Of the more than 180,000 Australian professional accounting body members, only 30 professionally qualified accountants identify as Indigenous Australians. This is something that the team at Deakin University is trying to change. The Indigenous Higher Education @ Deakin Action Plan 2016-2020 builds on the long and successful history of education and research with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at Deakin University. Through their Institute of Koorie Education, Indigenous students are supported to complete business studies and undertake leadership roles in business and in accounting.
I had the chance to speak with Deakin University’s Dr. Luisa Lombardi, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Accounting, and Associate Dean Industry Engagement and Partnerships Professor, Barry J Cooper, who are influencing the nation through their events and research activities.
What was/is the Indigenous Accounting and Business Conference and Indigenous Australian Accounting Project?
The inaugural Indigenous Accounting and Business conference was held in 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. This two-day conference brought together academics and professionals from across Australian universities and businesses. The conference, of which over 80% of the more than 30 panel speakers were Indigenous peoples, aimed at providing a means to better understand the barriers to entering business and the accounting profession. Partners included CPA Australia, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand as well as PwC, EY and KPMG. Panels were organized around the following topics: overseas Indigenous accounting associations; the role of education in Indigenous success; government policy for Indigenous economic development; Indigenous Australian accountants; governance and Indigenous organisations; strategies for meaningful employment of Indigenous peoples; reconciliation action plans; and Indigenous business success stories.
There has traditionally been a general lack of awareness of the usefulness of accounting within Indigenous communities. One of the reasons for this is that the business of money is not seen as an Indigenous field. Although more and more Indigenous students are enrolling into university degrees, they are choosing fields such as medicine, law, education and nursing rather than accounting. A business degree, and more specifically, an accounting degree, can be a means to re-empowerindividuals and entire communities to regain control over their own finances.
Here is an article about Gresham Congoo, a consultant at PwC in Indigenous Consulting in Australia, who became the 30th Indigenous Australian to receive a professional accounting designation from the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.
What were some of the key takeaways from the 2015 conference?
The key takeaways include the message that accounting and business skills in the hands of Indigenous peoples are a tool of empowerment and are arguably crucial for Indigenous success. Accounting and finance skills have traditionally been provided for Indigenous peoples by non-Indigenous peoples. Historically this has led to unfavourable outcomes for Indigenous peoples.
However, accounting and financial skills can be very positive and empowering when delivered ‘by’ Indigenous peoples as opposed to being delivered ‘for’ Indigenous peoples. Accounting and financial skills need to be delivered and used in a culturally competent and safe manner. As Mr. Russell Taylor, keynote speaker at the conference, stated, “In dealing with Indigenous peoples, professional competence is of absolute paramount importance. However, I would issue a challenge to the accounting profession and it is this: from an Indigenous perspective, cultural competence is just as important as professional competence!”
A key piece of feedback from conference attendees was that as a result of interactions at the conference and as Indigenous accountants, they now felt valued and supported for the journey they have taken to become a member of the accounting profession.
Recent research undertaken
Luisa Lombardi and Barry J Cooper were successful in receiving research funding from CPA Australia for a project titled: An investigation into the role of educators, employers and the accounting profession in providing opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to enter the field of accounting. A total of fifteen recommendations were made to provide strategies that aimed at addressing the barriers that have resulted in virtual exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the accounting profession.
CPA Australia responded to some of the strategies and examples of recommendations adopted, including the following:
- Indigenous Accountants Australia (IAA) has now been established as a joint initiative of CPA Australia and Chartered Accountants Australia New and Zealand. It now has its own dedicated website (www.indigenousaccountants.com.au) for networking with Indigenous students and graduates of accounting and business, employers and Indigenous communities.
- Through the IAA, the accounting bodies are attempting to increase their engagement with Indigenous Centres at universities. The engagement involves Indigenous Relationship Managers promoting accounting as a desirable major in business studies courses for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
- A resource is to be developed for the IAA website, promoted through social media channels, and used and shared with Indigenous students and graduates that identifies the different pathways towards, and the benefits of, a professional designation with either of the accounting professional bodies. There are also plans for a mentoring program to be offered under the IAA. The insights and assistance of IAA’s Advisory Committee will be accessed to inform its development and implementation.
What have been some of the challenges relating to the project/conference?
- To continue raising consciousness in a positive, interesting and culturally safe way
- To support the path for Indigenous peoples to enter business and accounting roles so that positive economic outcomes are achieved
- It is evident that more research and support is needed to address the opportunities and challenges in a collaborative and meaningful way.
What is next?
The Indigenous Accounting and Business conference will run again this year on 26th and 27th October 2016 in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. It should help further build relationships, provide an opportunity to share knowledge and explore strategies for building business and finance opportunities. We are also involved in continuing research that investigates the role that accounting can play in the economic empowerment of Indigenous peoples. By running the conference in a relational way with Indigenous peoples, we are demonstrating that cultural competence is paramount to professional competence. The conference is an exemplar of best practice in relational methodologies for Indigenous Australians.