Chalmers flags major PwC crackdown

Treasurer Jim Chalmers
Treasurer Jim Chalmers says there will be ’further steps’ taken against consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

Treasurer Jim Chalmers says there will be “further steps” taken against consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers after a former partner leaked confidential information about government tax plans.

The former head of international tax for PwC, Peter Collins – who has been banned from acting as a tax practitioner – leaked confidential government briefings about combating tax avoidance with clients and partners.

It has prompted wide-ranging conversation about the role consulting firms should have when dealing with highly confidential government information, at the same time as a new report reveals the big four consulting firms have increased their dealings with the federal government by 400 per cent over a decade, according to the Nine newspapers.

While the Department of Treasury is reportedly considering whether a criminal investigation should be pursued, Dr Chalmers said he had found the PwC experience “deeply, deeply troubling” and “inexcusable”.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said he found the PwC issue ‘deeply, deeply troubling’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Glenn Campbell

Dr Chalmers said, without going into detail, the government was considering taking “further steps”.

“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,” he told ABC Radio.

He said the government, like Australians, needed to be able to trust the process, but that trust had “been broken down here”.

“We need to fix it; we’ve taken some steps already and there will be more steps as well,” he said.

Asked whether he thought giving so many contracts to the Big 4 – PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG – was an appropriate use of public money, Dr Chalmers conceded the balance hasn’t “been right over the course of the last decade”.

He said he, alongside Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, found it “troubling” that at the same time the public service was stripped, there had been such a significant increase in contracting.

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

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