Senate releases final consulting industry report after lengthy inquiry

17 June 2024 2 min. read

After months of often testy hearings in the wake of the PwC government tax breach scandal, the senate has released its final report into the consulting industry with twelve recommendations.

The first of the recommendations was a call for PwC to finally fess up on who exactly was involved in passing on the confidential information beyond those already named, a demand the firm has consistently resisted at the international level.

Elsewhere, the committee also recommended the government should move to clearly detail any large-scale consulting contracts, and look at reforming the legal-structural frameworks for partnerships, in particular those in excess of 100.

Senate releases final consulting industry report after lengthy inquiry

“This report documents the deliberate disregard for truth, ethical standards and public good that has been exposed within not just PwC, but all large consulting firms. It reveals an opaque sector that has been allowed for far too long to fester in the darkness,” said Labor senator and committee member Deborah O’Neill, who added that the recommendations, if implemented in full, would provide meaningful change.

Yet, while the cross-party committee has been largely united in its scathing condemnation of PwC and the Big Four throughout the hearings, the final report arrived with a relative whimper, with Greens senator Barbara Pocock individually proposing harder-line measures such as banning political donations, making client lists public, and curtailing the public sector-consulting professional merry-go-round.

“The modest recommendations in the report are inadequate to meet the crisis uncovered by this inquiry. We need stronger action to put an end to conflicts of interest, ensure value for money, and promote public sector regrowth after decades of neglect,” Pocock stated, while Liberal member Richard Colbeck said he didn’t see it as the committee’s role “to be judge and executioner”.

Ultimately, the final ‘agreed upon’ recommendations for the most part concerned future oversight and transparency, rather than penalties or altering the industry in any fundamental way. They span from parliament establishing a special committee to approve any consulting contracts worth in excess of $15 million, to simply improving procurement training for public sector officials.

Somewhat amusingly, the AFR, which has been merciless in its unrelenting pursuit of the story since first breaking it at the beginning of last year, has responded to the final report by lauding Colbeck and to a lesser extent O’Neill for winding back what the paper says had become a “political witch hunt” and “jihad” against the Big Four.