Respected Academic Retires
14 Jul 2011
One of Sydney University's most respected academics has marked his retirement with a rousing farewell address to colleagues.
Professor Bob Walker, former public accountant, freelance journalist and script writer, delivered his parting sentiments to the Sydney University Pacioli Society on 30 June - the day before pulling up stumps on an academic career spanning five decades.
Professor Walker commenced that career as a Teaching Fellow at Sydney University's then Department of Accounting in 1965. Appointed to a chair at the University of New South Wales in 1978, he returned to what he referred to as his "intellectual home" at the University of Sydney in 2004.
He has been a long-standing member of what has been widely regarded as the 'Sydney School' of accounting - an institution reflecting and extending the work of Sydney's Foundation Professor of Accounting, R.J. Chambers.' During the 1960s and 1970s, the school operated on the core premise that accounting was an expensive human contrivance that should be cost-effective when it came to providing information relevant to decision-making. Committed to making a difference, it believed that stakeholders should not be disadvantaged through misleading financial information.
Professor Walker could certainly claim to have made a difference to the practice and regulation of accounting via his contributions to public debate. During the 1980s, his work with the National Companies and Securities Commission and the Accounting Standards Review Board led to wholesale changes in the drafting of accounting standards and the content of corporate financial reporting.
He also promoted the introduction of cash flow statements, with a paper he prepared for the ASX leading to the introduction of continuous disclosure. His advice to the NSW Public Accounts Committee led Australian governments to start reporting their own liabilities for unfunded superannuation, while his criticisms of government claims regarding budget surpluses or deficits led to standardisation of reporting by the general government sector. In addition, he has actively promoted the need for governments to be more accountable for their performance in delivering services. Recently he has taken issue with politicians' claims that their estimates of budget savings were audited.
While he may have officially bowed out of full-time employment, those who attended his farewell address were left in no doubt that Professor Walker will continue to maintain an active engagement with broader accounting issues and their significance to Australian society.