Can Databases Facilitate Accountability? The Case of Australian Mercury Accounting via the National Pollutant Inventory

Hafij Ullah, James Hazelton, Peter Nelson

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Abstract

Purpose: This paper furthers research into the potential contribution of pollutant databases for corporate accountability. We evaluate the quality of corporate and government mercury reporting via the Australian National Pollutant Inventory (NPI), which underpins Australia's reporting under the Minamata Convention, a global agreement to reduce mercury pollution. Design/methodology/approach: The qualitative characteristics of accounting information are used as a theoretical frame to analyse ten interviews with thirteen interviewees as well as 54 submissions to the 2018 governmental enquiry into the NPI. Findings: While Australian mercury accounting using the NPI is likely sufficient to meet the expected Minamata reporting requirements (especially in comparison to developing countries), we find significant limitations in relation to comparability, accuracy, timeliness and completeness. These limitations primarily relate to government (as opposed to industry) deficiencies, caused by insufficient funding. The findings suggest that multiple factors are required to realise the potential of pollutant databases for corporate accountability, including appropriate rules, ideological commitment and resourcing Practical implications: The provision of additional funding would enable the NPI to be considerably improved (for mercury as well as other pollutants), particularly in relation to the measurement and reporting of emissions from diffuse sources. Originality/value: Whilst there have been prior reviews of the NPI, none have focused on mercury, whilst conversely prior studies which have discussed mercury information have not focused on the NPI. In addition, no prior NPI studies have utilised interviews nor have engaged directly with NPI regulators. There has been little prior engagement with pollutant databases in social and environmental accounting (SEA) research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-193
Number of pages30
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Volume34
Issue number1
Early online date26 Oct 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2020

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Keywords

  • Mercury
  • National Pollutant Inventory
  • databases
  • mandatory reporting
  • Databases
  • Mandatory reporting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)

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