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Set standards for accountants

26 Nov 2012 THE AGE - BY GEOFF BURROWS AND GARRY CARNEGIE - GEOFF BURROWS IS PRINCIPAL FELLOW IN THE DEPARTMENT OF ACCOUNTING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE. GARRY CARNEGIE IS PROFESSOR OF ACCOUNTING AT RMIT UNIVERSITY.


WALTER JOHN KENLEY

ACCOUNTING STANDARDS PIONEER

11-10-1924 - 5-10-2012

DR JOHN Kenley, who has died at Castlemaine several days before his 88th birthday, was a pioneer in the development of Australian accounting standards through his work with the Australian Accounting Research Foundation from 1968 to 1977, and later became an influential practitioner and prominent author.

The foundation, established by the main Australian professional accounting bodies after highly publicised company failures in the early 1960s, was seen as a vehicle for countering criticism of deficient financial-reporting practices. It was the forerunner to the current Australian Accounting Standards Board.

Appointed in 1968 as the foundation's first full-time employee, Kenley wrote its first major research publication, A Statement of Australian Accounting Principles (1970). Adapted from an earlier US work to reflect Australia's institutional framework and existing financial-reporting recommendations, it became an important reference for developing a conceptual framework for future Australian accounting standards. On a Churchill fellowship in 1970, Kenley undertook a 12-week study tour of professional accounting bodies in Britain, Canada, the US and South Africa to examine the resources and approaches used in accounting research overseas. His report significantly influenced the foundation's direction and structure.

Becoming director of the foundation in 1971, he collaborated with a visiting US academic, George Staubus, to produce Objectives and Concepts of Financial Statements (1973), which was controversial at the time for its advocacy of cash-flow reporting, but is now seen as prescient. A later collaboration with a New Zealander, Professor Tom Cowan, resulted in Case Studies in Financial Accounting, which was widely used for many years in tertiary accounting courses in Australasia.

By the time Kenley resigned from the foundation in 1977 to join Hungerfords (now KPMG) - where he later became national technical partner - he had written prolifically in professional journals and lectured frequently on a wide range of accounting and auditing topics. While at Hungerfords, he, along with chartered accountant Michael Sharpe, was behind the Accounting Research Foundation's creation of the Auditing Standards Board in 1981.

He left what had evolved into the international financial services firm KMG Hungerfords in 1987 to work as part-time technical consultant for CCH Australia. His publications for CCH included the Guidebook to Australian Accounting Standards (1990-92), Franchising in Australia: the Accounting Implications and Accountants in the Raw - a Guide to Entering Public Practice as a Chartered Accountant. He retired from active consulting and writing in 1993.

Born in working-class Coburg in 1924, Kenley matriculated from Coburg High School to join the public service in early 1941 as a clerk in the Department of Supply and Development. In the following year he enlisted in the Australian Air Force and was posted to remote Exmouth Gulf in Western Australia as a radar operator, a task he blamed for eyesight problems he suffered later in life. At Exmouth his duties also included operating the kerosene-fuelled lighthouse.

After the war, he completed a bachelor of commerce degree at the University of Melbourne in 1948, followed by a master of commerce in 1954 for a thesis examining the effects of World War II on secondary industry in Australia. His doctorate, from California Western University in 1978, was earned with a thesis on the objectives of financial statements.

Within the public service, he transferred to the Department of Shipping and Transport in 1951 as senior research officer, where he was involved in Commonwealth-state relations on road funding and motor-vehicle charges, work that stood him in good stead when he moved to the Commonwealth Grants Commission in 1960 as senior finance officer. He left the public service in 1962 to join the Australian Society of Accountants (now CPA Australia) as its first technical officer, in which role one of his early tasks was to write a history of the body. It was titled History of the Australian Society of Accountants and its Antecedent Bodies, 1887 to 1962.

His "no-frills" personality and appearance - which may have caused him to be underestimated by some in the accounting profession - was also reflected in his enormous body of written work, which was characterised by a simple, direct prose style.

Kenley's marriage to Alison Gedye in 1952, ended tragically when Alison died at the age of 36 from a cerebral haemorrhage the day after he returned from his Churchill fellowship tour. This left him responsible for five children aged from eight to 16. A second marriage in 1978 to Kathleen Bryson ended in divorce 18 years later.

In his last years, living in Castlemaine, he would willingly draw on his rich experience in the profession to discuss financial reporting topics with scholars and students who made the effort to meet him. Authors and editors were also liable to receive his handwritten comments on the contents and formats of their publications.

He is survived by his children, David, Heather, Andrew, Bronwyn and Bruce and by his cousin, Elaine Warren, of Castlemaine, who provided great support in his later years.