Inconsistent Depreciation Practice and Public Policymaking: Local Government Reform in New South Wales

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Journal Article
Australian Accounting Review, 2015, 25 (1), pp. 28 - 37
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© 2015 CPA Australia. Public policy based on numerical indicators - a form of 'public management by numbers' - has become commonplace across the world. Whereas a good deal is known about the deleterious effects of this type of policymaking - including ratcheting, output distortion and 'gaming' - unfortunately little attention has focused on the adverse local government policy consequences of inconsistent depreciation accruals by local authorities. This paper seeks to address this gap in the empirical literature on local government performance. After examining the use of accounting data by local government policymakers, the paper reviews available empirical evidence of inconsistent depreciation practice both in Australia and abroad. We then consider the recent New South Wales (NSW) Independent Local Government Review Panel's use of accounting ratios as supporting evidence for boundary change in local government as a case study of the adverse impact of inconsistent depreciation practice. The NSW experience clearly demonstrates the distortionary effects of empirical evidence resulting from significant variation in depreciation accruals by individual local councils. The paper concludes with an assessment of the options available to local government policymakers wishing to obtain more accurate accounting accrual data for policy formulation purposes.
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