‘Open and honest’: Call for PwC to come clean

The final report of a Senate probe into PwC Australia’s tax leaks scandal was published on Wednesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Gaye Gerard

PwC Australia must come clean and name the partners and staff who shared drafts of confidential tax laws leading to the firm’s infamous 2023 tax leaks scandal, a Senate inquiry into the matter has demanded.

The parliamentary probe, conducted by the Senate’s Finance and Public Administration Committee, follows revelations that PwC Australia’s former tax partner Peter Collins shared confidential information regarding multinational tax measures it was helping Treasury to develop in 2015 with fellow staff members.

The accounting firm subsequently used the confidential information to advise major corporations on how to sidestep the tax changes and market the firm.

The Senate committee report comes a year into Kevin Burrowes reign as PwC chief executive. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

In the inquiry’s final report, published on Wednesday, the committee demanded the embattled consulting firm be “open and honest with the Australian parliament and people”.

“The committee recommends that PwC … promptly publish accurate and detailed information about the involvement of PwC partners and personnel, including names and positions, in the breach of confidential government information,” the report says.

The report also took aim at the PwC’s decision not to release an internal legal report into the matter, prompting accusations from senators that it was withholding the report to prevent further investigation by international authorities.

“The failure to release the now infamous Linklaters advice which relates to the international elements of this matter, leaving the committee little option but to conclude that the failure to release this material is to protect the organisation from further scrutiny and consequences of their action,” it stated.

Acknowledging the report’s release, a PwC spokesperson said the firm was taking steps to improve its governance, culture and accountability.

“We acknowledge the Senate’s final report into the management and assurance of integrity of government consulting services, and will consider the report’s contents,” they said.

“PwC continues to make progress on delivering on our Commitments to Change. This includes significant steps to enhance our governance, culture and accountability, and we continue to work hard to rebuild trust and confidence with our stakeholders.”

A suite of recommendations designed to enhance oversight of the government’s spend on consultants are additionally listed in the report, including the establishment of a new parliamentary committee to review and approve consultancy contracts, alongside the publication biannual statements on government expenditure on consultants.

The inquiry, which was formed to probe government’s spend on consultants, has closely scrutinised PwC’s tax scandal. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw

The training of bureaucrats tasked with the procurement of consultancy contracts should be improved “to ensure that the Australian Public Service is adequately equipped to ensure that value for money is obtained in circumstances where it is deemed necessary to engage consultants,” the report says.

The Department of Finance should also develop a central register for conflicts of interest breaches for use by government entities, the inquiry’s report recommends.

The committee’s final report lands a year into Kevin Burrowes reign as PwC Australia’s chief executive.

Mr Burrowes, a British expat, was parachuted in from PwC’s Singapore arm to run Australia’s operations following the firm’s tax leaks scandal which remains the subject of nine separate investigations by the Tax Practitioners Board, a separate joint parliamentary inquiry, and a criminal investigation by the Australian Federal Police.

Since taking the reins, Mr Burrowes has hived off PwC’s government consulting arm, selling it to private equity firm Allegro Funds for $1 in July last year in an attempt to regain trust and win new lucrative contracts to the public service.

The PwC Australia boss has also presided over deep staffing cuts, slashing more than 700 roles from the firm’s nearly 8000 strong workforce.

More to come