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POP Mark Morris interviews Leigh Conlan: Career change is the only constant (or Doors a Latrobe Economic Degree can Unlock)

In this two-part blog entry, Professor of Practice Mark Morris discusses what innovation means in accounting, as well as what a career in accounting entails today, together with Leigh Conlan from Specialist Accounting Services. Leigh is also a La Trobe Business School graduate graduating in 1982 with a Bachelor in Economics.

Mark Morris: II understand that you are an alumni of La Trobe University

Leigh Conlan: Yes Mark, I studied economics and graduated in 1982 from La Trobe University. Following the completion of my degree with La Trobe, I was able to branch out into a variety of roles in both the public and private sectors.

Mark Morris: It seems these days that university graduates these days don’t have a job for life. Can you share with me your experience in relation to changes in your career?

Leigh Conlan: Absolutely. I have been fortunate to work for a number of organisations in a variety of capacities including accounting, economics, tax advisory, legislative analysis, and R&D consulting. I started out as a tax investigator with the ATO which was interesting work for a graduate as it allowed me to get a great perspective on private enterprise and in particular smaller organisations where accounting and the law intersect. Following this role, I transitioned to the ACCC which was then the Trade Practices Commission where I was heavily involved in litigation and policy objectives. What I found interesting in this role was, more specifically, price fixing collusion and conspiracy activities and investigations.

Mark Morris: So you were a corporate cop Leigh?

Leigh Conlan: Yes, essentially.

Mark Morris: And then you came over to private enterprise?

Leigh Conlan: That’s right, I came over to the dark side and started consulting in private enterprise. I worked for a number of big firms and was a partner of one of the larger accounting firms in Australia before I started my own practice.

Mark Morris: And what has your experience been like in respect of changes in roles?

Leigh Conlan: What I have found is that there is nothing wrong with a change of career and that change should always be embraced. In these modern times it is not only organisations that need to be agile and adaptive but this also applies to employees and individuals. To a certain extent change and being adaptive is a part of Australia’s history. Automation, fast changing technological and geopolitical changes will dictate market behaviour and employment opportunities.

Mark Morris: So how do you keep abreast of new developments in government policy and public-private collaboration?

Leigh Conlan: Well I am a member of the National Reference Group which is a peak body of private practitioners, the ATO and AusIndustry. I represent the CPA’s on that group which me enables to interface between public policy developments and issues from industry. I am also a member of the State Reference Group which provides further practical application.

Mark Morris: I gather that your ability to adapt and change led you to starting your accounting practice?

Leigh Conlan: Correct, I started Specialist Accounting Services a number of years back with a focus on providing high quality services in the fields of indirect tax and R&D advice.

Mark Morris: Can you tell me a little more about Specialist Accounting Services and how you differentiate yourselves against other service providers in this space?

Leigh Conlan: Sure. We differentiate ourselves by being an organisation which has the expertise across a range of industries relating to R&D. Specialist Accounting Services also employs a range of specialised technical consultants from the engineering and bio medical fields to leverage expertise in accordance with clients in these respective fields. This enables a better understanding of our clients’ needs and enables a smooth process through the R&D tax application process. This also empowers us to have a nurturing a close and positive working relationship with our clients. We also carry out services in respect of litigation support and competition policy assistance. Lastly, we provide a high quality service enabling our clients to receive a beneficial tax outcomes in accordance with the government legislation and the AusIndustry framework.

Mark Morris: Well, thank you for your time today Leigh. It has been a pleasure talking with you

Leigh Conlan: It was my pleasure. Thanks Mark.

POP Mark Morris interviews Leigh Conlan: Supercharging R&D and collaboration

Professor of Practice Mark Morris (left) and Leigh Conlan (right)

In this two-part blog entry, Professor of Practice Mark Morris discusses what innovation means in accounting, as well as what a career in accounting entails today, together with Leigh Conlan from Specialist Accounting Services. Leigh is also a La Trobe Business School graduate graduating in 1982 with a Bachelor in Economics.

Mark Morris: I am pleased to introduce Leigh Conlan of Specialist Accounting Services to discuss the recent government innovation statement and incentives that the government has introduced for both private and research organisations in respect of R&D. Leigh, Good morning.

Leigh Conlan: Good Morning Mark.

Mark Morris: Now Leigh, I understand you run a consultancy practice in the R&D space and you advise a broad range of clients.

Leigh Conlan: That’s correct Mark, we run a specialist practice service and in fact, operate under a company name Specialist Account Services Pty Ltd.

Mark Morris: That’s great Leigh. Tell me about some of your clients.

Leigh Conlan: Well we advise a range of clients from small medium enterprises through to large corporations and government departments. We offer a professional assistance to all businesses and research providers in the matters of R&D tax incentives and government grants

Mark Morris: That’s a good segue into my next topic which is around the innovation statement released by the government. What do you think the government’s approach is in this regard Leigh?

Leigh Conlan: As you know Mark, the innovation statement is built on four key pillars but it is important to keep in mind Mark that this is the first time that there has been a comprehensive tying together of all of the research and development governmental policy objectives.

Mark Morris: So can you provide some further insight into the four pillars that the government has outlined in the innovation statement

Leigh Conlan: Well briefly speaking these four pillars as outlined in the National Innovation and Science Agenda statement being ‘Culture and capital’, ‘Collaboration’, ‘Talent and skills’, ‘Government as an exemplar’. Within these pillars are specific areas that the government is targeting. For example the government has set up a $20Billion Medical Research Fund to increase funding in the areas of medical research and innovation. Another example, which may relate to La Trobe, is the government R&D funding of $2.8Billion to universities and the higher education sectors. There are also other funding initiatives such as cyber security innovation and other IT projects the government has initiated. These overall projects form only a snapshot of government funding examples but provides a glimpse of the overall innovation policy and where the government is heading in respect of stimulating research and development.

Mark Morris: So what is the majority emphasis of the government funding Leigh?

Leigh Conlan: Well Mark, the big spend by the government is still the R&D tax incentive which equates to just over $4.5Billion per annum. While the majority of that money goes into business, it should be kept in mind that research service providers also greatly benefit from this policy and there are valuable private business spinoffs from research organisations.

Mark Morris: When you talk about R&D, it’s not all lab coat style research projects is it?

Leigh Conlan: Not at all. We see R&D in areas where you would not ordinarily think that R&D would apply. Research and Development takes place in a variety of forms and industries. Some examples may be building and construction, on farms and of course software development. We have come across a number of private organisations, particularly those which are small scale, which were under the misconception that many of their activities would not be considered R&D when in actual fact they may be.

Mark Morris: Can you talk a little more about such products and processes in this regard?

Leigh Conlan: Well, many organisations are undertaking the development of products using a scientific methodology to determine outcomes and therefore creating new knowledge as a result of these activities.  It is also very exciting to see a variety of small to medium enterprises across Australia undertaking a number of dynamic projects which involve Research and Development as well as new commercialisation of innovative products.

Mark Morris: So given you are across many organisations who are at the cutting edge of technology, I assume that you have other areas you advise on?

Leigh Conlan: That’s correct. Specialist Accounting Services is unique as we have technical expertise and we can assist in a variety of capacities including comprehensive advice in the areas of commercialisation, government development and early stage development grants, government support programs and investing in early stage development funding.

Mark Morris: So can you provide more detail in regards to government incentives and programs that you advise in?

Leigh Conlan: Sure, one such program is around the commercialisation Australia program which provides funding of up to $200,000 to assist new organisations and those wanting to test the viability of product commercialisation. Also we have provided advice in relation to cooperative research centre (CRC) project grants as well. The CRC and associated grants is an outcome focused programme designed to support industry while supporting collaboration between industry, research and the community in a competitive framework.

Mark Morris: Have there been many changes by the government in relation to government grants and assistance?

Leigh Conlan: Yes there have been changes in regards to the tech sector that were previously restricted on applying for grants. These have now been removed to stimulate commercialisation and the development of novel IP across a broader range of industries across Australia. We see the government’s focus in this domain is on stimulating new knowledge, local IP and bringing innovative products to market in order to stimulate economic and employment growth.

Mark Morris: So have you seen many examples where universities specifically benefit from the R&D tax incentive scheme?

Leigh Conlan: Yes Mark I have seen this a number of times where universities are providing services to private organisations and where both benefit from the close collaboration undertaken. One such example is one our clients in the ehealth domain where a prominent Victorian university provided research assistance in evaluating IT architecture suitable for gathering information around broad based and large scale health records.

Mark Morris: So this is all research and development expenditure around software and IT?

Leigh Conlan: Correct Mark, we have also been involved with a number of initiatives in the private sector relating specifically to analytics and big data projects.

Mark Morris: Can you elaborate on how these initiatives may provide beneficial outcomes for the private sector, RSPs as well as the general public?

Leigh Conlan: We have seen a number of initiatives carried out by the big four banks in relation to blockchain. The key objective of blockchain is to develop a distributed database ledger which can continuously update records between parties and therefore improve the efficiency of banking transactions.

Mark Morris: That’s very interesting. Do you see any other developments relating to big data in the private sector?

Leigh Conlan: Actually we have also seen developments in the Telecommunications sector where a number of Australian telco’s have been building big data lakes and utilising these data repositories for a number of practical applications such as geolocation, product marketing and improving operational uptime.

For the second part of this interview, keep an eye on the Business Newsroom blog!

La Trobe Business School partners for Sport Development and Peace

Dr Emma Sherry

LBS Associate Professor Emma Sherry recently participated in the inaugural symposium on Sport for Development and Peace, hosted by the University of Illinois as an invited speaker and Town Hall panelist. The symposium, titled Forming Partnerships and Linkages in Sport for Development and Peace: Considerations, Tensions, and Strategies, brought together international academics and sport for development experts and practitioners to discuss how sport, specifically through the creation and nurturing of key partnerships, can be used to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The purpose of the symposium was to bring together scholars, practitioners and students engaged in sport for development and peace (SDP) to create a dialogue about forming and sustaining partnerships and linkages between SDP initiatives and other sectors, the challenges facing partnership development, and strategies to overcome these challenges. The symposium was hosted by the Department of Recreation, Sport, and Tourism (RST) at the University of Illinois, the Sport+Development Lab (SDL), and Play for Change. The SDL is home to faculty and graduate students researching the intersection of sport and development. Play for Change is a registered student organization (RSO) focused on involving undergraduate and graduate students in actionable projects that use sport, recreation, and tourism for social change.

The sport for development and peace (SDP) field has grown exponentially in recent years, with more and more organizations, practitioners, and academics around the world embracing the possible contribution that sport can make to development agendas. SDP can occur at the individual, community, and societal levels. It can be defined as the use of sport as an engine for development through intercultural exchange, conflict resolution and peace building, community building, social inclusion, or programming for interpersonal development or health.

An emerging line of commentary in SDP concerns the nature of partnerships with various industry sectors. Without effective and sustainable partnerships, SDP organizations and scholars cannot viably engage in the field to effect social change; partnerships are the life blood of SDP organizations. However, many challenges and barriers exist that inhibit effective partnerships and linkages. From overcoming power dynamics, to misaligned goals and objectives, challenges can prevent organizations from establishing long-term partnerships and carrying out their missions. Given the international significance of partnerships and collaborations in SDP, much more conversation is needed about the nature of partnerships, their challenges, and effective strategies for forming and sustaining them.

The symposium brought together SDP experts, including Dr Sherry, to share presentations drawing on an original paper written for this symposium. Presenters provided a state of the field synopsis regarding partnerships with a specific sector (for example, health, community organisations, education or national and international bodies), outline challenges for developing and sustaining them, and then propose strategies for addressing these challenges.

In addition to the symposium, there were also two evening public events. On the first night, Dr. John Sugden, one of the world’s foremost experts in SDP and partnership development, provided a keynote address on the history and development of SDP, its current state of the field, and thoughts on developing and sustaining partnerships and linkages. The second night featured a town hall meeting with the symposium presenters focused on the power of sport to work for social good and change, and the challenges associated with doing so.

Dr Sherry noted that although the two-day symposium provided a full schedule for all attendees, the opportunity for international scholars in this field to spend time together to deeply discuss key research, theory-building and opportunities for research collaboration was invaluable. The opportunity for networking and discussion was extended through a very active use of Twitter by those organizing and attending (#sport4change2017) which extended the reach of the symposium to those unable to attend in person. Dr Sherry hopes that this is the first of many such events, and was delighted to be invited to present and share her research in the SDP field.

How our MBA graduates are giving back

By Kelly Griffin

An MBA can advance your career, increase your earning potential and strengthen your network with fellow business leaders.

The professional advantages of pursuing an MBA are widely reported, but what’s less highlighted is the remarkable way our MBA graduates are using their acquired knowledge and networks to give back to their communities.

Here’s how three MBA graduates are giving back.

bernie-squire

Bernie Squire

Bus Manager Wodonga Chamber of Commerce, MBA Grad 2016, Board Member AW Regional Cancer Centre Trust Fund

Why did you decide to study an MBA? 

I was made redundant from a senior management role in the finance industry and I was having difficulty finding another suitable role. After talking with a careers adviser I decided to do an MBA for a couple of reasons; to gain academic credibility and also a better chance of employment at the senior executive/director level. The La Trobe MBA really appealed to me because of the flexible delivery blend of ‘face to face’, ‘block intensive’, and ‘video conference’ unit delivery.

What was one of your greatest learnings or takeaways from your MBA? 

I really benefitted from the cohort network that you develop, including the in-class discussion and debate. I guess for me, however, the biggest takeaways were: a greater appreciation of diversity; the ability to research and reflect on critical issues; and, a heightened awareness of corporate responsibility and sustainability issues.

How did doing your MBA help you give back? 

As the manager of the local Chamber of Commerce, I’ve used my new sustainability knowledge to connect with organisations like ‘The Benefits Corporation’ and ‘Blabs Australia and New Zealand’.  We have run a number of Chamber events focussed around being a Conscious Business and increasing our local businesses awareness of their impact in a global economy.

Angela Kelly angela-kelly

Proposal Manager, Veolia Water. MBA Grad 2016

Why did you decide to study an MBA?

I’ve always really enjoyed learning and was looking for a way to expand my knowledge in a formal way. At the same time, I was looking to progress my career to a higher level.

While I felt that my engineering degree had given me a great technical base, I wanted to develop my business skills and improve my ability to work with others.

What was one of your greatest learnings or takeaways from your MBA?

My greatest learning of the MBA is the understanding that working with people who are different to me is not a problem but is actually a benefit.

Having a diverse team that is open to new ideas provides you with a competitive advantage in the market place. Part of this learning is that constructive conflict can actually be beneficial as it is a sign that people are engaged in their work and that they care about the outcomes.

How did doing your MBA help you give back?

The things I learned during the MBA provided me with the courage to provide support and guidance to less experienced colleagues to improve their outcomes. The MBA also raised my awareness of how important equality is for our community.  Women’s education is the best way to improve the lifestyles of communities and their future generations.

Knowing that in Australia the Indigenous community is the most disadvantaged, I used my MBA skills to organise a fundraiser to raise over $3,000 for Indigenous literacy.

Hodi Beauliv low resHodi Beauliv

Executive Management Business Development Sunraysia Community Health, MBA Grad 2015, on Board of Mallee Track Health and Community Services

Why did you decide to study an MBA?

It’d been over 15 years since I’d completed my first degree at La Trobe, so I knew I needed to do something to bring my skills up to date.

I spoke to a staff member at the La Trobe Bendigo Open Day about my passion for social justice and my management aspirations. She recommended La Trobe’s MBA given its focus on sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility.

The ability to complete some semester long units by teleconference in Bendigo, but also the opportunity to meet face-to-face with people from all over the State when completing block units, really appealed to me.

How did doing your MBA help you give back?

After completing my MBA I was exhausted, but passionate to do something to give back to the community.

I am now an Executive Manager in a rural Community Health Service in Mildura. In this role I help drive change to develop services that meet the needs of our local community. I am able to raise new and innovative ideas of how this can be done, with a focus on sustainability of the service, not just short term outcomes, by bringing a corporate social responsibility management focus to my work.

On a personal level, I have also joined the Mallee Track Health & Community Services Board.  Mallee Track covers a large number of small rural communities. By participating on the Board I am able to contribute to the sustainability of the organisation, by ensuring appropriate governance practices are in place for the successful long-term operation of the Health Service.

La Trobe University’s founding Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Myers, once said: ‘The true measure of a university’s greatness is the total effect it has on human welfare and progress’.

We’re extremely proud that our MBA graduates have been able to succeed in their chosen profession while also using their acquired skills to help out others and strengthen their community.

Find out more about studying an MBA or book a one-to-one consultation to discuss your study options.

This article was originally published on The Knowledge Blog.

Peter Sivey: “This isn’t the way to fix private health insurance”

Photo: abc.net.au

Photo: abc.net.au

The private health insurance sector is ripe for reform, but the Federal Government should look further than populist policies that seem to offer more choice but at a cost to overall equity and efficiency, writes Peter Sivey.

The Federal Government has confirmed that it is considering reforms to private health insurance regulation that would allow new policyholders with healthier lifestyles (including non-smokers and people with low BMI) to pay lower premiums.

This policy change would represent a relaxation of Australia’s long-held “community rating” system which enforces a rule that everyone pays the same price for the same policy.

The proposed reform sounds like classic small “l” liberal reform: reducing regulation and improving choice for consumers. But it’s bad for fairness and it’s bad economics.

Smokers nowadays are a relatively small but highly disadvantaged group in Australian society. Latest estimates suggest only 18 per cent of Australians are smokers. But disadvantaged groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, remote and rural Australians, those currently unable to work, and single parents have much higher smoking rates, up to twice as high.

We know that smoking is highly addictive and it is hard to argue that the differences in smoking prevalence across socio-economic status represent the rational choices of individuals. On this basis, price discrimination against smokers is unfair and inequitable.

Allowing such price discrimination would surely lead to some smokers dropping their private coverage as their premiums rise to reflect their higher health costs. These smokers would now seek their expensive treatments from the public hospital sector. So the net effect of the policy would be to move more of smokers’ health costs (as well as the costs of others with unhealthy lifestyles) onto taxpayers. Previously their costs would have been subsidised by their own health insurance premiums, and the premiums paid by other policyholders in the same fund.

The Government is also considering allowing private health insurance to cover out-of-pocket fees for GP services (for example, when GPs don’t bulk bill and charge a fee higher than the Medicare rebate).

Again, this reform seems appealing on the face of it. Why shouldn’t we be able to use our costly private health insurance to cover bills from the GP surgery?

A primary reason is that the existing policy of forbidding insurance coverage of GP fees has put the responsibility on GPs themselves and the Government of the day to keep fees low and bulk billing rates high. For example, the Howard government introduced a series of increased payments to doctors which successfully reversed the decline of the bulk-billing rate in the early 2000s. Under private health insurance coverage, GPs would have an incentive to increase fees and the government would have the temptation to deflect any problem with accessibility onto private health insurance. There goes the principle of universal access to primary care.

The private health insurance sector is certainly ripe for reform, but the Government should look further than populist policies that seem to offer more choice to consumers but at a cost to overall equity and efficiency. The ability of health funds to design restrictive policies which exclude certain treatments mainly needed by older people (hip replacements are a common example) would be a good starting point for better regulation.

You only have to look at health insurance TV adverts to see where the system is going wrong. Excessive marketing to young people, and focus on ‘extras’ cover (dental, optical, etc), shows where the fat profit margins lie. Restricting extras cover and enforcing more adequate minimum levels of hospital cover could improve price competition and improve coverage for essential medical procedures.

Peter Sivey La Trobe Business School Economics ABC The Drum

Peter Sivey is a senior lecturer in the Department of Economics and Finance at La Trobe Business School.

This post was originally published on the ABC website for The Drum.

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