Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw has denied any conflict of interest over his friendship with PwC partner Mick Fuller and a $794,000 AFP contract being awarded to the consultancy firm without a public tender.
This is despite the pair having met before and after the contract was awarded and the Commissioner having previously said he had received only one SMS from Mr Fuller, a former NSW police commissioner, since the PwC breach-of-trust scandal broke.
An ABC news report said text messages obtained by Greens senator David Shoebridge showed the two men had corresponded on a dozen occasions since the start of this year.
The text exchanges followed the highly publicised deregistering as a tax agent of former PwC partner Peter-John Collins for leaking confidential Treasury information.
The AFP is now investigating Mr Collins.
But the Commissioner told a Senate Estimates hearing that he met with Mr Fuller as part of a review of the contract going to PwC.
“I make no apologies for undertaking the review,” he said.
The Commissioner said PwC secured the contract to review ACT policing services largely due to Mr Fuller’s experience as a former police commissioner.
And he described his relationship with Mr Fuller as collegial and professional rather than social.
“My familiarity with Mr Fuller is from years of working together, including through the COVID pandemic, but it is not from socialising together,” the C0mmissioner said.
“It is important that our professional relationship is not mischaracterised.”
In June, all AFP contracts with PwC were terminated in light of the breach-of-trust scandal and the fact police were investigating the matter.
Senator Shoebridge used the Commissioner’s latest Senate hearing appearance to challenge Mr Kershaw as to why he didn’t declare a conflict of interest, suggesting the text exchanges released under freedom of information laws were not a good look.
The Commissioner rejected any suggestion of a conflict of interest and said he responded carefully to any reference made about the leaks.
Meanwhile, Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers has moved to block the Senate from seeing correspondence between the Australian Tax Office and the AFP discussing the PwC breach of trust.
The Treasurer is using ”public interest immunity” as an excuse to prevent senators inquiring into the breach from scrutinising what the ATO sent to the AFP about the matter in 2018.
This is despite the Senate committee requesting the information to help it understand the AFP’s initial actions over the breach.
“Following consultations between the Treasury, the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Federal Police about documents in scope, I am advised that return of the documents could prejudice the ongoing police investigation into PwC,” Mr Chalmers wrote to Finance and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher.
“As such, I claim public interest immunity in respect of all of the documents in scope.”
Last month, PwC Australia sold off its government advisory arm to Allegro Funds for $1, creating a new firm named Scyne Advisory.
PwC decided to sell its government business components – at state and federal levels – to be seen as acting to make up for its massive breach of trust.
It also named and sacked several senior partners involved in the matter.
It was a scandal that saw a secret scheme developed to show PwC’s multinational clients how to avoid paying the very taxes PwC was helping the Government implement.
It was a betrayal of the Australian Government at a serious level.
Included in the rolled heads was senior partner Sean Gregory, who Region first reported on bragging to an executive dinner gathering about how close he was to Mr Chalmers while the Treasurer was seated beside him.