Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the perceptions of potential users about water accounting reports prepared under Australian general purpose water accounting (GPWA), which applies financial accounting techniques to water and could be extended to other areas of natural resource management. In particular, the paper examines the extent to which users believe GPWA reports are useful and facilitate the discharge of accountability by water managers. Design/methodology/approach – As a theoretical lens the authors apply an extended version of Gray et al.’s (1996) accountability model. The authors utilise mixed method research design comprising a questionnaire administered to users with water-related interests and an analysis of public submissions to the Water Accounting Standards Board on the Exposure Draft of Australian Water Accounting Standard 1. Findings – Overall, users perceive the introduction of GPWA as useful and believe that the benefits will outweigh the costs. The adoption of a financial accounting approach in terms of accounting standards and prescribed methods for booking and disclosing water “transactions” was broadly supported. In terms of the main users of reports, there was some ambiguity but findings suggested that government agencies were likely to be the main users of GPWA. Users were also concerned about the degree of judgement required to determine the identity and boundaries of a “water report entity”. Perhaps the most controversial aspect related to accountability; while the Accountability Statement was broadly supported there was little consensus that GPWA collectively discharged the accountability of water managers. Taken collectively, these results suggest that GPWA may be more useful for improving management performance than accountability. Practical implications – The findings suggest that future iterations of the standard need to reconsider how accountability might be discharged through the production of GPWA. The broad support for GPWA suggests, however, that the financial accounting approach – and hence the accounting community – may also make a valuable contribution to other areas of natural resource accounting. Originality/value – This study contributes to the emerging but still limited literature on GPWA and the fundamentally different approach to natural resource accounting it represents. While some previous studies have examined potential users of GPWA none have done so after the standard has been fully developed, and no previous studies have adopted the mixed research design utilised in this study.
- General purpose water accounting
- Social and environmental accounting
- Water accounting