Tax board demands names as it continues PwC tax leak investigation

The Tax Practitioners Board is demanding PwC name the nine partners the firm stood down this week as part of a further investigation it is conducting into the tax leak, which the prime minister has labelled a shocking scandal.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe also said the company must be transparent and name the partners involved if it wanted to earn back trust.

Investigations into the PwC tax scandal are ongoing.

Alex Ellinghausen

The Tax Practitioners Board cancelled former PwC partner Peter Collins’ registration in December, and banned him from reapplying for registration for two years, after finding he had shared confidential government briefings on multinational tax reform with PwC partners and clients to help them sidestep the laws.

Since then, the board tabled 144 pages of documents showing more than 50 PwC staff and partners had been included in emails discussing confidential government tax plans.

In Senate estimates on Wednesday, Greens senator Barbara Pocock asked why the Tax Practitioners Board hadn’t suspended PwC’s registration.

The board’s chair Peter de Cure said the board believed the sanctions it imposed at the time were appropriate, and it was still looking into the scandal.

Tax Practitioners Board Chair Peter de Cure.

Alex Ellinghausen

“We currently have ongoing consideration of the matter surrounding this issue, and we are making some further inquiries, but we don’t have any current plan to suspend PwC,” he said.

“We are currently making further inquiries, and it’s a very formal process.”

The tax board’s Michael O’Neill said it was compiling a list of names who received emails about the tax leak. He said the board has also asked PwC to provide the names of the nine partners who had been stood down on Monday pending the consulting firm’s own investigation into the matter, but was yet to receive a response.

A PwC spokesperson said: “We can confirm we received the request yesterday evening with a deadline of 20 June. We will respond in accordance with the TPB’s request.”

Pocock asked why Collins was banned from applying to re-register for two years, rather than the maximum of five years.

“When we considered the appropriate sanction for him … he had admitted his conduct, he had demonstrated remorse for his conduct. And he had advised us that he would cease to practice as a tax agent,” De Cure said.

If Collins wanted to reapply, he would have to satisfy the board he was a “fit and proper person” at the time of that application, and de Cure said he believed it was unlikely Collins would reapply to be a tax agent.

De Cure also said the board was unable under its current powers to issue a fine to the consulting firm. The government is now looking to strengthen those powers, alongside a slew of changes being made to procurement processes and codes of conduct for contractors in the wake of the scandal.

The matter has also been referred to the Australian Federal Police for investigation.

Asked by Greens leader Adam Bandt if the PwC tax scandal would be referred to the National Anti-Corruption Commission when it starts operating on July 1, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the revelations were “shocking”.

“I certainly agree with him that the breaches in confidentiality by PwC is an absolute scandal and it is deeply troubling,” he said in question time on Wednesday.

“The Treasury has referred the matter already to the Australian Federal Police, so it’s gone well beyond the step that the member suggests already.”

Government officials have also been asked to take a company’s behaviour and ethical conduct into account when making procurement decisions.

On Wednesday, the RBA governor confirmed the central bank had one ongoing contract with PwC that is due to expire soon, but PwC needed to prove it had changed if it wanted to gain work from the bank in the future.

“What we want to see is anyone who knew what was going on, and complicit in what was going on to be identified, so that we will know which partners were involved in that process,” Lowe said.

“We want to know that they meet the standards in their own commercial behaviour that we would expect to meet in our institution, if they don’t do that then we don’t want to work with them.”

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