22 May 2023

Federal Treasurer won't rule out an AFP investigation into PwC

| Chris Johnson
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Jim Chalmers

Jim Chalmers: “We’ve already taken some steps to change the way the Tax Practitioners Board operates. I think the PwC experience has been deeply, deeply troubling.” Photo: Screenshot.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has refused to rule out referring PricewaterhouseCoopers to the federal police over a massive breach of trust involving the leak of confidential tax information.

Peter-John Collins made unauthorised disclosures of law reform information while was a partner at PwC Australia and part of a confidential Treasury consultation about improving tax laws in an effort to stop multinational tax avoidance.

The sharing of the information to dozens of PwC executives, and by extension, their clients, had the potential for significant financial advantage for the firm.

A Tax Practitioners Board investigation found Mr Collins guilty of integrity breaches and revoked his registration as a tax agent for two years.

But the fallout from the incident has led to calls for the Australian Federal Police to investigate the matter.

Asked about it on ABC Radio on Monday (22 May), Dr Chalmers did not rule out instigating such an investigation.

The Treasurer offered up a ‘watch this space’ answer.

READ ALSO PwC could escape the anti-corruption commission’s scrutiny on a technicality

“I’ll have more to say about PwC and the Treasury,” he said.

“We’ve already taken some steps to change the way the Tax Practitioners Board operates. I think the PwC experience has been deeply, deeply troubling, and we’ve already taken steps, but we will be taking further steps. I’m working on them almost literally right now.

“I will have more to say about how we crack down on this behaviour, which is inexcusable, frankly, particularly when you consider that corporate Australia, for the right reasons, wants to be consulted on changes that impact them. I want to do that too. That’s really part of the character of this government – consultation.

“But in order to do that, you’ve got to be able to trust the process. That trust has broken down here. We need to fix it.

“We’ve taken some steps already. There will be more steps as well.”

The Greens are insisting the matter be referred to the AFP and have obtained legal advice to back up the call.

Sydney Law firm Brenton Fisse has advised the Greens that an AFP investigation into the potential application of the criminal code and the Proceeds of Crime Act should be undertaken.

Greens senator Barbara Pocock, who has spearheaded an ongoing senate inquiry into the matter, said the AFP should already be investigating PwC with the view to laying charges.

READ ALSO Switkowski to lead a review into PwC culture and ethics

Last week, PwC appointed former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski to lead an independent inquiry into the company’s culture and business practices in light of the breach of trust incident.

It also moved PWC’s global legal business solutions leader Tony O’Malley into the role of chief risk and ethics leader for PwC Australia.

However, the company has only committed to publicly sharing a summary of the investigation’s recommendations when Dr Switkowski’s report is completed.

But Labor senator Deborah O’Neill accused PwC of “continuing the cover-up” by only offering limited disclosure of its internal review.

Senator O’Neill helped uncover 144 pages of heavily redacted internal PwC emails detailing information sharing inside the firm.

But she said Australians have a right to know who received the information and how they acted upon it.

Meanwhile, Dr Chalmers used his media appearance to stress the government’s review of external consultants, saying the explosion of their use over the past decade was troubling, “particularly of labour hire and contracting, at the same time as we’ve seen a hollowing out of the public service itself”.

“We do need to rebalance it. That’s what we’re doing,” he said.

“We’re taking steps to wind back some of this spending when it comes to external consultants and trying to rebuild the public service at the same time.

“There will always be a role for external expert advice, but we think the balance has been wrong and we want to rebalance it.”

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PWC are like Arthur Andersons demise of past years.

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