There is a pressing need for a review of government use of private accounting firms and the Big Four consulting firms according to the Greens Finance spokesperson, Senator Barbara Pocock.
Her call comes in the wake of news that one of the ‘Big 4’ consulting firms, PwC, has breached confidentiality after the Tax Office consulted them on new rules to prevent multi-national tax avoidance.
“Sharing details of proposals to reign in tax avoidance with firms like these whose employees then behave unethically, is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.” Senator Pocock said in response to the scandal. “What confidence can tax-payers have that conflicts of interest like these are not widespread?”
“These companies, PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG, are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars each year doing work that should be done by the public sector, and without appropriate assurances about ethical behaviour,” she said.
The firms are among the biggest political donors to both major parties. Last year PwC won Government contracts worth more the $300 million.
“The influence of the Big Four goes beyond donations and contracts,” Senator Pocock said.
“They rip the heart out of the public service by poaching good people and are contracted often for hugely inflated fees to undertake policy analysis and run programs that could and should be done much more efficiently by a robust public sector – behaving ethically and without conflicts of interest” she said.
The Albanese Government has promised to cut down on consulting and last year’s budget indicates a proposed cut to ‘External Labour’ of $3 Billion over four years from 2022-23. But in response to a Question on Notice from Senator Barbara Pocock, the Department of Finance was unable to disaggregate cuts to consultants from other categories included under ‘External Labour,’ which makes it difficult to measure the Commonwealth’s actual total spend on consultants and hold them to account.
Senator Pocock is calling for a review of the outsourcing of government work to external consultants. “We need to rebuild the capability of the public service and we need a thorough review of conflict of interest and ethical behaviour processes across the consulting sector where government work is underway,” she said.
“These big companies are poaching some of our best and brightest public servants and, in this case, an employee has clearly misused information that they have become privy to in the process of consultation on sensitive government policies.
“This example of conflict of interest and dishonesty may be the tip of an unethical iceberg which the public deserves to know about – and it must be investigated and its wider prevalence prevented” Senator Pocock said.