‘My interest will not wane’: Labor’s Deb O’Neill circles bleeding PwC

The PwC tax leaks scandal is not Deb O’Neill’s first rodeo.

The NSW Labor senator has wielded the cudgels of the upper house to hammer regulators of the cosmetic surgery industry, campaign against an “underbelly of exploitation” in the franchising sector, and put a spotlight on a whistleblower’s claims of sexual harassment at AMP.

But O’Neill’s otherwise low public profile has been boosted through the unfurling PwC drama, as she and Greens senator Barbara Pocock lead a full-frontal assault on the consulting giant over the leak of confidential information about the government’s tax plans.

NSW senator Deb O’Neill during a Senate estimates hearing at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday.

Alex Ellinghausen

“This is about cover-up. This is about PwC trying to stem the flow of an artery that’s well and truly open now,” O’Neill told the ABC on Tuesday.

“The reality is that this is a company that has not been open and honest with the Australian people.”

The PwC scandal was exposed in January by , which revealed the firm’s tax partner Peter Collins had shared confidential government briefings about tax policy with partners and clients.

Since then, the Senate has honed its scrutiny of the firm through a committee inquiry and the prime-time drama of estimates, widening the net.

A bombshell trove of internal PwC emails, published in response to O’Neill’s estimates questions earlier this month, revealed 50-plus staff and partners were implicated. That included chief executive Tom Seymour, who stepped down days later after it was revealed he was one of the recipients of the internal emails sent by Collins. A further nine partners were stood down this week. The Australian Federal Police is now investigating Collins and the firm.

If acting chief executive Kristin Stubbins was hoping the storm would blow over, O’Neill had a message for her on Tuesday: “I can assure you, my interest will not wane.”

O’Neill hails from the conservative right flank of the Labor party and is a member of the “shoppies” faction, backed by the powerful Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association.

Born in Parramatta, in Sydney’s western suburbs, O’Neill entered parliament in 2010 as the MP for the NSW Central Coast seat of Robertson. She was wiped out three years later with the election of the Abbott government but swiftly returned as a senator, filling the vacancy triggered by Bob Carr’s retirement weeks later.

A devout Catholic who once revealed she carried pink rosary beads in her handbag, O’Neill is among a group of outliers within the socially progressive Labor caucus. She abstained from voting on the 2017 bill to legalise same-sex marriage and, more recently, voted against the successful push to dismantle a Howard-era ban on the Northern Territory and ACT’s power to legalise voluntary assisted dying.

Wounds linger within the party over a bitter preselection battle between O’Neill and former frontbencher Kristina Keneally in the run-up to the 2022 election. Some MPs remain sour that O’Neill, a backbencher, did not relinquish her top Senate ticket spot for Keneally, a member of Labor’s leadership team, a would-be cabinet minister, and a key ally of Anthony Albanese.

In a factional deal to save her political career, Keneally was parachuted in to contest the safe Labor seat of Fowler, more than 40 kilometres from her home. She lost to local independent Dai Le.

“It’s a bit of a shame that Deb didn’t get looked upon for being promoted to the front bench,” a senior member of the Labor right faction said, adding the resentment over Keneally’s shock defeat “came from the top”.

“When Deb can smell blood, she can do a really good job.”

( 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] )

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