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'Unique' ownership structure of PwC's Indigenous Consulting in the spotlight

David Prestipino -

The Commonwealth body responsible for the distribution of billions of taxpayer-funded dollars to benefit First Nations people has defended its decision to award contracts to a PricewaterhouseCoopers entity in the wake of the corporate giant's tax scandal.

National Indigenous Agency Australia, which was established in 2019 under the Morrison government's Indigenous Advancement Strategy, was the first federal agency to award contracts to PwC's Indigenous Consulting division after an 'effective ban' was reportedly replaced on such dealings by the Albanese government after PwC's tax scandal emerged.

The NIAA last year had its federal funding increased to $4.5b to manage policy development, implementation and service delivery for First Nations people on behalf of the government.

The agency, led by CEO Judy Broun, is the biggest federal funder of PwC's Indigenous Consulting, which has received $44.67m in Federal contracts, including $10.2m last April to deliver the First Nations Tourism Mentoring Program, and two further contracts since May, after the federal government effectively blacklisted the consultancy giant after an investigation into its tax leaks scandal.

"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.

PwC refused to elaborate on what the details of recent public-funded contracts awarded from NIAA entailed, with a spokesperson saying it "does not comment on client work".

However one of the world's biggest companies did stress to NIT that Indigenous Consulting, or PIC, was a separate member firm to PwC Australia, and employed 75 people, approximately 60 per cent of whom were Indigenous.

This is despite PwC owning a 49 per cent share in Indigenous Consulting, with the majority 51 per cent cent in the hands of just two people: Indigenous Consulting CEO Gavin Brown, based in PwC's Sydney headquarters at One International Towers, and Brisbane-based partner Selwyn Button, both Indigenous.

They are among five directors of PwC's Indigenous Consulting, the others being PwC Australia partners David McKeering and Thomas Bowden, and businesswoman Donna Murray.

PwC's Indigenous Consulting service is offered on PwC's homepage, while PIC's website is part of PwC Australia's website, and its offices across Australia are based in PwC's head office in that state or territory.

The ownership structure at Indigenous Consulting is also described by PwC Australia on its website as "unique".

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.

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