Insight - August 2019

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NEWS

OA MEMBERSHIP NUMBERS REMAIN VAGUE

continued from page 3

OBA publishes a detailed statistical

breakdown of registered practitioners

every three months.

Confidentiality even surrounds the

membership figure used for OA's 2017-

2018 Annual Report, published last

October, which both Brodie and Baker

also would not divulge. The annual report

includes a comprehensive breakdown of

membership demographics that would

only be possible with an accurate figure

for the organisation’s total membership.

OA’s 2017–2018 Annual Report

also included a page with a detailed

breakdown of the total number of

OBA-registered optometrists. However,

OA’s own membership figure was not

included.

Brodie admitted that OA calculates a

membership number annually for internal

comparison, explaining: “We work

our calculations post-renewal period

October, comparing back to OBA

data in June."

Brodie supplied December 2018 OBA

data to suggest that OA’s membership

was 4,542 (5,506 registrants x 82.5%),

however, in explaining why she would not

provide OA’s actual paid membership

figure, Brodie claimed the exact number

is ultimately "meaningless".

“When I speak to government or other

stakeholders, giving them a number is

meaningless – what they want to know

is the percentage of optometrists we

represent. Even our members would find

a number meaningless,” Brodie said.

Insight sought clarification on whether

Brodie’s comment reflected the position

of the board and Baker advised she has

the board’s full support.

OA’s ‘confidential’ approach can

be compared to a number of other

Australian health and not-for-profit

organisations. When undertaking

research in order to compare OA’s

stance, 15 similar health bodies either

recorded a membership figure on their

website, in their annual reports or freely

provided the information to Insight

upon request in a transparent manner

without debate.

INTERNAL INCONSISTENCIES

OA’s policy of maintaining confidentiality

over its membership numbers is

inconsistent with its state bodies.

The 2018 South Australian President’s

Report, which is freely available on OA’s

recently redesigned website, points to

specific membership numbers as an

area of concern.

“Another year has come and gone

and I’m proud of the strong and

progressive professional association I’m

part of. We have spent the year pursuing

significant projects, which will impact

both current and future optometrists in

South Australia,” SA president Mr Kurt

Larsen wrote.

“We now proudly represent 311

practising and student optometrists

across South Australia.

"Although this number is growing

overall, we recognise that as a

percentage of total optometrists

practising in SA, our representation is

dropping.”

Larsen added that the association

has “better member statistics than

many other professional bodies, but

we hope that with passion, effort, and

good member services we can turn

this number around and grow our

membership still further. Only through

strong member support can we

successfully lobby government and other

stakeholders to advance optometry”.

In 2018, Optometry South Australia and

Optometry Victoria’s membership bodies

voted in favour of amalgamation. At the

time of the vote, maintaining membership

numbers was cited as a reason behind

the merger.

“Both states, individually, are quite

successful in terms of hanging onto their

members, so we think if we can make it

better and cheaper we will be even better

at that,” former Optometry Victoria CEO

Mr Pete Haydon told Insight at the time.

OA’s current stance also differs with its

previous practice of transparency. The

national body last published a specific

membership number in its 2013–2014

annual report, which documented 4,300

members. However; the subsequent

four annual reports omitted an actual

membership number.

BEST PRACTICE

Ms Julie Garland McLellan, a leading

governance consultant and professional

company director, believes membership

numbers play an important role in

associations: “Members have a right

Darrell Baker

"AS SUCH, THE

OPTOMETRY

AUSTRALIA

BOARD DOES NOT

SEE ANY NEED TO

ANSWER YOUR

QUESTIONS"

to understand the financial position

and prospects of their association.

That means they can expect to know if

membership is growing or declining.”

As previously reported, Garland

McLellan points to a range of regulations

and governance standards as set out by

the Australian Securities & Investments

Commission and the Australian Charities

and Not-for-profits Commission. She

also points to the Australian Institute of

Company Directors guidelines for not-forprofit

organisations, particularly principle

7.5 on accountability, as best practice.

“It is tempting [for an association]

to stop reporting an indicator if it

starts to show that performance is not

improving, however good governance

is to give equal weight to news of equal

importance for members in assessing

the performance and prospects of their

organisation.”

Garland McLellan also said it can be

tempting to exaggerate member numbers

to increase an organisation’s status: “It is

typical for large associations to state their

member numbers in submissions and

for smaller associations to mention the

importance of their members to society

rather than state the number of members

they have.”

At the time of publication OA had not

altered its stance on confidentiality, and

of the 15 health-related associations

contacted by Insight, it remains the only

one unwilling to state its membership

number on the record, preferring to

place the responsibility on members

to undertake their own examination

by estimating a figure from a separate

government website, which may or may

not be accurate.

Garland McLellan added: “It is

important for a board to draw a

distinction between what they consider

an appropriate strategy to engage an

outside party and what they consider

an appropriate response to an inquiry

from a member.”

Insight questioned Baker on 5 July

on this issue: “If a current member of

Optometry Australia requests a precise

membership number (the October

2018 number, for example) do you, as

Board Chairman, undertake to ensure

the information will be provided to the

member, without question?”

At the time of publication Baker had

not provided an answer. n

6 INSIGHT August 2019

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