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An epistemic community as influencer and implementer in local government accounting in Australia

Irvine, Helen J., Cooper, Kathie , & Moerman, Lee (2011) An epistemic community as influencer and implementer in local government accounting in Australia. Financial Accountability and Management, 27(3), pp. 249-271.

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Abstract

This paper adopts an epistemic community framework to explicate the dual role of epistemic communities as influencers of accounting policy within regulatory space and as implementers who effect change within the domain of accounting.

The context is the adoption and implementation of fair value accounting within local government in New South Wales (NSW). The roles and functions of Australian local government are extensive, and include the development and maintenance of infrastructure, provision of recreational facilities, certain health and community services, buildings, cultural facilities, and in some cases, water and sewerage (Australian Local Government Association, 2009).

The NSW state Department of Local Government (DLG) is responsible for legislation and policy development to ensure that local councils are able to deliver ‘quality services to their communities in a sustainable manner’ (DLG, 2008c). These local councils receive revenue from various sources including property rates, government grants and user-pays service provision.

In July 2006 the DLG issued Circular 06-453 to councils (DLG, 2006c), mandating the staged adoption of fair value measurement of infrastructure assets. This directive followed the policy of NSW State Treasury (NSW Treasury, 2007),4 and an independent inquiry into the financial sustainability of local councils (LGSA, 2006). It was an attempt to resolve the inconsistency in public sector asset valuation in NSW Local Governments, and to provide greater usefulness and comparability of financial statements.5 The focus of this study is the mobilization of accounting change by the DLG within this wider political context. When a regulatory problem arises, those with political power seek advice from professionals with relevant skill and expertise (Potter, 2005). This paper explores the way in which professionals diffuse accounting ‘problems’ and the associated accounting solutions ‘across time and space’ (Potter, 2005, p. 277). The DLG’s fair value accounting policy emanated from a ‘regulatory space’ (Hancher and Moran, 1989)6 as a result of negotiations between many parties, including accounting and finance professionals. Operating within the local government sector, these professionals were identified by the DLG as being capable of providing helpful input. They were also responsible for the implementation of the new olicy within local councils. Accordingly they have been dentified as an pistemic community with the ability to ranslate regulatory power by changing he domain of ccounting (Potter, 2005, p. 278).7

The paper is organised as follows. The background to the LG’s decision to require the introduction of fair value accounting for infrastructure assets is explored. Following this, the method of the study is described, and the epistemic community framework outlined. In the next sections, evidence of the influencing and implementing roles of epistemic groups is provided. Finally, conclusions are drawn about the significance of these groups both within regulatory space in developing accounting regulation, and in embedding change within the domain of accounting.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 46069
Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: Epistemic Communities, Local Government, Financial Sustainability, Asset management, Accountability
DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0408.2011.00524.x
ISSN: 0267-4424
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > ACCOUNTING AUDITING AND ACCOUNTABILITY (150100)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Accountancy
Deposited On: 21 Sep 2011 08:52
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2011 08:52

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