As published on afr.com, Thursday 4 May, 2023.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers has flagged potential further action against PwC over revelations the accounting giant’s partners used leaked government information to advise 14 clients how to sidestep new multinational tax avoidance laws in 2016.
Dr Chalmers said what the firm’s partners did was “completely inappropriate” and that he had already privately told PwC of his displeasure.
“I consider what happened there to be completely inappropriate,” he said in Canberra on Thursday morning.
“I have said that publicly, I have said that privately to the company as well. And most importantly of all, I am already taking steps to try and fix this situation and if more steps are necessary, I will take them too.”
The Treasurer also said the firm’s actions had endangered an established process of the government of the day consulting business when developing new policy.
“I have made it really clear, my displeasure at PwC ... when it came to the inappropriate treatment of confidential tax information,” he said.
“We hear a lot, for understandable reasons, that the private sector wants to be consulted on changes that impact them. In order for that to happen, we need to be able to trust the process.
The 144 pages of PwC emails published by a Senate committee on Tuesday reveal dozens of PwC partners and staff were involved in a systematic plan to exploit, for profit, information former partner Peter Collins had gleaned while advising the government on developing the multinational tax avoidance laws (MAAL).
Mr Collins left the firm at the end of 2022 after an investigation by the Tax Practitioners Board found he had shared secret information about the government’s tax plans to other partners and staff at PwC, despite signing a series of confidentiality agreements with Treasury.
When the news of the leak emerged in January, Mr Chalmers said he was “absolutely furious, absolutely ropeable” at what he termed a “shocking breach of trust”.
He responded by beefing up the power of the TPB by giving the board its own budget and closing loopholes that allowed deregistered tax agents to continue operating.
“So I have indicated in the past and am happy to repeat again today that we are already taking steps to implement the changes recommended by the Tax Practitioners Board that my predecessor sat on for some reason,” Dr Chalmers said.
“I have indicated to the Treasury and regulators that if there are more steps that are necessary, I am prepared take them.”
Asked about a $5000-a-head federal budget dinner sponsored by PwC, Dr Chalmers replied: “Those events are organised by the party organisation. I do not think anyone could conclude anything other than the fact that I have taken a really hard position against this.”