ACS’ $45m revenue spurs new fight

James Riley

The Australian Computer Society grew revenues by 20 per cent to more than $45 million last year against a backdrop of falling membership income and a courtroom fight over control of the future direction of the professional association.

Revenue for the 2018/19 financial year jumped to $45.18 million, compared to $36.63 million in 2017/18, and $33.54 million in 2016/17.

The ACS Financial Statements 2019, recently submitted to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission, also shows that the association’s cash and cash-equivalents fell from $26.8 million in 2018 to $7.4 million in 2019 – a decrease of nearly $20 million.

As a charity the ACS does not pay tax.

The Australian Computer Society’s Barangaroo digs

While the statement also specifies that assets held in unspecified investment funds had grown from $0 in 2018 to more than $18.1 million in 2019, senior members have called for greater transparency in the way these member funds were being invested.

Founding ACS member Professor Ashley Goldsworthy, a four-time president of the Society and a lifetime member since 1977, wrote to ACS chief executive Andrew Johnson last week seeking clarification on where the members’ cash had been invested.

Prof Goldsworthy also wants more detail on the $1.6 million that ACS management spent last year on travel and accommodation, as well as more detail on the $2.3 million consulting expense contained in the financial report.

Prof Goldsworthy has made pointed queries about the expenditures ranging from the cost of travel for senior executives to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, details of a senior executive study tour that funded federal politicians to Europe, and a further trip to Silicon Valley.

The ACS has not responded to the queries.

Prof Goldsworthy has also sought clarification on whether former ACS president Yohan Ramasundara had purchased a book at a Liberal Party function in late 2018 for $5,000 and whether it had been invoiced to the ACS. He also queried the purpose of the purchase and whether or not Mr Ramasundara was a member of the Liberal Party at the time.

The staggering revenue growth at the ACS, which is primarily derived from accreditation of foreign students and skilled migrants to Australia, comes as receipts from membership fees has consistently fallen, from $3.4 million in 2017, to $3 million in 2018 and $2.8 million in 2019.

The management of the society and its future direct has been the subject of huge debate, with Prof Goldsworthy calling for the resignation of chief executive Andrew Johnson and the entire management committee. He renewed that call last week.

The direction the society has taken also prompted a Federal Court battle led by Canberra-based academic and long-time member Roger Clarke and a crew of like-minded senior members.

Mr Clarke challenged the results of a resolution passed at an ACS special general meeting last October in the Federal Court that would have resulted in a significant restructure of the organisation, including significant changes to the way members voted for management committee or board representation.

The court found in favour of Mr Clarke, declaring the resolution and the special general meeting itself to be invalid.

The decision has left the ACS scrambling to re-organise. It has been left with no President since Mr Ramasundara’s term expired on December 31, and the need for ACS state associations required to vote for new representatives to the ACS National Council before the President can be replaced.

The ACS has been ordered to a Federal Court case management phase, which is expected by the end of February.

No date has yet been set for the case management hearing, a process that is thought to have been complicated by the senior ACS management who are understood to be currently attending the exclusive World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

ACS management declined to be interviewed for this story, or to respond to written queries.

The ACS 2019 financial statement has raised eyebrows among the senior membership group that has fought management over the direction of the member-based organisation, most notably over its costs.

The ACS controversially moved its headquarters into a whole floor in Tower One at Barangaroo in Sydney, one of the most expensive offices addresses in Australia.

The move helped to drive the cost of its property leases up from $739,508 on 2017 to $2.5 million in 2018, and more than $3.99 million in 2019, and increase of more than $3 million annually.

The ACS spent more than $4.9 million on marketing, PR and publications compared to $3.4 million two years ago.

Administrative expenses at the society, which are in addition to the $21 million spent on employees, climbed from $660,761 in 2017 to more than $1.4 million in 2019.

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  1. Glen Stewart Willis 4 years ago

    Typo – clock not cock. Sorry.

  2. Glen Stewart Willis 4 years ago

    Hi James,

    I have been a long time member of the ACS (since 1981) and have served on the NSW branch committee and as NSW treasurer. I ran a special interest group for architecture for over 12 years.

    I would like to point out that there was a constant battle for head office to get control of the branch accounts which they eventually won by charging out for head office services. The services to members such as special interest groups have been reduced and innovations I worked with the NSW committee to introduced, such as snacks at SIGs and improved quality of presentations have been wound back and in fact there is now a charge for members to attend SIGs which had always been free to members. In fact the value to members is now at its lowest level in 10 years and reflected in declining full professional membership.

    Access to full accounts have been refused and full accounts not published on the ACS website. I believe this is to hide the true sources of revenue which has created a conflict of interest in acting for members versus the salaries, junkets and reduced work loads of head office. Running events and serving members has drastically declined over the last few years.

    An example is a talk I was due to give a few years ago about the future of IT being censored as it made the point that the ACS should switch from importing skills to uplifting skills in the face of rising unemployment and declining real salaries. With more automation even IT work will be automated and jobs harder to come by. It was OK to import skills when there was a genuine shortage – but there was evidence that members needed skills uplift to keep jobs and entry level jobs for graduates being taken up by 457 visas and other means of importing skills. Hence, Aussie students studying IT degrees declining. The ACS could play a central role in skills uplift.
    The ACS was/is hooked on the revenue from skills assessment and didn’t like the message saying “it would paint them in a bad light”. In the end I refused to give the censored presentation. I was to quote research on automation and data from the federal department of labour. Which contradicted the ACS message. The ACS employ consultants who inevitably report there is a labour shortage to justify importing more skilled labour as this is their prime source of revenue. But usually it is just changing standards and methods that could be uplifted with existing workforce.
    Further the ACS was using the SIGS to cock up hours of professional development for imported labour to get their visas approved – pushing out long term members from benefiting from the SIGs.
    Anyway the conclusion is that the ACS head office are not acting in the interest of members or the long term viability of the IT industry. Maybe it is time for a new professional body for ICT industry – as the ACS is a skills assessment body.

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