University Of Tasmania
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Are local government authorities in Australia reporting on sustainability?

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posted on 2023-05-26, 05:42 authored by Belinda WilliamsBelinda Williams
Ball (2004a) in describing the up-take of sustainability reporting in the public sector suggests that it is 'seemingly patchy' whilst Tort et al. (2010) and Dickenson et al. (2005) described it as an emerging field in its infancy approached on an ad hoc basis. This study contributes to the debate by examining sustainability reporting within the public sector specifically focused on local government authorities in Australia. Reporting by these authorities on sustainability is examined from a communication theory perspective. The study looks at the key factors in establishing sustainability reporting, the use of accountants in this process and the types of reporting frameworks that are being used. Finally, a broad reporting framework is developed specific to local government intended to act as a guide in the advancement of the sustainability reporting agenda in the sector. A triangulated approach was adopted for this study utilizing mail survey and interview techniques. Subjects for the mail survey were chief financial officers (CFOs) of all local government authorities in Australia. One hundred and ninety usable responses were returned, providing a usable response rate of 35.51%. To supplement and enrich the data provided by the mail survey, twenty-two interviews across sixteen organizations were then conducted. The results indicate that local government authorities in Australia are reporting on sustainability. Such reporting appears, though, to be inconsistent in focus and in location of the reported information. Further, significant differences were found in reporting levels between urban and rural local authorities. Key leadership support and stakeholder engagement were found to be the two key factors driving the establishment of sustainability reporting in local government in Australia. The results indicate that accountants play a role in the sustainability reporting process though in a limited capacity. Finally, a number of reporting frameworks are being utilized by local government authorities with the expected framework, the GRI guidelines, being utilized by few. A number of areas for further research were highlighted including the potential effects of mandatory reporting requirements on local government sustainability reporting practices, the exploration of the significant occurrence of social reporting highlighted in this study and research that examines restraints on sustainability reporting. In doing so, such research will assist in the further development of a more coherent knowledge and understanding of sustainability reporting in the local government sector.


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