Date posted: 11/10/2019 8 min read

Making accounting count for Indigenous Australians

Matthew Jones CA works with footy legend turned entrepreneur Adam Goodes, and says accounting can change Indigenous lives.

In Brief

  • Indigenous accountant Matthew Jones CA had a practice advising small businesses, but now works as national business development manager for Nogard Australia, an Indigenous-owned company that supplies industrial safety equipment.
  • Jones says business is a way to change and develop Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships.
  • There are currently only about 50 Indigenous accountants qualified in Australia, but CA ANZ is part of an initiative to grow this number.

In 2019, Matthew Jones CA contacted AFL legend Adam Goodes to talk about ways his accounting practice could do more work with Indigenous-owned businesses.

Their first meeting went so well that Goodes, the 2014 Australian of the Year, wound up recruiting the accountant to take a senior role in one of his own business ventures.

Jones had approached Goodes due to the former footballer’s position as chief executive of the Indigenous Defence & Infrastructure Consortium, an organisation that advocates for Indigenous-owned businesses to be in the Defence supply chain. As an Indigenous chartered accountant, then running his own practice focused on Indigenous-owned small businesses, Jones believed his practice had skills to offer.

“About halfway through our meeting, Adam said ‘I think I’ve got another role for you. Just bear with me and I’ll see if I can flesh this out’,” Jones recalls.

That ‘role’ turned out to be national business development manager for Nogard Australia, an Indigenous-owned business that supplies industrial safety equipment. Goodes is its co-founder, majority owner and chair.

For Jones, it was the perfect opportunity to transition from advising Indigenous businesses to actually operating one. It put into practice his diverse experience, which includes six years as a Naval officer before a move into accounting. During his accounting career Jones has worked across public practice, tax, insolvency and finance.

Nogard Australia was officially launched in August 2019, but has quickly become Australia’s largest Indigenous-owned industrial and safety supply business, with a projected annual turnover in excess of A$12 million dollars. The business model leverages opportunities being created by the Commonwealth Indigenous Procurement Policy.

An Indigenous accountant aiming for the ASX 200

Matthew Jones CA Picture: Matthew Jones CA.

“I’d always wanted to use my skillset to deliver that process improvement and advice to Indigenous business, and I’d done that with my practice,” says Jones, whose family comes from the Torres Strait.

“My ambitions have grown as I have taken the role with Nogard. I love working in an Indigenous-owned business as it allows me to integrate my culture into my workday, but eventually I’d also like to take on a non-executive board role with an ASX-listed company. Last time I looked there were no Indigenous people in senior leadership positions among the ASX 200.”

Brisbane-based Jones, 36, is committed to using his own ‘social capital’ (that all-important trust and connection within the community and business) to advance Indigenous business in Australia.

He sees Indigenous business as being “stymied” by what he calls the “three Cs: a lack of social capital, financial capital and connections”.

“As a CA and a former military officer and soon to be an MBA, I do have significant social capital and I find that people respect my opinion more than if I didn’t have these qualifications and experiences,” says Jones, who transitioned to a career in accounting in his late 20s after leaving the Royal Australian Navy.

“At Nogard Australia I have the advantage of all these ‘three Cs’ working for me. I think the company has the potential to grow rapidly in the next two to three years and that is a great opportunity.”

Business is a catalyst for Indigenous careers

Jones says his CA skills have given him a framework beyond accounting and into the broader business world.

“When you are a CA and you talk to business owners, you are able to assess their quantitative data and qualitative information as well, so you can give them individualised advice,” he says.

“If you understand the numbers that is great, but the story is also about people, communication and emotional intelligence.”

“If you understand the numbers that is great, but the story is also about people, communication and emotional intelligence.”
Matthew Jones CA

Indigenous businesses, he says, would benefit significantly from more CAs working in their ranks, combining accounting skills with an ability to communicate in a “culturally appropriate way”.

“Business is a catalyst for improving Indigenous career outcomes,” he says.

“We need Indigenous entrepreneurs in accelerator programs. We need young Indigenous people who are talented in mathematics to go into STEM careers, and we need Indigenous CAs.

“And looking at the bigger picture, we have a wonderful opportunity to reshape the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia together, and business is one way we can do that.”

Growing Indigenous accountant numbers

In 2012, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and CPA Australia formed Indigenous Accountants Australia (IAA), a joint initiative to promote the benefits of accounting as a profession to Indigenous communities. The ultimate goal is to increase the representation of Indigenous Australians in all areas of the accounting profession.

Across the combined memberships of CA ANZ and CPA Australia, there are currently about 50 professionally qualified accountants who identify as Indigenous Australians. IAA is focused on growing this number.

IAA national relationship manager Matthew Lancaster believes respectful cultural inclusion is the way forward for Australian businesses, the accounting profession and communities.

“I have always said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are guardians of the land, not just spiritually, but professionally,” Lancaster says.

“This does not mean we abandon our culture and identity – it is about understanding the rules of the game. With accounting skills, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can be the force of change.”

With Indigenous-owned businesses in Australia generating more than A$2 billion each year (PwC estimated Indigenous businesses added between A$2.2 billion and A$6.6 billion to the Australian economy in 2016), there is a clear opportunity to increase the number of Indigenous accountants.

“We have a wonderful opportunity to reshape the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia together, and business is one way we can do that.”
Matthew Jones CA

Read more:

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand is proud to be a part of the Indigenous Accountants Australia Initiative (IAA). Find out more about the IAA, including information on scholarships and other resources available to support Indigenous Australians wanting to pursue a career in accounting, visit indigenousaccountants.com.au

If you are an Indigenous Australian, of any age, and would like to chat about the many paths to a career as an accountant – whether you are in high school, TAFE, university or working in a different field and looking for a change – you can contact IAA national relationship manager Matthew Lancaster directly via matthew.lancaster@charteredaccountantsanz.com

October is Indigenous Business Month, celebrating Indigenous ingenuity. To find out more about the program of events and workshops happening around the country in October, go to indigenousbusinessmonth.com.au