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(L-R) National and State organisation CEOs Tony Martella (WA), Cathryn Baker (QLD/NT), Andrew McKinnon (NSW/ACT), Geoff Squibb (TAS), Genevieve Quilty (National) and Pete Haydon (VIC). Absent: Libby Boschen (SA).

By Rhiannon Riches
Assistant Editor


Four of Optometry Australia’s State Organisation CEOs have celebrated milestones in their roles, accumulating between them 50 years of leadership in the profession.

Optometry NSW/ACT CEO Andrew McKinnon has celebrated 20 years in the role. Mr McKinnon commenced in September 1995 as CEO of the then Optometrists Association Australia NSW Division.

Libby Boschen started as executive officer of the South Australia Division of the OAA in February 2004. She is now CEO of Optometry South Australia and has served 10 years.

In Western Australia, Tony Martella has also celebrated 10 years as CEO. Mr Martella commenced in April 2005 as executive officer of the WA division of the OAA, now known as Optometry Western Australia.

Geoff Squib, CEO of Optometry Tasmania who commenced in January 2007, is celebrating nine years.

Optometry Australia national CEO Genevieve Quilty says the combined milestones are a testimony to the strength of the organisation’s long-standing working relationships.

She says it is the organisation’s priority to work together, as part of the strategic plan, to accomplish shared goals, and having strong leaders enhances that aim.

‘Andrew’s, Libby’s, Tony’s and Geoff’s combined years of leadership in their respective state organisations, and the profession in the states and territories, have helped our federated organisation to work together and achieve goals that have reached across state borders, such as expanding the scope of practice of optometrists to include therapeutic endorsement,’ Ms Quilty said.

Mr McKinnon says the biggest change he has witnessed in the profession during his two decades as CEO is a ‘toss up’ between the granting of therapeutic prescribing rights and national registration.

‘Gaining access to therapeutics in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory took well over 20 years and involved an incredible amount of work.

‘I was involved for only the last eight years or so, but that change set the profession on a totally different path and opened up professional opportunities that would have been unthinkable just a couple of decades prior,’ Mr McKinnon said.

‘While national registration didn’t have the same direct impact, nonetheless it changed the way in which optometrists were regarded by other professions and the public.

‘We are now part of the nationally registered health workforce, along with our colleagues in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry and the like. It has been a major step forward for the profession,’ he said.

Mr McKinnon has faced challenges while CEO but says recent times have been the most challenging.

‘The biggest challenge has come just recently: keeping the organisation vibrant and relevant in the face of continuing cost pressures. It is a cliché to say that people are continually looking for better value for their money but in the case of organisation membership, it has never been truer.

‘We have to offer greater levels of service, at a local level, in a way that members value individually, but we have to do this with declining real incomes, both for ourselves and for many of our members,’ he said.

Highs and lows

Mr McKinnon recalls two poignant incidents.

‘A high point came when I was assisting a member from another state division with a health fund matter. The fund had made a number of serious allegations and had demanded reams of documents in its investigation.

‘The member was rightly ropeable as he was adamant that he had done nothing wrong. We spent days working through it, responding to everything the fund threw at him and alternately calming him down and geeing him up as the situation needed.

‘After months, the fund agreed that he had no case to answer and we had a very happy member and CEO as a result,’ he said.

‘My low point came earlier this year, when the organisation lost three members in quick succession, all of them having taken their own lives.

‘I knew two of them really well and I can clearly remember getting the phone call from another member about the last of them. I couldn’t breathe when she told me. That made me realise that apart from everything else we do, we have a responsibility to our members as people, not just as parts of the organisation.

‘We’re trying to start meeting that obligation by running a keynote session on mental health at our Super Sunday conference next year. It’s a small step but hopefully just the first,’ Mr McKinnon said.

For Geoff Squibb, the increased professionalism and wider scope of practice and service to patients, due to improved technology and the ability to use and prescribe therapeutics, represent the biggest changes he has seen in the profession.

‘The biggest challenge for me is to make Tasmania’s Lifestyle Congress cost neutral or better, and to create greater awareness of the need for regular eye examinations to reduce avoidable blindness and vision loss,’ he said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

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Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation Optometry Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.