Respiratory physician overcomes ‘smear’ campaign to become RACP president


By Michael Woodhead

5 May 2020

Respiratory physician Professor John Wilson has taken over the presidency of the RACP after facing down a last minute bid by rivals to be removed from office.

Despite being voted RACP president-elect last year, Professor Wilson was one of a trio of reformist directors at the RACP targeted by a resolution by more than 100 College members calling for their removal.

But the move by the un-named ‘requisitioners’ opposing Professor Wilson and two other RACP directors, Professor Paul Komesaroff and Dr Jacqueline Small, was defeated at an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) on 16 April. This clerared the way for Professor Wilson, a Melbourne-based respiratory specialist, to assume the presidency from 4 May 2020.

In their proposal, the ‘requisitioner’ members  – whose identities were not revealed – pointed to a governance review of the RACP that found “some Board Directors have not respected the role and behaviours expected of a Board Director”. They said this had led to a breakdown in relationships with the executive that had triggered a leadership vacuum and “dysfunctional dynamics affecting leadership, internal politics and work processes.”

They also pointed to review findings that the culture of the College was “blame orientated, hierarchical, fearful… with a master-servant relationship with members”.

The requisitioners’ spill motion alluded to leaking of information by an un-named Director and requests for documents that should have been queried by the Board because it may have been for personal benefit rather than benefit of the RACP.

Questions were also raised about the use of College member email lists during the 2018 election.

However in a statement made ahead of the EGM, Professor Wilson urged members to reject the proposals which “threaten a return to the old ways” and which were not based on any recommendations made in the independent governance review.

He described the EGM as an unjustified and illogical attack on directors who had been elected on a reform ticket in 2018.

Professor Wilson said the forced removal of duly-elected Directors would mean abandoning collegiality for a “blame” culture and the College’s outstanding reputation would suffer as a result.

“We have delivered change – with the help of very capable College staff, in under two years we have delivered real and positive change in management, governance, education, finance and policy,” he said.

“This process must continue, bringing a renaissance to our College, thereby reflecting your needs, the changing demographic of our members and the medical landscape. Let’s move forward together without the threat of returning to practices of the past.”

Fellow reformist Professor Paul Komesaroff described the proposals to remove Directors as an attack instigated by rivals based on smears and innuendo.

“If passed, the encouragement given to disaffected individuals or groups to disrupt the governance of the organisation and to pursue personal agendas against duly elected officers would cause incalculable harm,” he warned in a pre-EGM statement.

“Do we wish to establish a precedent in which candidates for election can launch what might be thought to be personal attacks against their opponents without the need for evidence, justification or reasoned argument?”

The new RACP Board effective 4 May is:

  • President – Professor John Wilson AM
  • President Aotearoa New Zealand – Dr George Laking
  • President-Elect – Dr Jacqueline Small
  • Trainee Director – Dr Tina Ahluwalia
  • Member Director – Professor Paul Komesaroff
  • Member Director – Professor Jennifer Martin
  • Hon Treasurer and Community Director – Mr Tony Tenaglia
  • Community Director – Ms Monica Schlesinger
  • Community Director – Mr Rob Stewart

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