Category Archives: Indigenous issues

“This degrading and stealthy practice”: Accounting, stigma and indigenous wages in Australia 1897-1972

Miley, F. M., & Read, A. F. (2018). “This degrading and stealthy practice”: Accounting, stigma and Indigenous wages in Australia 1897-1972. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 31(2), 456-477. doi:10.1108/AAAJ-10-2014-1839

The purpose of this paper is to make visible the relationship between accounting and stigma in the absence of accounting. This research examines how failure to implement mandatory accounting and auditing requirements in the management of indigenous wages contributed to stigmatisation of indigenous Australians and led to maladministration and unchecked financial fraud that continued for over 75 years. The accounting failures are by those charged with protecting the financial interests of the indigenous population.

An historical and qualitative approach has been used that draws upon archival and contemporary sources.

Prior research has examined the nexus between accounting mechanisms and stigma. This research suggests that the absence of accounting mechanisms can also contribute to stigma.

Research limitations/implications
This research highlights the complex relationship between accounting and stigma, suggesting that it is simplistic to examine the nexus between accounting and stigma without considering the social forces in which stigmatisation occurs.

Social implications
This research demonstrates decades of failed accounting have contributed to the ongoing social disadvantage of indigenous Australians. The presence of accounting mechanisms cannot eradicate the past, or fix the present, but can create an environment where financial abuse does not occur.

This research demonstrates that stigma can be exacerbated in the negative space created by failures or absence of accounting.

Indigenous Australians, Stigma, Accounting history, Aborigines, Accounting controls, Stolen wages

Full paper available from the journal


Accounting in the service of genocide: stolen wages in Australia 1897-1972

Miley, F. M., & Read, A. F. (2013). Accounting in the service of genocide: stolen wages in Australia 1897-1972. Paper presented at the 7th Accounting History International Conference, Seville, Spain.


This research considers accounting in the context of wages earned by indigenous Australians between 1897 and 1972.  Up to 75 per cent of these wages were compulsorily placed into government trust accounts.  The remainder of the wages money was to be paid in cash to indigenous workers.  “Stolen wages” refers to the systemic failure to pay this money to indigenous Australians.  We examine the failure of accounting practices and audit processes in the management of indigenous wages held in trust and to be paid in cash.  These failures led to widespread financial mismanagement and fraud of indigenous wage money, created severe economic hardship among the indigenous population and contributed to genocidal outcomes consistent with the definition of genocide.  Cultural hegemony provides a framework for understanding that accounting failure is not accidental when it contributes directly to the oppression of indigenous Australians.  Previous accounting research has considered the use of accounting as a control mechanism to support genocidal policies.  Our research suggests that the culpability of the accounting for supporting genocidal outcomes should be broadened to include cases of deliberate failure to implement accounting control mechanisms and audit processes required by law and government policy.

Link to paper

Link to conference


Indigenous spirituality at work: Australia

Faith and Spirituality coverMiley, F. M., & Read, A. F. (2013). Indigenous spirituality at work: Australia. In Neal, J. (Ed.), Handbook of faith and spirituality in the workplace: Emerging research and practice (pp. 175-194). New York: Springer.


This chapter examines the research on the impact of the spirituality of Indigenous Australians on the workplace and explores the mismatch between that spirituality and contemporary business practices.  The chapter comments on the lack of research in this field and the impact this lack of research can have on the success of Indigenous Australians in business.  The chapter proposes a research agenda to improve understanding of the issues so that workplaces can be designed to be sympathetic to the spirituality of Indigenous Australians.

Accounting stewardship and the case of stolen indigenous wages in Australia

Miley, F. M., & Read, A. F. (2011). Accounting stewardship and the case of stolen indigenous wages in Australia. Paper presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, San Antonio.


This research examines government control of a portion of indigenous wages in Australia from the 1880s until the 1970s.  Although stated to be held for the protection of indigenous workers and their families, the abuses and mismanagement of the wages were inconsistent with legislative intent.  This research is from an accounting perspective.  It argues that an accounting stewardship divorced from its theological underpinnings was more likely to lead to create such outcomes than one rooted in a traditional theology or spirituality.  Although historical, the ongoing implications of government wage control are continuing as the indigenous population seeks redress for what are termed in Australia “stolen wages”.  This has broader relevance to accounting as the International Accounting Standards Board has now excluded stewardship as a purpose of accounting, further severing accounting from any morality or set of values, even though the accounting profession has long recognised that accounting is not a neutral and value-free reporting system.

Link to Academy of Management 2011 Annual Meeting Website (AoM login required to access paper)

Link to Paper (unrestricted access)