The curious incident of the space suit in the storeroom
by Rebecca Barnett
Every year, around about this time, AMT gives you the gift of a good night’s rest. That’s right. It’s Annual Report time. Guaranteed to send you to the land of nod if taken with a mug of hot milk just before bed time.
This year, we’ve included a handy infographic for those of you who tend to nod off on the very first page. It’s a report card / highlights reel / snapshot of AMT’s 2017 year, designed to give you sweet dreams and a warm, fuzzy feeling about your Association:
But seriously, just like AGMs, Annual Reports can actually be fun and sexy, specially if you don’t get out much. Yes, those columns of figures may look impenetrable and confusing but there’s often a pretty titillating narrative underpinning them, just waiting to be uncovered. Take, for example, the curious incident of the spacesuit in the storeroom …
We’re taking the Wayback Machine to 2004 to explore the improbable history of the personal protective equipment.
So, there was this unusual item in the 2004 AMT financial statements – a 5-figure sum attributed to “Personal Protective Equipment”. Now, I know what you’re thinking – the AMT office must have been a pretty dangerous place if such a hefty chunk of money was attributable to protective gear for the 1 full-time employee at the time. Back in 2004, any single item upwards of $10,000 that wasn’t a wage expense or rent was pretty serious biccies for AMT.
I don’t think AMT Head Office has ever been a particularly dangerous place. The most dramatic thing that has ever happened (to my knowledge) involved a dog and an acute case of separation anxiety but we really only needed a spills kit to deal with that. Was someone fiddling the books and taking holidays in the Bahamas?
A sharp-eyed member asked about the unusual expense at the 2004 AGM. The treasurer undertook to look into the matter. The months rolled by, AMT spiraled somewhat into financial chaos and no explanation of the personal protective equipment expense was forthcoming from the treasurer. The issue festered.
Are you on the edge of your seat yet?
Some bloody wag suggested that there must be a spacesuit hidden somewhere in the storeroom, for when the AMT office inevitably relocated from
Newtown into space. It was pretty cluttered in there so anything was possible. And who doesn’t want to work in zero gravity?
The joke gained traction. AMT plunged further into serious operating deficit.
There was significant regime change and the treasurer resigned. By now, AMT’s financial position was precarious. The spacesuit jokes were becoming memes before memes were even a thing.
The new regime was keen to establish where the $10,000 went but the former treasurer wasn’t answering emails and the former accountant had disappeared. Not kidding.
Are you on the edge of your seat yet?
The spacesuit expense was raised again at the 2007 AGM (yes, three years later!) and the new executive undertook to find the answer.
Fortunately, the mystery of the spacesuit turned out to be ridiculously explicable. It just took a willingness to search for the narrative in those columns of figures. The answer was hiding in plain sight: in the same year that AMT incurred the inflated personal protective equipment expense, our newsletter expenses were zero. Yep. We’d printed and distributed the journal to 1000 members every quarter for nothing. Our printmail company must have been feeling generous that year.
The curious incident of the spacesuit in the storeroom turned out to be the most trivial and innocent data entry error. “Personal protective equipment” and “print pack post” newsletter were adjacent in AMT’s MYOB accounts. The accountant had accidentally chosen the former when he was trying to enter the latter.
However, the mystery of the accountant’s disappearance remains unexplained to this day. But that’s a story for another blog post …
The moral? Always ask questions and push for answers if you notice anything irregular in the financial statements of your association.
In 2017, we incurred a pretty exciting but largely anticipated operating deficit. Former AMT treasurer, Dave Moore, gives you the story behind the figures and the deficit in the 2017 annual report. Go on. Read it now. I’ll shout a vanilla malted milkshake to the member who asks the best question. I’ll be the one wearing a spacesuit. The moon will just have to wait.
About the Author
Rebecca Barnett has been at the coalface of professional advocacy for 12 years. As erstwhile Treasurer of AMT back in 2006/7, she was determined to either find the bloody space suit or the receipt for the airline ticket to the Bahamas. She has forgotten pretty much everything she ever learnt about integral calculus.