The Advocacy team prepare more than 250 submissions a year for government, standard-setting organisations and international groups on behalf of over 126,000 members. As well as covering tax, superannuation, financial advice and audit, they also address broader business issues such as climate change, modern slavery, corporate reporting standards and money laundering.
“Our agenda is forward-looking and aims to create better policy, not only to benefit our members but the broader public interest,” says Simon Grant FCA, who leads the 30-strong Advocacy team at CA ANZ.
The team has two strands to its approach; proactive and reactive advocacy, he says. “Our reactive approach is about representing our members as best we can and seeking changes to any legislation that appears inadequate or not sensible.”
The team includes leading experts in New Zealand and Australia covering taxation (including superannuation and financial advice), another in reporting and assurance, ethics and business reform.
Karen McWilliams FCA is the Business Reform Leader, and says that the proactive approach is also about influencing the international agenda. “We want to shape what’s happening globally because that drives what happens in Australia and New Zealand,” she says.
For example, CA ANZ recently made a submission to Accountancy Europe about standard setting for corporate reporting. Accountancy Europe brings together 51 professional organisations from 35 countries that represent one million qualified accountants, auditors and advisers.
“Developments, such as this one in Europe, can influence the global direction so we wanted to make sure that Australia and New Zealand’s voices were heard,” McWilliams says. This applies to other issues such as standards, assurance and ethics.
In February, CA ANZ joined 13 accountancy bodies representing more than 2.5 million members worldwide to issue a joint statement about how CAs could address climate change within the organisations they work for.
This was a classic case of advocating for the greater good, Grant says, as many members working in the energy sector were sceptical of CA ANZ taking this position.
“But we needed to balance their concerns around community expectations with a sensible transition to a bigger picture, around creating new jobs and opportunities in the existing energy sectors as they pivot and the new industries that would be created,” he says. “We always consider individual interests and balance this with the collective interest of society.”
McWilliams says that the Australian and New Zealand governments have taken a positive approach to climate risk financial disclosure. “Regulators in Australia and the New Zealand Government are taking a fairly strong line on the need for organisations to consider and disclose climate risk and CA ANZ has been part of that conversation.”
The Advocacy team also made a submission to the National Action Plan to combat modern slavery. Modern slavery includes forced labour, and the International Labour Organisation estimates there’s about 40 million people enslaved worldwide. Shockingly, their labour often supports global supply chains.
“Australia’s Modern Slavery Act is one of the best in the world,” McWilliams says. “Other than the UK and a few US states such as California, Australia’s contribution to this debate is very significant and we’ve been part of that.”
Listening to members
To reach its members, test ideas and then amplify their views, the Advocacy team uses multiple channels; social media, groups on My CA, media releases, articles on the CA ANZ website, newsletters, information sessions, professional development courses and webinars.
Each Advocacy lead works with an advisory committee of CA ANZ members. For example, the New Zealand tax committee has 18 members. “We have hundreds of years of experience among us,” says Peter Vial, New Zealand Country Head. “Our committee includes representatives from public practice (large and small), corporate, and academia and the views are very varied.”
The Advocacy team also draws on a Member Insights Panel, composed of about 6,000 members who have offered to complete surveys. Often, the team seeks member input in a particular area so that government officials can hear real-life experiences to illustrate the practical implications of a new bill, regulation or policy.
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“We did this during Australia’s wage-theft inquiry, known as the unlawful underpayment of employees' remuneration,” McWilliams says. “We got member input about the complications that their businesses face with the workplace awards. The awards are actually incredibly complex and differ between states. Living and breathing examples add weight to what we are saying.”
Liaising outside CA ANZ
Each team lead also has an extensive network in their particular specialist area. They are members of advisory groups for regulators such as Inland Revenue , the ATO, ASIC, the Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative and others.
They liaise with other interested parties, such as the Accounting Professional and Ethical Standards Board and the New Zealand External Reporting Board, as well as international bodies such as the International Federation of Accountants, International Accounting Standards Board and the OECD.
Kristen Wydell FCA, General Manager Professional Standards, continues to work to align the Australian Code of Ethics with the International Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants. “Alignment of the two Codes makes it easier for professional accountants to apply the requirements, in a global economy this helps with consistency and is just easier,” she says.
“We want to keep the right balance between maintaining high ethical standards and not having excessive compliance burdens for accountants,” she says.
All leading members of the Advocacy team work to maintain deep relationships with government departments, statutory bodies and even Opposition Members of Parliament. In addition, a Government Affairs team with leaders in Australia and New Zealand holds hundreds of meetings yearly with government officials, providing information and insights for the Advocacy team.
COVID-19 and beyond
Particularly in the last month, the Advocacy team has engaged with the ATO and Treasury, taking into consideration members’ concerns about JobKeeper, the Australian government’s response to support workers during the pandemic.
Vial and his team have been working closely with New Zealand’s Inland Revenue and other government agencies to ensure appropriate support for businesses affected by the lockdown. “We’ve also had to encourage our members to apply an ethical lens to everything they do for their own business and their clients’ businesses,” he says.
For the future, the Advocacy team is looking at how to get the best result out of the post COVID-19 environment economically and sustainably.
“We need to be future-focussed and lead the profession,” Grant says. “We're thinking about what sort of policy we need or how previous policies can be revamped. Do we need a tax conversation or a productivity conversation? We’ll get the richness from the diversity of our members.”
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