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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Obituary From: Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Volume 25, Issue 8
Emeritus Professor Allan Barton, a champion of the application of Keynesian economic principles to private and public sector policy and reporting conundrums, passed away peacefully on Saturday 9th June 2012 in Canberra, Australia. Allan had worked at the Australian National University (ANU) for over 30 years and had taught accounting to nearly three decades of economics and accounting students, many of whom later worked for the federal departments of Treasury and Finance. Allan’s accounting text, The Anatomy of Accounting, of which he was extremely proud, was first published in 1975. Ahead of its time, Anatomy outlined his basic understanding of the role of accounting in society, and the economic, management and accountability rationales informing the preparation of accounting information. Anatomy received a rarely awarded Citation for Meritorious Contribution to Accounting Literature in 1978 from the Australian Society of Accountants, the precursor of CPA Australia.
Allan’s keen intelligence and his belief that the role of the academy is to advocate for change in practices unsupported by rigorous theoretical and practical analysis underscored an interdisciplinary approach that integrated accounting, economics and public policy. This informed his thinking, research, advocacy and teaching. Allan’s early interests included the application of accounting policies, trade practices legislation, corporate takeovers, cost of capital, income tax, current cost accounting and income theory (to name a few). The adoption, in the early 1990s, of private sector accounting standards in the Australian public sector superseded these interests, crystallizing, in Allan, a mission that remained undiminished to reform Australian governmental accounting practices, as evidenced in his academic publications, public lectures, conference presentations and newspaper articles.
In 1950 Allan began a degree at the University of Melbourne, where he graduated with double honours in economics and accounting. Thereafter, he proceeded to Cambridge, completing a PhD under the supervision of Professor Sir Austin Robinson. It was there that Allan became convinced of the critical role of reporting and management systems in supporting governments’ management of the economy. In 1967 he became the foundation Professor of Accounting at Macquarie University, a position he held until moving to ANU as Professor of Accounting and Public Finance in 1975. He was also an Honorary Professor of Accounting at The University of Sydney.
Allan held a number of University administrative roles at ANU, including as Pro Vice Chancellor (Finance and Development, 1992-1996). The development and installation of a financial management system that included a real time daily cash recording system was one of Allan’s important achievements, as he regarded the control of revenues, expenses, assets, liabilities and cash as essential to the effective management of resources. It proved to be a template of the reforms Allan later sought at governmental level. He served the University and the wider community on many advisory committees and boards, and was involved for many years in the establishment and operation of the Cambridge Australia Trust.
The diversity of Allan’s interests and expertise is encapsulated in his publication record. His first publications included “The matching concept” (Australian Accountant, 1955) and “Investment allowances for primary producers” (Australian Journal of Agricultural Economics, 1959). His final publication, “Why governments should use the government finance statistics accounting system”, appeared in Abacus in 2011. Along his prolific intellectual journey, Allan frequently underlined serious points by poking fun at anomalies in public sector reporting practices, as a series of articles published in Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal (AAAJ) and Australian Accounting Review (AAR) illustrate: “Accounting for public heritage facilities – assets or liabilities of the government?” (AAAJ, 2000); “Land under roads – a financial bonanza or fool’s gold?” (AAR, 1999); “Public and private sector accounting – non-identical twins” (AAR, 1999); and “The Department of Defence – Australia’s most profitable business?” (AAR, 2003).
Allan was scathing of the Commonwealth Government’s eschewal in 1999 of cash accounting and budgeting systems in favour of full accrual budgeting, outlining his theoretical and practical concerns in an influential 2002 CPA Australia-ANU Annual Research Lecture titled “Accrual accounting in government – a review of its application, achievements and proposals for reform”. This lecture demonstrated that prevailing accounting and management practices ignored the logic of Keynesian economic theory that explained governments’ role in securing sound macroeconomic fiscal management of the nation in order to achieve stable, sustainable economic growth with high employment and low inflation; bringing an equitable distribution of income and wealth across the nation’s citizens; the provision of public and welfare goods to citizens; the pursuit of intergenerational equity; and the conservation of the natural environment.
He strongly advocated the need for both cash and accrual accounting and budgeting systems for the public sector, with an accrual system being necessary for proper resource management, and a cash system for fiscal accountability. The lecture reinforced his advocacy in an earlier thought provoking 1997 CPA Australia-ANU Annual Research Lecture entitled “Cash and accrual budgets for central governments: an analysis of their comparative roles”. The 2002 lecture resulted in a major review of, and changes to, accrual accounting and budgeting systems by the federal government. During a period of review and change prior to and following the 2002 lecture, Allan continued to challenge conventional thinking, as evidenced in “Accounting and the public sector – a mismatch” (Abacus, 2005); “Public sector accountability and commercial-in-confidence outsourcing contracts” (AAAJ, 2006); “Accrual accounting and budgeting systems issues in australian governments” (AAR, 2007); and “The use and abuse of accounting in the public financial management reform program in Australia” (Abacus, 2009).
In addition to his academic publications, Allan regularly made submissions to bodies investigating muddled thinking on numerous economic, financial reporting, management and accountability issues. In 1976, his concern was “Principles and methods of adjusting business incomes for the effects of price changes”; in 1982, “Published corporate financial reports”; in 1994, “Restoring full employment” and “The Commonwealth Authorities and Corporations Act”; in 2001, “Review of accrual budget documentation, asset management and the capital use charge, commonwealth cash management and cash budgets”; in 2005, “Financial reporting of general government sectors by governments”; in 2006, “The use of sector-neutral accounting standard setting in Australia”, as well as “Transparency and accountability to the parliament of commonwealth public funding and expenditure”; in 2008, “Operation sunlight – enhancing budgetary transparency”; and in 2010, well after he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, “Clear line of sight: aligning budgets, estimates and accounts”.
Allan’s advocacy also resulted in the Australian federal government adopting an enhanced Government Finance Statistics (GFS) reporting system that provides the accounting information required for both fiscal policy management and resource management purposes, as well as for better transparency and accountability of government operations to parliament and the public. In November 2010 Allan delivered a further CPA-Australia-National Audit Office-ANU Annual Research Lectures in Public Sector Accounting entitled “The GFS System – the answer to the government’s financial management information problems?”
For Allan, the final pieces in the jigsaw to achieve effective governmental reporting and control were the alignment of budgets across all tiers of governmental operations; the direct real time reporting of cash only transactions to Treasury and Finance; the adoption of GFS outcome financial statements by departments and the whole of the General Government Sector; and the audit of these outcome-focused reports. Allan’s intention was to turn the enhanced GFS system into a comprehensive financial management information and reporting system encapsulating all of the financial management and reporting needs of government. It remains to be seen whether these reforms will be adopted in the absence of Allan’s intellectual firepower and strong advocacy. His scholarly thinking will continue to inspire Australian academics, few of whom, regrettably, see their role as passionate activist change agents, or have his knowledge of federal governmental reporting.
Allan remained himself to the end: clear-headed, warm, generous, humourous, appreciative and loyal, opinionated in the best sense of the word, immersed in reading and in analysing the repercussions of the GFC on his superannuation returns!
He was an integral part of an extremely supportive family. He is survived by his much loved daughters, Belinda and Kim, adored grandchildren, Abby, Ryan, Lara and Haley, and three brothers – all of whom visited him constantly as his strength ebbed. He will be much missed by them, his many friends, and his Australian and international academic colleagues.
Vale Allan Barton.
Linda EnglishUniversity of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Janet LeeAustralian National University, Canberra, Australia