Murray Smith (left) and Kurt Larsen (right)
A decision on whether Optometry Victoria (O Vic) and Optometry South Australia (O SA) will merge forces will be determined following the Associations’ annual general meetings on 29 October 2018.
A merger between O Vic and O SA would see members from both states supported from an expanded head office in Victoria, with board and staff representation on the ground in both states as the new look professional Association is rolled out.
According to the divisions’ current presidents, Murray Smith (O Vic) and Kurt Larsen (O SA), the merged divisions would offer member benefits that include fairer fees, a stronger voice to promote the role and scope of optometry, and a more sophisticated, innovative program of continuing professional development (CPD).
“Both boards are progressive, inclusive and ready to innovate,” said Mr. Smith. “We want to improve, strengthen, and future proof our Association.”
For the smaller state of South Australia, the merger will also help ensure the Association’s long-term viability.
“This merger has been driven by South Australia,” said Mr. Larsen. “O SA relies on subsidies from Optometry Australia to operate and if those subsidies were to stop, our state would have to significantly increase its member fees or close. By merging with Victoria, we can create a stronger Association and determine our destiny.”
Katrina Yap, a member of the Early Career Optometry Committee in Victoria (ECOV) said the merged entity would deliver savings that can be directed elsewhere. “Ultimately, running a single office can save up to AU$300,000 a year in costs and subsidies, which can be used to expand CPD, events and services to members. For us this is a great opportunity and the ECOV will all be voting yes in October.”
Victorian optometrist Graham Hill, agreed. “Joining forces is a prudent and practical way to ensure a stable future, with strength in numbers, financial security, and a strong voice at the national table.”
While some South Australian members may be concerned about their local office closure, optometrist Elise Pocknee-Clem from Port Lincoln in South Australia, remains unphased. She owns four practices across regional South Australia, receives tailored remote support from both Optometry Australia and O SA, “virtually all the time”, and said she would vote yes for the amalgamation. “For me, it is the skills, expertise, and care of the people that support me that is vital, not the location of the desk they sit at.”
South Australian optometrist Jelle de Bock will also vote yes. “Despite my initial reservations, after participating in the first member consultation group discussions, I am now convinced this is the logical step forward and will not only benefit us in SA, but will also help the combined Vic SA Association grow stronger in years to come. We will be a strong voice that advocates for optometry in general,” he said.
Mr. Smith said when it comes to advocacy there is plenty that both state divisions can learn from each other. “South Australia has made huge inroads into strategies to reduce waiting times in the state’s hospitals and there is scope for Victoria to learn from that experience and translate that into our relationship with the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. But there is more to do. There’s plenty of scope for optometrists to take a more active role in public health – in delivering community health, public health, outreach services, and hospital programs – and to work more closely with ophthalmologists. There’s strength in numbers and so, as a merged Association, we will be better positioned to talk to government and RANZCO about these opportunities.”
Another benefit that will come from the merger is a more innovative, fine-tuned approach to education, which will meet CPD changes anticipated to be introduced by the Optometry Board of Australia.
“We’ll be ramping up regional education with events in different locations across South Australia and Victoria, and these will be complemented by O=MEGA and SA Blue Sky Congress on alternate years,” said Mr. Smith.
Mr. Larsen added, “Under the proposed merger we will have greater resources to expand the SA Blue Sky Congress program and invite more speakers.”
HAVE YOUR SAY
Mr. Smith said it is important for all members to vote. “The more people that have their say – whether they vote yes or no – the better. Hopefully the yes vote will get over the line and then we can all move on together – from my perspective, the question isn’t why?, it’s why not?
“The boards have spent a lot of time, energy and effort exploring this opportunity over three years, so members can trust that we have done our due diligence. In Victoria, we have a capable and high functioning team and that will be strengthened by progressive and engaged members from South Australia who have a clear idea of how they want their association to function,” he added.
Ian Bluntish, former president of Optometry South Australia and the former national president of Optometry Australia, encouraged all members to vote.
“Most members probably don’t understand that the Association’s structure is an old federated system. I therefore strongly support the amalgamation of O SA with O Vic. I believe that with the right structure, it will make us stronger and enable the team to provide all members with better resources, a louder voice, and enhanced services. I urge all members to take a close look at the proposal, ask questions of the leadership and understand the facts before they cast their vote. Make your vote speak for you,” he said.