The Guardian • Issue #2104

Profit over service

PricewaterhouseCoopers Building In Johannesburg, South Africa

PricewaterhouseCoopers Building In Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: TapticInfo – flickr.com (CC BY-SA 4.0)

After 10 public hearings, 61 submissions and witnesses galore, the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee has produced a report which tears strips off the ‘big four’ consulting firms, in the wake of the Price Waterhouse Coopers scandal. PwC had been found to have leaked Treasury information for profit, using confidential information to help tax avoidance by large corporate clients.  It has since compounded the offence by hiding the people responsible and being arrogantly uncooperative with the Senate Committee.

The Senate Committee’s report appropriately condemns PwC’s actions. It also goes on to make statements about the world of consultancies.

The committee’s report talks about an “inconsistency in values” between the Australian Public Service (APS) and the big four. Consultants are “primarily concerned with making a profit, whereas the APS works to support the Australian community.”

The report also raises concern about just how much the Australian government spends on consulting and the effect its reliance on consultants has on the APS. Australia spends more, proportionally, on consultants than any other country, and according to the report, the use of consultants has limited the “capability growth of the APS”, as well as raising questions about transparency, conflict of interest, and value for money.

In other words, paying self-interested large firms to do the work of the public service could lead to a public service that can’t do very much, as well as ripping us off, and not being worth what we spend on it.

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher has been non-committal about what will actually change, but has agreed that conflict of interest is an issue.

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