BACKGROUND: The State of Victoria in Australia introduced Chinese medicine practitioner registration in 2000 and issued its education guidelines in late 2002 for introduction in 2005. This study obtained practitioners' views on desired capabilities for competent Chinese medicine practice and to identify professional development needs. METHODS: A questionnaire, consisting of 28 predefined capabilities in four categories with a rating scale of importance from one to five, was developed and sent to all registered Chinese medicine practitioners in the State of Victoria, Australia in October, 2005. RESULTS: Two hundreds and twenty eight completed questionnaires were returned which represented a response rate of 32.5%. Of the four categories of capabilities, technical capabilities were considered to be the most important for clinical practice. Specifically, the ability to perform acupuncture treatment and/or dispense an herbal prescription was ranked the highest. In contrast, research and information management capabilities were considered the least important. The educational background of practitioners appeared to be an important factor influencing their rating of capabilities. Significantly, nearly double the number of practitioners with Australian qualifications than practitioners trained overseas valued communication as an important capability. For continuing professional education, clinical skills courses were considered as a priority while research degree studies were not. CONCLUSION: Registered Chinese medicine practitioners viewed skills training as important but did not support the need for research and information management training. This represents a significant hurdle to developing Chinese medicine as a form of evidence-based healthcare.