Four accounting pioneers inducted into Australian Accounting Hall of Fame for outstanding achievements

By Jane Hronsky

The 15th annual Awards Ceremony was held at University House on Wednesday, March 6. Over 100 guests from the accounting profession, academia, business, and government turned out to honour the 2024 inductees.

The dinner and ceremony are sponsored by the two major accounting professional bodies, CPA Australia and Chartered Accountants ANZ, and the night is a highlight of the year for the accounting community.

Participants were welcomed by Ms Jane Hronsky on behalf of her fellow directors of the Centre for Accounting and Industry Partnerships: Associate Professor Brad Potter, Professors Stewart Leech and Michael Davern, and Melbourne Enterprise Fellow and former Deloitte partner Dr Stuart Black.

Ms Rachel Grimes AM, Ms Merran Kelsall AO, Professor Robert Officer AM and Emeritus Professor Terry Shevlin were honoured as inductees in 2024. Each of the inductees exemplifies the profound wealth of accounting expertise that exists in Australia and around the world. These individuals have shaped, and continue to shape, the profession with their remarkable achievements, inspiring generations of like-minded accounting practitioners and academics.

Recipients and attendees of the 2024 Accounting Hall of Fame
Australian Accounting Hall of Fame inductees Bob Officer AM, Rachel Grimes AM, Merran Kelsall AO, and Terry Shevlin

2024 Colin Ferguson Oration

This year’s Colin Ferguson Oration was delivered by Associate Professor Brad Potter, Head of the Department of Accounting at the University of Melbourne.

The oration was preceded by the announcement of a forthcoming history of the Australian Accounting Hall of Fame, authored by Geoff Burrows, and a portrait of Colin Ferguson by the renowned artist Evert Ploeg. A delightful small preliminary study of the portrait was unveiled as a ‘teaser’ to the work-in-progress.

Brad’s interesting and entertaining oration focused on the boundaries of what constitutes the key discipline area of auditing and how those boundaries have shifted over time. A key concept from the sociology of the professions, disciplinary boundaries are not fixed or stable, but are shaped by various forces, including people and institutions, intentionally or not. Expertise can thus develop in areas which may be far removed from core or initial training. Sustainability reporting and assurance is a perfect example of this. Accountants and auditors are well-placed to take a leading role, and this is already happening. The links to financial reporting are known and clear and auditors are known for independent verification. It seems logical, sensible and obvious to the profession, yet the claims to independence as the ‘cornerstone’ of the profession turn out, on closer inspection, to be more recent and problematic than generally believed.

This finding is based on a recently completed multi-year ARC-funded research project undertaken by Brad Potter, Phillip Cobbin, Monica Keneley, Brian West, and Patrick Ferguson, initiated by Colin Ferguson. The digitised archives of CPA Australia contained a rich trove of the professional exam papers of the predecessor bodies to CPA Australia and CAANZ. Six decades of these exam papers, from 1888–1952, containing almost 1700 questions, were examined, as the questions exemplified what was deemed by the profession at the time, to constitute its base of knowledge and expertise.

While most questions required candidates to demonstrate an understanding of typical audit verification procedures, a surprising feature of these emerged from the archive. Many questions concerned the offering of advice to audit clients on a range of matters, such as general business, accounting and systems design. These advisory questions remained until the 1930s when they dropped rapidly. No questions in the period under examination explicitly focused on independence. The boundaries of constitutive auditing knowledge have shifted over time, ‘narrowing’ to exclude advisory work and redefining its core as independent verification. In light of ongoing debates on the provision of audit and advisory services, and the continuing expansion of the potential subject matters of assurance, this is a fascinating finding.

Hall of Fame Inductions  

Following the oration, the Director of the Hall, Dr Phillip Cobbin, then conducted the formal inductions, which comprised citations being read by nominators followed by responses from inductees and the presentation of scrolls to each inductee by Associate Professor Potter.

  • Rachel Grimes AM is an independent company director and member of the Financial Reporting Council and the Australian Professional and Ethical Standards Board. Previously, she was president of the International Federation of Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia. She was honoured as a high office holder, standard setter and practitioner.
  • Merran Kelsall AO is a governance professional who has had key leadership roles in standard-setting and professional bodies: the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board, the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board, and CPA Australia. She was honoured as a practitioner, high office holder, standard setter, and regulator.
  • Bob Officer AM is an Emeritus Professor of Monash University and the University of Queensland, who has contributed to academia, practice and public policy over many decades. He was honoured as a scholar, educator, senior university administrator and advisor to government.
  • Terry Shevlin is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Washington and University of California-Irvine. A native Victorian, he has been the most-published author in the leading accounting journals for 30 years. He was honoured as an eminent accounting scholar and thinker.

In accepting their awards, the inductees acknowledged the importance of ethics and public service and the key role of their families’ support.