Councillor profiles - Mayor Paul Maytom Leeton Shire Council
It’s been my great privilege to serve the community of Leeton Shire as councillor for 33 years, eight of those as Deputy Mayor and the 15 most recent as Mayor.
In 1967 I moved to Leeton from Stroud Road, near Newcastle, to find work picking fruit and soon after secured a role at Ricegrowers Cooperative, now SunRice, where I worked for 45 years until my retirement. I met a local lass, Julie, who became my wife in 1969, and we raised our three daughters in Leeton, a community that values hard work, innovation, caring for others and volunteering.
Leeton is the birthplace of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. This purpose built, nation building infrastructure, first commissioned in 1912, brought precious water from Burrinjuck Dam to the arid lands and turned the Western Riverina into the heart of Australia’s food bowl.
Initially the town relied heavily on the Letona Cannery and when attempts at turning around its threatened closure in 1994 failed, I mobilised to ensure we could attract another large employer to the region to ensure people would continue to have jobs and the economy would continue to thrive. This resulted in the arrival of Rockdale Beef, a feedlot and abattoir which is still going strong albeit under new ownership (JBS) and a new name (Riverina Beef).
Shortly afterwards, Council purchased land for an industrial estate which has led to more businesses coming to Leeton, many of which support our major manufacturers. Leeton has sustained its population (around 11,500) even with the downward trend in agricultural employment and increased mechanisation in manufacturing. Our town offers meaningful work, excellent sports facilities and a great quality of life.
Education is good business
Being an education and research centre has been key to Leeton’s success and resilience. Our three high schools, two of which are sought after boarding schools, our local TAFE campus and, now, the recently opened Country Universities Centre located in the Leeton Library, are testament to our Shire’s commitment to ‘growing our own’. Council operates a long day care children’s service too. The Yanco Agricultural Institute has, for decades, developed increasingly water efficient crops so that we can farm more sustainably.
Diversity for security
Water security is undoubtedly our most pressing issue and solving it is complex.
Yes, the Murray Darling Basin Plan has been a challenge but our farmers have embraced farm efficiency projects and are discovering they can actually produce more with less water.
For me current water trading policy poses our greatest risk. For decades we have avoided the boom and bust cycle by having a diverse range of crops grown and a variety of flow-on food and fibre processing. In Leeton you will find citrus, walnuts, grapes, cotton and rice crops, to name a few. I am working hard to ensure we maintain this resilience going forwards and don’t succumb to a single variety high value crop type. I am also on the Board of the Murray Darling Association (MDA) and serve as Region 9 Chair, where we advocate for more sensible water policy.
Right now Leeton has some exciting projects on the go, having recently secured major funding for the refurbishment of the Leeton Swimming Complex, the Roxy Theatre re-development, a state of the art grandstand with amenities at the Leeton Showground and an enhanced Leeton central business district.
Council is also facilitating the development of the WRConnect Freight Intermodal in collaboration with our neighbouring councils to deal with the significant volume of freight that originates in the Western Riverina.
With Leeton being the Art Deco capital of regional Australia (Sir Walter Burly Griffin had a hand in the town’s design), our Art Deco Festival was successfully relaunched in 2019 and we hope to attract even more visitors from across Australia next July.
A very good life
Ensuring a high quality of life for people with disabilities, our aged care residents, and the local aboriginal community is dear to my heart, as is ensuring Leeton has adequate health/hospital services into the future. I have a strong passion and involvement with our Leeton Multicultural Group where we welcome refugees, migrants and new settlers to Leeton and help them to settle into our friendly community.
When I have a bit of spare time, I enjoy following NRL (and our local team, the Greenies) and have a small hobby farm with many birds, chickens and cattle. It is great to be able to share my place with my grandchildren when they visit and provide them with many hours of enjoyment.
Leeton Shire is a forward-thinking community and it gives me enormous satisfaction to contemplate things like the sports ovals and stadium, our bicycle tracks, new pedestrian walkways or new businesses. I feel proud to have contributed to making our Shire such a great place to live, work and play.