PwC staff involved in tax leak cut from public work

·3-min read

The screws are tightening on major consultancy firm PwC following the leaking of confidential Commonwealth tax policy information.

The consultancy giant has been taking hits from all angles, with the federal police launching a criminal investigation into the tax leak scandal and the Department of Finance handing out tough sanctions.

The department has called for the removal of any personnel involved in the incident from government contracts, at least until the internal review has wrapped up.

The firm has agreed to the recommendations.

Department of Finance head Jenny Wilkinson also took the opportunity to condemn the behaviour of the partner in question - who shared confidential multinational tax avoidance policy information with clients interested in skirting the laws - as well as the firm's response to the saga.

By that, she was referring to the firm's failure to own up to the scale of the breach and that it involved far more employees than one partner.

"We were surprised, and we were very concerned about what that suggested in terms of broader cultural issues within PwC, including around the breach itself and around their handling of it," Ms Wilkinson said.

The government has also been under pressure to cancel or ban any further Commonwealth work with the firm.

The finance boss explained why the department's hands were somewhat tied in regards to cancelling or suspending the firm from future Commonwealth work due to the breach occurring as part of stakeholder consultation rather than through an actual contract.

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher confirmed it was not possible to ban contracts with the firm under the circumstances.

"You couldn't just go out and just ban an organisation from all contracts within government because of a matter that potentially will be investigated by the police and that happened under a different set of arrangements," she said.

However, the senator said the government was looking to strengthen its rights to crack down more forcefully on such misconduct in the future.

Finance department officials also confirmed they had not asked for the redacted names of the 53 staff involved in the leak unveiled in a collection of internal PwC emails.

The emails show partners and staff received emails relating to a plan to use Treasury information to help clients dodge tax laws.

Finance department officials said naming the partners could disrupt the criminal investigation launched by the federal police.

Labor senator Deborah O'Neill has been calling for the names of the PwC partners because of what she described as the "contagion fear" she had of people who were "moving around in the sector still".

She also queried the firm's choice to appoint former Telstra boss and businessman Ziggy Switkowski to oversee the review.

"Mr Switkowski is known as a good businessman, but I don't know that he's known as a thought leader on ethics," the senator asked.

The Australian Federal Police confirmed on Thursday it had launched an investigation into the firm.

Greens senator Barbara Pocock said it was vital the investigation extends beyond "a single bad apple" to a systematic look at what increasingly looked like conspiracy within the firm.

"The Australian people have a right to know what went on within that company and who was involved," she said.