Discuss the arguments by Nikidehaghani and Cortese (2021)
Discuss the arguments by Nikidehaghani and Cortese (2021) that accounting rationalities were intertwined with the process of governing Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. In your discussion, make
(Job)Keeping up appearances Mona Nikidehaghani and Corinne Cortese University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia Abstract Purpose–The purpose of this paper is to critique the Australian Government’s JobKeeper scheme and demonstrate how accounting rationalities were intertwined with the process of governing the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.Design/methodology/approach–Adopting a Foucauldian perspective, the authors make use of public discourse to draw attention to the centrality of accounting and quantitative techniques that were used to support government interventions during the pandemic.
Findings–The authors show that accounting numbers, techniques and quantitative information were mobilised by the government as a way of formulating and implementing the JobKeeper scheme, a program designed to minimise the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Originality/value–The authors demonstrate the centrality of accounting concepts as a rhetorical device and their use by government in times of crisis.
KeywordsCOVID-19, Governmentality, JobKeeper, Foucault Paper typeResearch paper Introduction COVID-19 has incited extraordinary global crises. The impacts on global health have been devastating and the flow-on effect to economies around the world has been catastrophic.
Recent estimates indicate that COVID-19 could hinder global economic growth by 3.0–6.0% in 2020 (Jacksonet al., 2020). While the full impact of the pandemic is yet to be known, the economic downturn from the pandemic could lead to the deepest global economic recession in decades (World Bank, 2020).
Around the globe, government policies have focussed on managing the health of populations and decreasing the negative economic impacts of the pandemic (World Bank, 2020). Amidst such extraordinary crisis, it is important for accounting scholars to debate the role of accounting in policies and practices that are introduced to manage the economic impacts of the pandemic. The presence of accounting must be subjected to critique so that its role in (re)creating and (re)affirming societal norms is not taken for granted. In an attempt to manage this unprecedented crisis, some advanced countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia and European countries have adopted wage subsidies to encourage employers not to dismiss their workers (Tetlowet al., 2020). This paper investigates the implications of accounting in the Australian wage subsidy program, namely the JobKeeper Payment.
Examining this Australian policy response to the pandemic is important since Australia is considered one of the most successful countries in responding to COVID-19 (Sachset al., 2020). In addition to being relatively successful in“flattening the curve”, Australia is better positioned than most developed countries in terms of economic recovery (OECD, 2020). The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently heralded Australia’s“macroeconomic policy support, including the temporary wage subsidy”as central to the management of the economic impacts of COVID-19 (OECD, 2020, p. 136).
Further, the Australian wage subsidy scheme distinguishes itself from similar programs AAAJ 34,6 1502 The authors are grateful for the constructive and helpful comments provided by the anonymous reviewers on earlier versions of the paper. In addition, the authors thank the special issue editors for their support, insights and suggestions.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
https://www.emerald.com/insight/0951-3574.htm Received 31 August 2020 Revised 13 December 2020 4 March 2021 Accepted 5 April 2021 Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal Vol. 34 No. 6, 2021 pp. 1502-1512 © Emerald Publishing Limited 0951-3574 DOI10.1108/AAAJ-08-2020-4862 introduced in other countries by offering a flat rate to all eligible employees regardless of hours worked or wages typically earned (Tetlowet al., 2020).
In this paper, we interrogate the associated accounting techniques and terminologies and their role in helping to form government rhetoric and policy response in relation to the management of the economic impacts of COVID-19. Drawing on public discourse, we show how accounting concepts have helped to shape particular outcomes for businesses and individuals during this time of crisis, providing a mechanism“through which programmes of government are made operable”(Mennicken and Miller, 2012, p. 7). Throughout our analysis and discussion, we are guided byFoucaultet al.’s (1991)notion of governmentality.
Specifically, we observe how accounting techniques embedded within the JobKeeper program have facilitated“government at a distance”(Miller and Rose, 1990, p. 9), enabling rules to be“brought about in an indirect manner”(Miller and Rose, 1990, p. 10) in order to stabilise Australia’s collapsing economy and preserve the working status of citizens during the pandemic.
This paper joins well-established accounting research thatchallenges the conceptualisation of accounting as a neutral technique for documenting financial and economic reality (for example,Cooperet al., 2016;Papiet al., 2019) while also revealing the political aspects of accounting (Xuet al., 2019). Joining scholars includingFourcade and Healy (2013),Sikka (2011)andZhang and Andrew (2014), we are interested in revealing the contributions of accounting to operationalisations of neoliberal ideologies throughout the world. As noted byMennicken and Miller (2012, p. 7),“accounting technologies [make] it possible to articulate and operationalize abstract neoliberal concepts, such as competitiveness, markets, efficiency and entrepreneurship”. However, we argue that accounting and quantitative technologies have been instrumental in preserving the identity of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic through the JobKeeper program, which has“aligned social and personal conduct with the socio-political objectives”of the government (Gilbert, 2020;Miller and Rose, 1990, p. 2).
In a neoliberal state such as Australia, government policies and programs are designed to encourage individual economic citizenship (Nikidehaghaniet al., 2019) with the intention that economically responsible citizens will contribute to the neoliberal objectives of the government (Chiapello, 2017; Moraleset al., 2014). While we acknowledge the very real need to simply keep an economy going in a time of such crisis, the JobKeeper scheme has distinct neoliberal characteristics: the specific intent of the program is to keep workers connected to their employer and the workforce, and the payments are made to employees by the government through the employer, with the objective of enabling businesses to“bounce back”(Prime Minister of Australia, 2020a) following the pandemic. The JobKeeper program, therefore, represents an example, whereby accounting numbers and techniques provide a mechanism for the state to invest billions of dollars in welfare-like schemes that in fact preserve the underlying neoliberal ideology of the government.
In the sections that follow, we describe the theoretical framing of the paper, based on governmentality, and we introduce the data on which the paper is based. We then provide details of the JobKeeper program and demonstrate the role of accounting in managing the Australian economy during the COVID-19 pandemic before offering some concluding comments.
Governmentality Michel Foucault’s lecture on“Governmentality”, given in 1978 and published in 1991, provides the foundation for our interpretation of the Australian Government’s attempt to manage the social and economic fallout from COVID-19. Foucault considers government as the“conduct of conducts”(Foucault, 1982, p. 221), that is exercised through various The Australian Government’s JobKeeper scheme 1503 institutions, techniques and practices that are aimed at shaping and directing individuals’ and groups’conducts (Foucault, 1982;Foucaultet al.,1991). It is through this“ensemble”of “institutions, procedures, analyses, [and] calculations”that governmentality is able to exercise a“very specific and complex form of power”(Foucault, 1982) over the target population. This population, according to Foucault, is an“object in the hands of the government…aware of what it wants…but ignorant of what is being done to it”(1991, p. 100).
Governmentality, therefore, is an analytical concept that perceives government as a system of power (Miller and Rose, 1990). To examine the exercise of power by the government involves problematisation or“identification of the specific situation in which governing is called into question”(Tregidga, 2013, p. 810).Miller and Rose (1990, p. 4) argue that this evaluation process is“programmatic”; it proliferates programs for (re)forming reality and creates an“eternal optimism”that a society, domain or population could be better, or that it could be more effectively be administered or“that reality is, in some way or other, programmable”Miller and Rose (1990). Seen in this way, government programs arise in response to specifically identified problems. Further, governmentality is configured around a perpetual identification of the problems and failures of the government; the failure of one policy is always linked to the introduction of another program that could deliver a better outcome (Miller and Rose, 1990).
The knowledge and contributions of experts–and the procedures by which they problematise the failures of government–is central to the art of government: it is through the language of experts that problems of government are elaborated and solutions are articulated (Rose and Miller, 1992). As stated byFoucaultet al.(1991), governmentality consists of a complex domain of knowledge,“savoirs”, and series of procedures and techniques,“regimes of practices”(p. 103). Governmental knowledge consists of ways of representing an event or domain such that it could be amenable to calculation and intervention (Kurunm € aki and Miller, 2011). This leads to the development of“programmes”of government–“sets of calculated, reasoned prescriptions in terms of which institutions are meant to be reorganized, spaces arranged, behaviours regulated”(Foucaultet al., 1991, p. 80). Such programs are legitimised by the language of experts and are underpinned by certain political rationalities (Rose and Miller, 1992). Experts are able to instil a sense of legitimacy to the proposed solutions they offer (Foucaultet al., 1991) and the inscription of those solutions with numbers provide “unmistakeable power”(Rose, 1991, p. 673) to those in government.Rose and Miller (1992) argue that problems of government should be analysed in terms of governmental technologies, those“mundane programmes, calculations, techniques, apparatuses, and procedures (pp. 175–176) through which the aspirations of government is linked with the activities of individuals and population. To connect the technologies of the government with governmental programmes, accounting scholars draw onLatour’s (1987) notion of“action at a distance”They demonstrate the capacity of accounting techniques to give measurable visibility to the domain under governance (Maranet al., 2016); in particular the ability of accounting numbers to bring distant knowledge to the centre, empowering the formation of knowledge that facilitates the“action at a distance”(Miller and Rose, 1990;Robson, 1992). In this way,“domination [is] made possible by those at the centre having information about persons and events distant from them”(Miller and Rose, 1990, p. 9). Drawing on the notion of governmentality, we demonstrate that Jobkeeper is a program of government designed to minimise the economic impacts of the pandemic while maintaining the neoliberal ideals of the government. Accounting techniques and discourses embedded within the JobKeeper program functioned as a technology of the government to facilitate“action at a distance”.
To understand JobKeeper’s mechanics, we first examine the data that laid the foundation for the COVID-19 health and economic crisis for the Australian Government. In doing so, we draw on publicly available discourse collected in June 2020 from Department of Health Website and Australian Treasury Website. Data obtained from these sources include AAAJ 34,6 1504 situation reports on COVID-19, current statistics, numbers of cases, from February 2020 to June 2020, and transcripts of speeches given by the Treasurer to address the economic impacts of the pandemic in May 2020. To further understand the rationale of the Government in the adoption of the JobKeeper program, we review the transcripts of speeches made by the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, in March 2020. To demonstrate the manner in which accounting techniques of“notation, computation and calculations”(Neu, 2006, p. 393) facilitated the management of the economy during this crisis, we accessed Australian Taxation Office, The Treasury Website and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to analyse the JobKeeper program guidelines, reviews and outcomes created in May, June and August 2020.
Analysis The first COVID-19 case in Australia was confirmed on 25 January 2020. As a response, on 1 February, the Australian government closed its border to Mainland China. Visitors who transited through Mainland China were not allowed into Australia and those arriving in Australia were instructed to self-isolate (Woods, 2020). For almost 30 days, there was no evidence of community transmission in Australia; however, health authorities were concerned that if a global pandemic were to develop regulations and restrictions would be required to prevent a widespread community health crisis (Woods, 2020). Accordingly, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) endorsed and activated an Emergency Response Plan for COVID-19to guide the Australian health sector responses. In facilitating their response plan, the health authorities sought to determine the levels of the risk amongst various sectors of the populations, noting the importance of“quantify(ing) the overall impact of the outbreak”(Australian Government, 2020, p. 3). The Department of Health developed a COVID-19 Current Situation and Case Numbers website, which presented live reports and daily information on the latest case numbers, recoveries, death, new cases, source of infection, admissions to hospitals, status of aged-care services and in–home cares, broken down by States and territories, age and sex, as well as a comparison between Australia and the world (Department of Health, 2020).
The power afforded to this quantified data is significant. Numbers are elevated to a “privileged status”(Rose, 1991, p. 674) in political decision-making; they have the perception of neutrality and stability which ascribes the view that“‘the numbers do no’t lie’”(Andrew et al.inBirch and Sicard, 2020). As a technology of government, the capacity for numbers and statistics to reduce“the complexity of experience to a single comparable, quotable, calculable number”(Rose, 1991, p. 680) gives effect to a form of political power that can justify intervention and control from a distance (Miller and Rose, 1990).
As our analysis shows, the data gathered about COVID-19 at the State and Territory level are sent to the Federal government, the centre and becomes the basis for national-level decision-making. Through quantification, the pandemic became a“knowable object” (Foucault, 1977;Greer and McNicholas, 2017) and thereby amenable to intervention. For example, on 12 March Australia reported 130 confirmed cases, which, compared to 24 cases on 1 March, revealed a rapid increase in the spread of the virus in Australia (Department of Health, 2020). This, combined with the increase in confirmed cases globally to 125,260 including 4,631 deaths, as well as global stock market crashes, led to the introduction of a series of Australian Government policies to manage the pandemic. The government policies included social distancing measures to control the spread of the virus and monetary policies to“secure Australians’ job and livelihood and set Australia up to bounce back stronger when the crisis is over”(Prime Minister of Australia, 2020a,b,c).
The first economic package of $17.6bn aimed at keeping Australians in their jobs and businesses in business (Prime Minister of Australia, 2020b).Miller and Rose (1990)note that The Australian Government’s JobKeeper scheme 1505 these types of programs are a form of“governmentality”in that they attempt to“shape the economic or social conduct of diverse and institutionally distinct persons and agencies without shattering their formally distinct or‘autonomous’character”(Miller and Rose, 1990, p. 14). The program relies on an accounting mechanism embedded within it to help to identify eligible recipients. For example, $25,000 tax-free cash flow assistance was available to businesses with a turnover of less than $50m that employed staff between 1 January and 30 June 2020 (Prime Minister of Australia, 2020b). The package also encouraged the employment of around 120,000 trainees by offering a 50% wage subsidy (Prime Minister of Australia, 2020b). The daily reports on the progress of COVID-19 showed a dramatic increase in the number of community transmission cases; by 18 March, Australia had 511 confirmed cases.
In response, the Australian Government cancelled ANZAC Day ceremonies, banned indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor events of more than 500 people (Prime Minister of Australia, 2020a). Despite these social distancing measurements, there continued to be rapid increases in the daily number of cases; by 21 March Australia reported 1,082 confirmed cases. Subsequently, the government imposed strict social distancing measures of four square metres per person and closed its borders to all visitors with mandatory self- quarantine of 14 days for repatriating Australians (Woods, 2020). The government also increased its stimulus packages to Australian businesses (Prime Minister of Australia, 2020a). Despite these restrictions, the health crisis escalated; on 24 March, Australia reported 423 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 2,133. Further closures were mandated with businesses such as restaurants, pubs, cafes, gyms and beauty salons ordered to close their doors (Prime Minister of Australia, 2020a).
With many businesses in Australia shutting down and furloughing staff, Australia was facing significant growth in its rate of unemployment. The Australian Government’sSocial Services website, MyGov, crashed as thousands sought to apply for unemployment benefits, and the newly-unemployed formed long queues outside social services offices around the country (Hentiques-Gomes, 2020). The Australian Government estimated that the shutdowns would lead to a 10% increase in unemployment (Worthington, 2020) and to a 10–12% decline in GDP in the June quarter (Frydenburg, 2020). It was predicted that if the restrictions were increased, GDP could fall by 24%, which would cause long-term damage to Australia’s financial system (Frydenburg, 2020). It was estimated that every week of the restrictions would cost the national economy around $4bn, which approximates the weekly median wage for four million Australians (Frydenburg, 2020). The government predicted that due to the unprecedented business closures brought about by the pandemic, at least one million people could become unemployed and join the 700,000 others already receiving welfare benefits (Worthington, 2020).
These statistics gave visibility to the long-termeconomic and social impacts of unemployment.
There was a concern that when citizens became welfare recipients, it would then be difficult to later (re)connect them with the workforce (Frydenburg, 2020). This highlighted the need for a program that could“get people back into jobs and back into work”(Frydenburg, 2020); Australia needed a plan to keep more people in work and businesses alive (Prime Minister of Australia, 2020a,c). This plan was JobKeeper: an historic $130bn wage subsidy program which would pay the salaries of six million Australians for six months (Prime Minister of Australia, 2020a).
The JobKeeper program, introduced on 30 March, is a temporary wage subsidy scheme for companies, sole traders and not-for-profit organisations significantly affected by COVID-19 (Australian Taxation Office, 2020a). Eligible businesses receive $1,500 per fortnight for each eligible employee. In line with the intention of the program to keep Australian workers connected to their employers so that businesses could“bounce back”following the pandemic (Prime Minister of Australia, 2020a), the government does not directly pay individuals; rather it reimburses employers for wages paid in the previous month.
In considerations of governmentality,Foucaultet al.(1991)stressed the value of experts in articulating the problems of government and in formulating solutions. In the case of AAAJ 34,6 1506 JobKeeper, numbers offer the“unmistakable power”(Rose, 1991, p. 673); the program is administered by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and draws on financial information prepared by businesses. In particular, the accounting concept ofturnoveris the basis for quantifying the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and this determines whether or not an entity is eligible to receive the wage subsidy. The business must compare its actual turnover for a month or quarter from 2019 with a forecast for the same period in 2020 (ATO, 2020a).
Business applicants who can demonstrate a 30% fall in turnover (for an aggregate turnover of $1bn or less), a 50% fall in turnover (for an aggregate turnover of more than $1bn) or 15% fall in turnover (for not-for-profit organisations) become eligible for JobKeeper payments (ATO, 2020a). Notably, as businesses attempted to register for JobKeeper payments, errors made on the enrolment forms meant that instead of businesses reporting the number of eligible employees, they reported the amount of assistance they expected to receive (Grattan, 2020). For example, business with“1”eligible employee were reporting a figure of“1,500”, which is the amount of the JobKeeper payment that they would expect to receive under the scheme for that employee (Cortese and Nikidehaghani, 2020;Grattan, 2020). This type of reporting error occurred for approximately 1,000 businesses, resulting in the overstatement of roughly 1.5 million eligible employees to the amount of $60bn (Irvine, 2020). The government simply stated it as a reporting error and dismissed requests to allocate the $60bn difference to support other individuals in financial need, for example, temporary visa holders and international students (Grattan, 2020).
Given that the purpose of the program was to maintain the employment status of working citizens (Frydenburg, 2020), eligible employers are required to nominate all employees, including full-time, part-time, fixed-term and long-term casual employees, who were employed at 1 March 2020, though employees whose work was terminated after 1 March could also be eligible for the JobKeeper payment (ATO, 2020b). In the case of JobKeeper, when businesses enrol for the payment, they must report detailed financial information of the business and their employees. This includes reporting a fall in turnover, expected numbers of eligible employees and business participants, as well as bank details of the business.
Employers must also report employee details, including their name, tax file number, date of birth and the period they are eligible for the payment. More importantly, businesses must prepare a monthly declaration to ATO each month to receive reimbursements for the JobKeeper payments made to the eligible employees. The monthly declaration requires further financial information and demands the businesses to declare the actual turnover for the month and a projected turnover for the following months reconfirm employee’s details including their wages and notify any changes in the employment status of their staff. All information is recorded in theBusiness Portal(https://bp.ato.gov.au), where employers use a personalised myGovID to enrol in the program and demonstrate their ongoing eligibility for the payment.
This detailed financial knowledge of individuals and businesses not only makes businesses and employees“knowable”it also facilitates a means by which the government can“control and subordinate individuals and populations”(Rose, 1991, p. 676). The process of “statisicalization”(Rose, 1991) of the COVID-19 impacts on businesses becomes intertwined with analyses of the effectiveness of the scheme. Financial information gathered through the portal enables the ATO to identify false claims, for example through the examination of deviations between actual and projected turnover or identification of payments to ineligible employees (ATO, 2020b ). The lived experiences of those eligible, or ineligible, for JobKeeper fall outside the boundaries of public rhetoric; it is the numbers that help to configure what is politically visible (Rose, 1991).
In line with the political rhetoric of preserving the working status of the citizens, the JobKeeper scheme required employers to pay all eligible employees at least the flat rate of $1,500 (before tax) per fortnight, even if their usual earnings were less than this amount. For The Australian Government’s JobKeeper scheme 1507 some employers, this meant that some casual workers would earn more than their usual wages, and some full-time employees would earn less. As a result, some organisations reduced the working hours for full-time staff and used the JobKeeper payment to pay the salary of all employees, meaning that some employees were suddenly working less and receiving less income and others were required to work more (ATO, 2020b).
During its June review of the program, the Treasury determined that the JobKeeper scheme had achieved the objective of preserving the employment status of citizens. The decline in rates of employment had stabilised and even recovered (The Treasury, 2020). The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported just a 1% increase in Australia’s unemployment rate in April 2020 (from 5.2% to 6.2%) (ABS, 2020a).
While eligible employees have no doubt benefitted from this important political initiative, critically, from a neoliberal perspective, the privileged role of business in Australia’s economy is maintained (Andrewet al., 2020). Different from similar schemes operating elsewhere, like New Zealand for example, Australian corporations were not required to disclose how their JobKeeper payments were being distributed among employees. This has led some critics to refer to JobKeeper as“DividendKeeper”(Leigh, 2020), as some wage subsidies have been diverted to dividends. The ABS reported for the June 2020 quarter a 15% increase in company profits across many sectors despite declines in economic activity, hours worked and national demand (ABS, 2020b). Moreover, some large companies still qualified for JobKeeper payments even though an after tax profit was reported. For example, one listed company that reported 19% increase in profit after tax, qualified for $11.3m in JobKeeper, which amounted to approximately 60% of the $18.6m in dividends payments later declared by the company (Butler, 2020).
At the time of its inception, the JobKeeperscheme was expected to end by 27 September 2020. In order to give business“time to restore their balance sheets”(The Treasury, 2020, p. 8), it was decided that the scheme would be extended into 2021. Sectoral variation was blamed for the time disparity in economic recovery, andThe Treasury (2020,p.7)also noted that some features of the program served to“distort wage relativities between lower and higher paid jobs, dampen incentives to work, and hamper the reallocation of workers to more productive roles”. It was determined that a revised program would continue beyond September 2020, with modified eligibility criteria and rates of payment (The Treasury, 2020).
While modifications to JobKeeper are reasonable in light of the haste with which the original scheme was introduced, from the perspective of governmentality it is interesting to note that the actions of the Australian Government are reflective of whatMiller and Rose (1990)would consider the“programmatic”character of governmentality. As they describe, governmentality is programmatic insofar as there are attempts by the government, as we can clearly see in the JobKeeper scheme, to reform reality, but governmentality is also programmatic in that“the“failure”of one policy or set of policies is always linked to attempts to devise or propose programmes that would work better, that would deliver economic growth, productivity, low inflation, full employment or the like”(Miller and Rose, 1990, p. 4).
The accounting concept of turnover embedded within the modified program will enable a targeted approach and reduce the adverse incentives of JobKeeper (The Treasury, 2020).
From 28 September, businesses must reassess their eligibility with reference to their actual turnover in the June and September quarters. The government will also introduce a tiered payment scheme. From 28 September 2020 to 3 January 2021, the payment rate will be $1,200 per fortnight for employees who in the four weeks before 1 March 2020 were working 20 h or more a week and $750 per fortnight for employees who were working less than 20 h a week.
From 4 January, the rate will be further reduced to $1,000 per fortnight for employees who were working more than 20 h a week and $650 for those who were working less than 20 h a week (The Treasury, 2020). AAAJ 34,6 1508 Concluding comments There is no doubt that government intervention is important and necessary in a crisis such as that brought to bear by COVID-19. Our motivation was to explore the role that accounting played in facilitating the Australian Government’s economic response to governing the nation during the pandemic. We argue that accounting enabled“government at a distance” (Miller and Rose, 1990, p. 9) because the Australian Government was able to mobilise its activities and agendas through the JobKeeper scheme, which operated through business operations and not directly through government agencies.
Accounting information was central in giving visibility to the problems of government and to offering solutions. Quantification of the health impacts of the pandemic and presentation of the economic consequences of COVID-19 rationalised the need for continued governmental intervention to manage the pandemic. Further, problematisation and quantification of the crisis facilitated the formulation of solutions to problems of government in the form of economic stimulus packages. In addition, statistical information on GDP rate of employment enabled articulation of the success or failure of the solutions and the (re)formulation of new policies.
We show how accounting techniques embedded within the JobKeeper program enabled it to function as a divisive practice; the categorisation of businesses according to actual and budgeted turnover facilitated decisions about eligibility. This decision about eligibility, in turn, enabled the government to tailor strategies that subsequently directed the conduct of businesses and their employees. In the case of JobKeeper payments, employers acted as the agents of the government, offering to the“centre”an opportunity to govern“at a distance” (Miller and Rose, 1990, p. 9). The accounting information extracted from business reports prepared by employers, such as employees’working hours and wages, facilitates knowing the financial circumstances of employees. This, in turn, enabled identifying individual’scompliance with the prescribed form of citizenship which favours economically responsible citizens. In other words, individuals act“in conformity with the [neoliberal] rationality of government, and without intervention”(Foucault, 1986, p. 242, cited inMiller and Rose, 1990,p.9).
Although $60bn was“found”due to the significant forecasting error resulting from hasty implementation of the program, these resources were not allocated to other areas in need. The state clearly demonstrated its preference for business and economic stability, with accounting an appropriate technology to aid the government in managing this time of crisis. As such, this study extends the stream of the literature (Bigoniet al., 2018;Gilbert, 2020;Nikidehaghaniet al., 2019) that explores the manner in which accounting practices and discourse enable execution of governmental strategies, by showing the role of accounting in managing the nation during a pandemic. Considering the recent extension of JobKeeper, further research is required to investigate the impacts of the program for businesses and individuals. Due to the ongoing conditions of COVID-19, this study was limited to publicly available data. It will be interesting to examine the experiences of employers and employees and large and small organisations with respect to the JobKeeper scheme. The political climate and the policy responses that move alongside them are also likely to continue to change as the stages of the pandemic are felt around the world. On this point, the political and ideological shifts that accompany various governments will provide interesting sites for analysis and discussion.
Note 1. However, this did not include JobKeeper recipients who did not work at all during this period.
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