Blue-suited chisellers

PwC has no regard for confidentiality. It has no regard for the public interest. Its desire to make money is aggressive and all consuming. Its misuse of protected government information earned the consultancy $2.5 million, with the expectation of more.

“It is clear that the desire for personal gain trumped any obligations that PwC had to the Commonwealth of Australia and its citizens,” a senate committee found this week. “This was a calculated breach of trust by PwC.”

The finance and public administration references committee found PwC “supported and condoned” the misuse of government information by former partner Peter-John Collins. It stonewalled the tax office, misusing and misapplying legal privilege to hide thousands of documents. “It seems clear,” the committee wrote, “that PwC’s use of this tactic is not restricted to the Collins matter.”

The committee notes PwC had a legal obligation to report Collins’s actions but did not. It failed to make other disclosures that were also required by law.

“Taken together, the committee concludes that PwC engaged in a deliberate strategy over many years to cover up the breach of confidentiality and the plan by PwC personnel to monetise it.”

The report goes on to say PwC has a history of cover-ups. It says the conflicts of interest inherent in PwC’s operations were structural and dishonest in nature. It criticises the Tax Office and the Tax Practitioners Board for their slow and inadequate investigations. It says PwC is fundamentally conflicted. The company did not understand proper process and did not see the need for transparency or accountability.

“The question therefore arises: given the extent of the breach and subsequent cover-up now revealed on the public record, when is PwC going to come clean and begin to do the right thing?” the committee report asks.

“This leaves a further question unanswered: is PwC’s internal culture so poor that its senior leadership does not recognise right from wrong, and lacks the capacity to act in an honest, open, and straightforward manner?”

It is rare for a senate committee to be so direct but it is rare also for a company to be so brazen and opportunistic. The culture sketched in the report’s pages is ruthless and parasitic. The company is wantonly exploitative. Profit drives all. Ethics are nowhere.

This is the business, along with the rest of the Big Four, to which the proper functions of the public service have been outsourced. This gang of suckering management consultants have slowly taken over. To anyone watching, it is no surprise. Of course these Excel spivs are after only money. Of course their advice is rigged and loaded with every angle and edge of advantage.

There is an old joke about the management consultant who counts a farmer’s sheep and tries to leave with his dog. The punchline is that he arrived uninvited and told a man something he already knew. The image is almost quaint against the reality.

Here is a group of people who would charge the government for advice and then on-sell secrets they stole in the process. It is a kind of double robbery from the blue-suited chisellers, a shameless assault on propriety.

Anthony Albanese has promised to end the government’s dependence on consultants and rebuild the public service. On the strength of this report, it could not happen soon enough.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 24, 2023 as "Blue-suited chisellers".

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