15 June 2023

Murrumbidgee Mayor Ruth McRae receives Order of Australia Medal

| Oliver Jacques
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headshot of Ruth McRae

Mayor Ruth McRae wants a career in local government to be seen as a desirable pursuit. Photo: Supplied.

Murrumbidgee Council Mayor Ruth McRae has been recognised for her long-standing commitment to local government and her community with an Order of Australia Medal in the King’s Birthday Honours List.

“It is an unexpected honour and very humbling,” she said.

“I have been privileged to be a councillor for 19 and a half years, firstly with the former Jerilderie Shire Council from 2004 to 2016, and with the amalgamated Murrumbidgee Council since then.”

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Mayor McRae grew up in a farming family in Berrigan. She has lived in Jerilderie since 1982, where her husband Des runs a veterinary practice.

The 65-year-old said she entered public office because she saw local government as a credible vehicle to represent her community and the wider region. This stemmed from her interests in education, health, disability access and services, aged care, sporting clubs and water.

She served as the former Jerilderie Shire Council deputy mayor between 2007 and 2014, when she was elected mayor.

She later became mayor of the amalgamated Murrumbidgee Council, which also covers Coleambally and Darlington Point, in September 2017 and was reelected unopposed in September 2019 and September 2021.

Ruth McRae and Margaret Sheppard standing together

Mayor Ruth McRae with former mayor Margaret Sheppard. Photo: Facebook.

“To have been able to be engaged for as long as I have has only been possible because I have been wholeheartedly supported by my family,” she said.

Region caught up with Mayor McRae to reflect on her career, challenges and vision for the future.

What’s been your most difficult time in local government?

The amalgamation of Murrumbidgee and Jerilderie Councils was challenging. It wasn’t something we wanted, it was forced upon us. I felt it was pitting communities against each other.

How did you overcome the problems that came with forced amalgamation?

By recognising that we have three unique communities in our council. We have meetings in each town; we retain a presence in each town.

Is being a woman in male-dominated rural politics a challenge?

Lots of people speak about local government being an old men’s club, but I haven’t experienced that. Where I am, I have found that women are valued and encouraged to get involved.

What advice would you give to a young person starting a career in local government?

It is important that everyone has the opportunity to do what they want to do. If you are there for the right reasons, which is not personal agendas, if you have a genuine passion for community, you will be successful.

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What are some of the key priorities for the future in your part of the world?

We need to make education more available to the regions and our small communities. We need to reinvest in TAFE. It’s not just making places available, but making them accessible too.

Our health system needs an overhaul. We are doing something wrong, we have too many levels of administration, that’s where the money goes. The people working in the system are doing the best they can … but the management can be done better.

What would you change about local government?

Local government often gets a bad rap. But I’ve had a good experience. People need to view it as credible and an interesting sphere to be involved in … we need to make it a more desirable pathway and make it properly remunerated.

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