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Optometry Australia president Murray Smith resigns; state divisions signal reform

Optometry Australia president Murray Smith

Optometry Australia president Mr Murray Smith has announced his resignation after seven months in the top job to focus on family, health and wellbeing. On a separate matter, state divisions have revealed a new funding model proposal for the national organisation.

Smith, who the board unanimously voted as the national president in November 2021 to replace Mr Darrell Baker, revealed he was stepping down on Monday 27 June with immediate effect.

A successor, who will become the 40th president of the peak professional body, is yet to be announced.

“I have made a very difficult decision to stand down as president of Optometry Australia. I have reached the conclusion that my family, my health and well-being must come first,” he said.

“As a company director, you carry a large load of legal obligations to ensure that the organisation truly serves the beneficiaries, it services and supports. You must ensure that it operates at the highest levels of governance, financial management and lives and breathes its values. I am so incredibly proud that Optometry Australia and its board excel in all these areas. I know that I could never be a director of a board that didn’t operate like this or was impeded in seeking to operate at this level.”

He continued: “I’m an optometrist who’s committed to my profession. I want a strong future for optometry, so like you, I can enjoy my career, evolve my scope, continually improve how I practise and be even better at looking after my patients. I hope that at some point I can once again contribute to that future, though sadly not right now as Optometry Australia president.”

Vote could change funding of national body 

In his announcement, Smith also addressed a new funding model that the state divisions have proposed to run the national body. Insight understands a vote will take place on Wednesday 29 June and, if supported, will need to be put into action.

Optometry Australia is a federated, not-for-profit organisation comprising a national organisation (Optometry Australia) based in Melbourne which collaborates with the five state bodies: Optometry New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory, Optometry Queensland/Northern Territory, Optometry Tasmania, Optometry Victoria/South Australia and Optometry Western Australia.

Optometry Australia receives a portion of its income from the five state organisations, under a constitutional fee agreement. In addition to these funds, OA contributes substantial money raised from external sources and non-member revenue.

“In the past weeks, the state divisions have advised us that they have developed a new model to fund Optometry Australia in the future,” Smith said.

“Over the past few years, Optometry Australia has become nimble, responsive and innovative and provided exceptional value to our optometrist members. Representation of the profession is back up to 85% of all registered optometrists. We are driving forward to ensure members work to full scope, and we evolve scope. The provision of online CPD has been transformative and we have achieved a position as market leaders.”

Smith said he sincerely hoped that the new funding model the state divisions have developed would ensure the continued success of OA, “as it is intrinsically tied to your own personal success as an optometrist now and into the future”.

“In my opinion as one organisation, rather than six, we can best serve our members, so I am delighted that the five state divisional members of Optometry Australia have been meeting to discuss structural reform,” Smith added.

“I urge them to act with commitment and haste, to ensure the short, medium and long term future of Optometry Australia and the profession, through a singular focus on best serving you. I know the board of Optometry Australia is keen to contribute to these discussions, and is looking forward to participating in the near future. I believe that unification is critical and urgent and it will be the path to being the best we can be, for you.”

Before being elevated to the national presidency, Smith’s service to the profession started with his state divisional board before serving as president of Optometry Victoria and then the national board where he became deputy president.

“Everything I have done, and Optometry Australia continues to do, is done to serve you and that future,” he said, addressing members.

“As president of Optometry Victoria, I worked diligently with the directors and secretariat to amalgamate the organisation with Optometry South Australia. Our singular aim was to better serve our members, and this unification has been very successful. I remain committed and passionate about my chosen profession, and wish you continued success.”

OV/SA responds 

Following Smith’s resignation, Optometry Victoria South Australia (OV/SA) released a statement, noting his significant contribution.

“Murray oversaw significant change for Victoria during his time as president of Optometry Victoria including the amalgamation with Optometry South Australia, securing the bid to host the World Congress of Optometry in Melbourne in 2023 along with O=MEGA23, and ensuring the governance processes and operations of the division were the very best they could be,” said Ms Elise Pocknee-Clem, president of OV/SA.

“Any leadership position such as the role of president of the association does include numerous pressures and we understand and accept that Murray has made this decision based on his personal circumstances. We are sorry to see Murray depart however we are confident that the future of the federation is strong and will continue to evolve to meet future needs.

“We look forward to working with the new president of Optometry Australia in the interests of all members.”

OV/SA CEO Ms Ilsa Hampton noted OV/SA had been in discussion with the other state divisions of the federation to develop “a few changes to the OA constitution”.

“This is mostly a procedural matter and is designed to ensure the divisions and national have far greater clarity in decision making for the ultimate benefit of all members,” Hampton said.

“The changes are designed to bring the federation closer together; to strengthen strategy and operations for the benefit of our membership nationally. We are confident that all current member services including CPD, support, PII, advocacy and other initiatives at the national and state levels will continue uninterrupted.”

More reading

Structural reform remains on Optometry Australia agenda as president steps down

Getting to know Optometry Australia president, Murray Smith

Optometry Australia says 2022 Medicare indexation falling well behind CPI

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