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Federal agency for Indigenous funding gives PwC $44m in contracts

David Prestipino -

Multi-mllion-dollar contracts were awarded to an Indigenous consultancy division of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) by a Commonwealth funded agency, days after the federal government effectively blacklisted the consultancy giant after its tax leaks scandal.

National Indigenous Agency Australia is a federal body initially established during the Morrison government in 2019 under its Indigenous Advancement Strategy, charged to deliver billions of dollars in Commonwealth funding for policy development, implementation and service delivery for First Nations people.

The agency - once referred to in its infancy by a Morrison minister as Australia's "Indigenous voice" - awarded a lucrative contract to PwC's 'Indigenous Consulting' division PIC on May 23, days after PwC was lambasted by the Australian government amid public uproar over selling tax policy information to multinationals for millions of dollars.

The NIAA, which was the first federal agency to award a contract to a PwC entity since the scandal, said the $745,292 funding to PIC was for "strategic advice review services".

"NIAA selected PIC to undertake Grant Activity Reviews of some family safety service providers funded by the Indigenous Advancement Strategy," a NIAA spokesperson said.

Last week, AusTender was updated to show the NIAA had given Indigenous Consulting another contract worth $91,982 for "stakeholder engagement and consultation services".

The NIAA was recently criticised by Indigenous Affairs minister Linda Burney after it was found to have widespread inaccuracies in its fraud management systems in a damning report by the Australian National Audit Office.

The ANAO found the agency, which had its budget under the IAS in 2022-23 increased to $4.5b, was failing to properly detect and manage fraud.

In 2021–22, the NIAA funded more than 1000 external providers to deliver about 1500 IAS activities at a cost of $1.03 billion, yet it failed to commence a single fraud investigation.

Ms Burney instructed the NIAA to implement further anti-fraud measures on top of the seven recommendations from the ANAO report.

The Federal Government on May 19 announced a clampdown on contracts, warning departments and agencies to consider "performance history" of potential suppliers, including failure to abide by "confidentiality provisions".

It was reported as an "effective ban" on PwC, after it was caught selling stolen top-secret Federal Government tax policy information for millions of dollars to multinationals seeking to avoid Australian tax, in one of the biggest corporate scandals in Australian history.

PwC learnt of the policy information while providing advice to the federal government on creating new laws to prevent multinationals avoiding Australian tax.

The NIAA's recent funding contract with PIC came despite the alarming tax leaks and ensuing public and government backlash.

The NIAA is the biggest federal funder of PwC's Indigenous Consulting, which has received at least $44.67m in Federal contracts, including $10.2m last April to deliver the First Nations Tourism Mentoring Program, aimed at elevating the Indigenous tourism sector.

While PwC refused to elaborate on that contract, saying it "does not comment on client work", the NIAA said the $10m in taxpayer-funded money would enable Indigenous Consulting to provide training and development activities for the program.

"NIAA has been assured that none of the PwC Indigenous Consulting staff were involved in the PwC Australia tax scandal," a NIAA spokesperson told National Indigenous Times.

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