Treasurer Jim Chalmers furious former PWC partner leaked confidential government briefings

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Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers says he is “furious” and “uplifting” over revelations that a former partner of consulting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) leaked confidential government briefings.

Earlier this week, the Tax Practitioners Board announced that it had suspended the license of Peter-John Collins, former tax partner at PWC, for two years for integrity violations.

It found that Mr Collins had participated in confidential briefings with Treasury during consultations on potential multinational tax changes, and that he had signed confidentiality affidavits on three separate occasions in 2013, 2016 and 2018.

He then shared some of that confidential information, including documents, with other employees within PWC.

The board found internal communications within PWC that suggested that Mr. Collins was aware that confidential information could be used by the company to market to new customers.

Mr. Collins’ tax advisor registration has been terminated and he will not be allowed to reapply for two years.

The board also took a broader focus on PWC, criticizing it for not properly managing conflicts of interest.

Asked about the breach of confidentiality, Mr Chalmers told reporters he was surprised and alarmed.

“[I’m] absolutely furious, absolutely responsible for these revelations,” he said.

“Without trust there is no consultation, and we want to be able to consult in a meaningful way when changes in the tax system are on the horizon. And the actions we have seen and reported thwart that.

“This is a shocking breach of trust, a terrible breach of trust.”

The ABC has contacted PWC for comment.

Barbara Pocock wants a review of the big four consulting firms.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Changes marked to protect integrity

The breaches took place while the coalition was in office, and the consultations related to multinational tax avoidance measures taken in coordination with the OECD.

But Mr Chalmers said there would undoubtedly be implications for future government efforts to consult industry when formulating policy proposals.

“As a government that wants to be consultative where we can, it puts that kind of consultation at risk,” he said.

“And so it also compromises the quality of economic decision-making and policy-making.”

The treasurer said work is already underway to see what can be done to strengthen confidentiality processes and prevent future leaks.

“I have asked the Treasury Department, and I have written to the Chairman of the Treasury Department and the Head of the ATO, asking for guidance on any additional steps we should take to protect the integrity of these important processes. ” he said.

“I see these processes as absolutely essential and central, and I want to protect the integrity of these processes.”

The Greens have called for a review of government use of the so-called “big four” consulting firms (PWC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY).

Senator Barbara Pocock said there were trust questions that needed answering.

“Sharing details of proposals to control tax evasion with companies like this whose employees then behave unethically is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop,” she said.

“What confidence can taxpayers have that conflicts of interest such as these are not widespread?”.

Former Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said he was pleased with the action against Mr Collins and PWC, but did not call for wider sanctions against PWC.

“I am pleased that the former coalition government has taken steps to strengthen the independence and role of the government [Tax Practitioners Board]who helped facilitate this action,” he said.

“Sanctions imposed by the TPB are rightly imposed on individual taxpayers, as has happened here.”

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