PwC executives accused of ‘thumbing nose at parliament’

Andrew Brown |

ATO senior executive Jeremy Hirschhorn says PwC has refused to provide information.
ATO senior executive Jeremy Hirschhorn says PwC has refused to provide information.

The head of PwC in Australia has copped a blistering spray over the consulting giant’s refusal to release a report into an ongoing scandal.

Kevin Burrowes told a Senate inquiry the global firm was unable to hand over key details from a 2023 report by law firm Linklaters, which cleared overseas partners from using confidential Treasury information for commercial gain.

Six PwC executives were disciplined for not asking enough questions about the breach, the report found.

Barbara Pocock
Senator Barbara Pocock called Mr Burrowes ‘a patsy’ for PwC and said he’d been hung out to dry. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Despite requests to PwC’s international office to hand over the report, those requests were rejected, Mr Burrowes said.

“I’ve formally requested that report again from PwC International Limited and that request was refused on the basis that the information contained in that report is privileged and confidential to PwC,” he told a Senate hearing on Friday.

Liberal committee chair Richard Colbeck scolded the consulting boss, saying Mr Burrowes was being “hamstrung” by PwC’s international arm.

“I can’t in any good conscience acknowledge that I have confidence when your organisation, and you are part of that organisation, is thumbing their nose at our parliament,” Senator Colbeck said.

“Don’t we at least deserve to understand what the penalties were and what they did?”

Greens senator Barbara Pocock described Mr Burrowes as being “hung out to dry” and a “patsy” for PwC for not being able to hand over the report.

“We are being treated like mushrooms here, it is inappropriate, you cannot be confused about it, and neither can your international leaders who you are part of the club with,” she said.

“That is what you are doing, you are disdaining the parliament.”

The inquiry was set up following revelations one of PwC’s partners used confidential briefings from Treasury to get clients.

The consulting firm boss said the organisation had taken steps to restore integrity to PwC following revelations of the leaks.

“We are no longer in the advisory business with government … The making of donations to political parties is something which happens, but we will no longer do it,” Mr Burrowes said.

Jeremy Hirschhorn
The ATO’s Jeremy Hirschhorn also expressed frustration that PwC had not provided the report. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Earlier, Australian Taxation Office executive Jeremy Hirschhorn raised concerns about PwC’s reluctance to hand over the report.

“We share the frustrations of this committee that an organisation which claims to be co-operative is deliberately hiding behind the difference between their local firm and the international firm,” Mr Hirschhorn told the committee.

“It’s fair to say PwC is very aware of the interest of the Australian community in that document.

“It would be preferable if that was (provided) in a spirit of true co-operation.”

Tax Practitioners Board chair Peter de Cure said he’d also not seen the list of six names mentioned in the report, but had a reasonable idea of who they were.

“We have asked for the report formally, and the response we got was that PwC Australia don’t have a copy of it, and are not able to give it to us,” he said.

However, the board’s chair said the Linklaters report was unlikely to form the basis for the organisation’s own investigations.

Mr de Cure confirmed the Tax Practitioners Board was carrying out nine investigations into the conduct of PwC, with three of those being “well advanced”, which would assist the remaining six.

Meanwhile, the chair of PwC’s government advisory offshoot Scyne Advisory has committed to learning from the mistakes made by the consulting firm.

PwC sold off its public sector arm for $1 in 2023 at the height of the tax advice scandal to a private equity investor.

Scyne chair David Mullen told the inquiry the firm had undergone processes to ensure there would be no conflicts of interest.

“From the board down, there’s a commitment to embedding the lessons from the destructive breaches of trust that occurred at PwC,” he said.

“Scyne is in a category of its own in being able to say to government ‘we are unconflicted with the private sector’.”