Date posted: 02/06/2023 8 min read

Talking tax with Marg Marshall

Marg Marshall FCA is the president of The Tax Institute and a partner at WLF Accounting & Advisory in Tasmania. She explains why SME firms are facing an especially challenging time and the fundamental reforms she hopes will be made to Australia’s taxation system.

In Brief

  • Early on, Tax Institute president and WLF Accounting & Advisory partner Marg Marshall FCA realised she was best placed to make a difference in the world as an accounting and finance professional. Since the 1990s, she has also been a board member of a host of not-for-profit organisations.
  • She is particularly focused on helping SMEs to meet the challenges of the post-pandemic period.
  • Marshall would like to see wholesale reform of Australia’s taxation system. She believes that in its current form it has strayed from the fundamental principles of fairness, equity and simplicity.

By Jessica Mudditt

Marg Marshall FCA secured her first job in accounting before she had even finished high school. After completing year 10 work experience at a small accounting firm in central Queensland, she was offered a job and joined the firm immediately after graduating from high school.

Marshall enrolled in a Bachelor of Business and Accounting by correspondence at the University of Southern Queensland. After a few years of working full-time and studying part time, she realised that it would take several more years to complete her degree, so she moved to Toowoomba and took up full-time studies. Then, with only a few subjects left, she returned to part-time studies after being offered another job.

Marg Marshall FCAPictured: Marg Marshall FCA took the short walk from her office at 160 Collins Street to be photographed at the Salamanca Wharf in Hobart.. Image credit: Renee Thurston.

A surprise departure

However, after completing her degree at the age of 22, Marshall made a career U-turn. “I thought that the world of money was not valuable and that accounting was not a worthy profession,” says Marshall.

Although she was not unhappy in her accounting career, she left to become a volunteer youth worker at St Vincent de Paul in Brisbane and Townsville, mostly working with homeless young people.

“I very quickly worked out what I was good at – and it wasn’t youth work,” she says. “I wasn’t cut out for it.”

Nonetheless, the experience was worthwhile. It taught Marshall the importance of leveraging her individual strengths to maximise her impact. She also met her future husband at a conference for youth worker volunteers, as he was also a volunteer at the time. They relocated to Tasmania, where they have been based ever since.

Marshall’s subsequent work with not-for-profits and her accounting clients has resolved any doubts she felt early on in her career. The value and importance of the accounting profession and the impact she can make is clear.

Making an impact

Marshall’s interest in tax began after returning to Tasmania after a year overseas with her husband in the late 1990s. She said she was tired of doing the same accounts year-in and year-out and the idea of specialising appealed.

When a role as a tax consultant came up at WLF Accounting & Advisory in 1998, she leapt at the chance. She has been a partner at WLF since 2009.

Marshall has also continued her association with charitable work by serving as a board member of a number of not-for-profit organisations. These include local charity Colony 47 and, of course, The Tax Institute, which she has been involved with for the past nine years. She is also a founding director of Tasmanian Iconic Walks and Tassie Dancers Against Cancer.

“Making a contribution to the community is important to me, and I have found that my skills in tax and finance have been of value to these organisations,” she says. “For example, if an organisation has charity status, I can make sure that it is operating within the requirements of being a deductible gift recipient. A small not-for-profit is often made up of people who just want to do good, so it’s important to have financial skills in the mix as well.”

Supporting SMEs

In January, Marshall became president of The Tax Institute. As a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) practitioner herself, her focus is on supporting SME members, who comprise 70% of the institute’s members.

“SMEs are a really important part of the tax system and I worry about how busy they are,” she says. “I don’t see the staffing shortages being solved anytime soon. Many people are still dealing with the impacts of COVID, in terms of the amount of work that was generated to support stimulus packages.

Many practitioners put aside their regular work and are still catching up.”

She says that during the pandemic, many practitioners took on extra work for their clients because the urgency of the circumstances demanded it. There were the qualification requirements for programs like JobKeeper, and stimulus programs also required extra work.

“People were putting aside their regular work to support their clients and they weren’t being paid, necessarily, for that support,” she says. “Business-as-usual was piling up, but they wanted to support their clients during a period in which it felt, at times, that the whole world was ending.”

Her goal is to raise these issues at forums and to keep them front of mind at the Australian Taxation Office as well.

A community of difference makers

This level of support is consistent with how Marshall sees the role of a chartered accountant, and the value CAs provide to their clients in good times and bad.

“A chartered accountant makes sure that their clients understand what the numbers on the page mean for their business. They walk alongside their clients as their trusted advisor.”

“A chartered accountant makes sure that their clients understand what the numbers on the page mean for their business. They walk alongside their clients as their trusted advisor.”

From navigating tax laws, to dealing with banks or an issue relating to workers compensation, Marshall says that a chartered accountant can help with virtually anything associated with running a business – and if they cannot help, they will find someone who can.

“It’s a partnership,” she says.

As Marshall looks back on her career, she is grateful for the professional opportunities that have come her way. Her advice to anyone considering a career in tax is to be confident that there will always be a job for talented professionals, no matter the economic climate.

“Never fear of being out of work. There will always be a job for you in tax. Nothing is certain in life except for death and taxes, right?” she jokes.

We need to talk about the Australian tax system

“The fundamental principles of Australia’s tax system are fairness, equity and simplicity. The system’s not really doing what it was set up to do,” says Marg Marshall FCA. “It’s about looking at the system as a whole, rather than just trying to fix one thing. We need holistic reform. We’ve seen a lot of band-aid fixes over the last few years.”

She cites changing the tax brackets as an example of reform that does not address the underlying cause of a shortcoming in the tax system.

“Every time we fiddle with something like marginal tax rates, it is an attempt to put more money into someone’s pocket, but it does so at the expense of something else. It doesn’t deal with the issues concerning interpretation or complexity.”

Marshall is encouraged that the federal Labor government has publicly highlighted the need for more wholesale taxation reform. In March, treasurer Jim Chalmers announced plans to tax earnings on superannuation balances over A$3 million at 30% – double the current rate – from 1 July 2025.

“This is not a small change,” she says. “It is the beginning of a conversation around whether superannuation should be free of tax. As a community that is something we need to think about.”

At the same time, she feels that there is a growing awareness among the community about the importance of tax to fund public projects.

“However, there’s been no commitment [from the government] and we are still a long way away from having the real conversation that we need to have,” she says.

3 things I wish I’d known about a career in accounting and tax

1. You don’t have to be good at maths to succeed in accounting

“I wasn’t especially good at maths – I had to work really hard at school,” says Marg Marshall FCA. “I went through high school with everyone telling me that if I wanted to be an accountant, I needed to do advanced maths. I got to university and one of the girls from my class who had done basic maths was in the degree. Of course, it helps to have some understanding, but it is a skill set that you can pick up.”

2. Complete your CA before you leave home to work overseas

When Marshall and her husband moved to London for a year after getting married, she hadn’t done her CA. “It was a big mistake,” she says. “You can earn more money if you’ve done the CA program first. Over there [in the UK], they don’t see you as qualified if you don’t have it.”

3. Being in tax and accounting gives you the chance to make a difference in the community

“If you have a bent towards wanting to contribute to the community, as many young people do, a career in accounting is a great way to do that. I’ve been on a number of non-profit boards, where my skills as an accountant have been highly valued.”


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