many issues at the beginning like any new relationship you learn things that you didn’t know before but you work through these together, find common ground and understanding and move forward into a bright future.

Some areas of concern are:

Understanding the unique issues that smaller commitment’s endure and adequately supporting those affected where we can and to the best of our ability.

Competent financial management given some of the recent decisions.

Health border issues that affect both young and old.

Youth employment opportunities or lack of.

The 556 known cross border issues that are yet to be addressed by the Cross Border Commissioner who is MIA.

No movement on the bridge despite a lot of rhetoric. Not one shovel has broken ground.

TA: Hopefully some existing members of the last council make it through and are there to demonstrate the running procedure and getting on with the job.

If they are under the assumption things can just follow from where they left off and have internal personal agenda’s to finish I see this to be the biggest problem straight off.

7. How would you cope if this council became factionalised like its predecessor Murray Shire?

NC: To be totally honest when I put my hand up to be elected as a councillor I did so to look forward, not continue to think about the past council.

We need to have confidence that all members of our council are there for the right reasons.

If that is the case — and our community is tasked with making that choice — then I am confident we can avoid the pitfalls
of factionalism.

Council as a whole needs to listen to all views and respect all input, so that decisions are made in the best interest of our community.

GC: As an amalgamated council I am aware there may be issues that will need sensitive administrative management. However, one would hope that the disaster of the previous Murray Shire never occurs again.

CB: The community was clearly frustrated with the dysfunction of the previous council.

So was I.

I’m optimistic that all councillors elected this time will recognise the futility of going down that path again.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I believe that councillors of goodwill must provide leadership.

That leadership must demonstrate respect, and must place the council’s responsibility to the community above personal agendas.

I am committed to pursuing a productive and respectful council worthy of the trust placed in it by the community.

GM: Hopefully it will not become factional and it shouldn’t. I am a firm believer that everyone should be focused on bringing the interests of their communities to the fore.

With open and honest discussions an acceptable position should be attained. No secrets, information sharing, transparency and honesty is paramount.

JP: I have now developed a good support base that has kept me grounded.

NS: I strongly believe every one learns from their mistakes, I’m confident that everyone will be professional to ensure the past is that, the past.

I would, like the community would, be extremely disappointed if it does.

But with the new governance procedures and meeting protocols that have been implemented and with new council members being elected — that like myself have a fresh approach and enthusiasm coupled with good old fashioned common sense — will maintain the balance that is required.

TW: I would simply not allow this to happen again.

The previous Murray Shire Council had no way of containing or disciplining individual bad behaviour; there are now procedures in place to combat these kinds of issues. I will not tolerate secrecy in council or my community being mislead. I have learnt from the past and aim to ensure history does not repeat itself.

GW: I don’t really want to start off with any negativity so I won’t make a comment on that question.

In closing I would like to add in my younger years I spent four years in retail sales, I then progressed to developing and improving small properties in the Tatura/Shepparton area which drew me into agriculture where I stayed for around 20 years then onto Echuca Mitre 10 and now to a 138 place Day Care Centre.

This journey has taken place over 40 years.

I believe I have the life skills to adapt to most circumstances.

I am passionate about anything I take on and I go forward with eyes wide open willing to take on the challenges of council with the good of the community my only agenda.

TA: Personally I feel this would be kinder garden acting and I would like to think my voice or any voice of the sitting council could recognise that realisation before factionalisation were to occur.

We are there as a team, let’s not let it fail again.

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