Many Australians don’t read the financial sections of the papers or pay attention to the detail of what’s played out in a financial world so far away from their own family budgeting.
Let’s face it: there’s a whole economics-discourse gap that makes financial literacy a challenge, and not everyone is into the jargon or the detail. But even at such a distance from the financial service sector, knowledge of the scale of the ethical and moral failure at PwC is leaking into the broader community.
People know it’s something to do with tax and big tech companies not paying their fair share, and a bloke who took confidential information from Australian citizens and used it to make money.
When a senior partner at PwC, Peter Collins, signed three separate confidentiality agreements with the Australian government between 2013 and 2018, he knew what he was doing. He was inside the tent; he had access to confidential information about Australian tax laws being designed to ensure big multinationals pay their fair share of tax.
He sat in meetings with Australian Treasury officials and shared his considerable knowledge about tax law to assist in the effective design of Australian law. But then he went back to PwC Australia and PwC Global and – with the support of PwC colleagues in the US, UK, Singapore, Ireland, and Europe – unethically and collaboratively designed a scheme to profit himself, his colleagues and all the partners in the firm.
PwC attempted to enable major international companies, the names of which I intend to ensure are revealed, to avoid paying their fair share of tax. That is money straight from the pockets of hard-working Australians. The actions of PwC were a direct assault on our nation’s capacity to fund our schools, hospitals and public services – and in that way was a direct assault on every Australian citizen.
Let’s be clear about this: once Collins had the intelligence about what the Australian government was doing on the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Legislation (MAAL), he took it back to PwC to share with colleagues. And share it he did – far and wide across the PwC Australia and Global network. Together with others at PwC, Collins became the central cog in the machine being actively constructed inside PwC to turn confidential knowledge into a product for PwC to flog off to the same multinationals who were trying to minimise the amount of tax they pay in Australia.
The very first time that sharing of confidential material and insights was suggested was the moment PwC should have pounced on Collins and sacked him for multiple breaches of ethical boundaries. The moment of opportunity to do the right thing was lost. What occurred is matter of historical fact: there is a now public cache of communications between Collins and at least 53 different redacted PwC email addresses that fills 144 pages. It is truly shocking material.
A sample: “In total we expect (based on fee estimates that we have agreed with clients) that revenue from the first stage of the MAAL projects will be approximately $2.5 million.” That’s Collins in a PwC love-in that celebrated his deception and delighted in the anticipated flow of dollars into the PwC coffers.
Another: “Don’t circulate it beyond us or discuss it outside PwC – it would really put PwC Australia and me in a real bind.” Not only did Collins know he shouldn’t be sharing the confidential material with anyone, he knew it would be a big problem for everyone who facilitated the process he was leading. No one at PwC Australia or PwC Global stopped him.
The communications between PwC Australia and PwC Global extends from October 2014 to January 2017. In May 2016, so excited was PwC by the prospect of capturing the multinational tax avoidance market with the insider intel, it held a conference call for global tax partners.
Collins knew what he was doing. It breached the ethical and professional boundary he should have known and observed in spirit and practice. He was banned from practising for two years. But he was not alone and the emails he sent and received implicate many of his PwC colleagues.
All this occurred during the leadership in Australia of Luke Sayers, PwC’s then-CEO. He has questions to answer about the behaviour that took place on his watch. Tom Seymour, PwC’s head of tax at the time and later CEO of PwC Australia, has already stepped down. We’re told by PwC that he will retire in September, about the same time as the PwC internal review is expected to land. But what about all the others?
The Australian people deserve better from one of Australia’s biggest assurance companies. It’s time for PwC to face the music and to name the names of all involved. No delaying; no mucking around; no hiding any longer. Name the names. As the PwC saga continues, I think it’s time to call out the behaviour of a leadership team now in damage-control mode.
Deborah O’Neill is a Labor senator for NSW and chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Corporations and Financial Services.
( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )