Politics Analysis

PwC's Indigenous arm receiving contracts in wake of scandal

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PwC faced a scandal after being caught selling stolen top-secret tax policy information (Screenshot via YouTube)

In the wake of the PwC scandal that disgraced the company, it has been discovered that its Indigenous Consulting division is still running hot. Anthony Klan reports.

DISGRACED CONSULTANCY PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)’s “Indigenous Consulting” arm – which has been given more than $44 million in federal government contracts – is owned by just two people other than PwC itself.  

They include former Sydney financial adviser Gavin Brown, who owns 35% of PwC’s Indigenous Consulting through his private company, Validus Private Wealth

It can further be revealed that PwC’s Indigenous Consulting, which says it ‘works together with governments’ to ‘close the gap’ and has been given at least $44.67 million in federal contracts, has also been given millions of dollars of contracts from the Northern Territory Government. 

PwC and the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), which was created by the Morrison Government in 2019 and has given PwC’s Indigenous Consulting more than $16 million, have each said PwC’s Indigenous Consulting is “separate” from PwC. 

As previously revealed, that’s despite PwC owning 49% of PwC’s Indigenous Consulting, and the company’s address and “principal place of business” being at PwC’s Sydney headquarters. 

Investigations show the other 51% is owned by just two people — Brown and former public servant, Selwyn Button

As previously revealed, on top of tens of millions in other contracts, PwC’s Indigenous Consulting has been given more than $10 million in “limited tender” contracts on grounds that it is an ‘SME [small-to-medium enterprise] with at least 50 percent Indigenous ownership’

Searches of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) companies register show the 51% of the company not owned by PwC is owned by a private company called MAAR Investment Holdings — which is owned by Brown and Button. 

PwC's Indigenous Consulting ownership structure. (Source: ASIC; Graphic: The Klaxon)

Brown owns 68.75% of MAAR Investment Holdings and Button owns the other 31.25%. 

That means PwC’s Indigenous Consulting is ultimately owned 49% by PwC (the biggest stake), 35% by Brown and 16% by Button. 

Brown holds his 68.75% stake in MAAR Investment Holdings through Validus Private Wealth, of which he owns 100%. 

Brown’s LinkedIn profile states:

Gavin has spent his career in the wealth management and financial advice industries — being a trusted adviser to many clients, both individuals and companies.


He progressed to management of financial advice businesses and then Managed “Private Clients” (High Net Worth individuals etc) for an ASX-listed financial services group...

Button has held various public service positions. 

Brown and Button are among the five directors of PwC’s Indigenous Consulting, and Brown is the company’s CEO. 

The other directors are PwC Australia partners David McKeering and Thomas Bowden, and businesswoman Donna Murray

PwC’s Indigenous Consulting was founded in 2013 by PwC Australia’s then-CEO Luke Sayers, who was appointed CEO in 2012. 

Brown, PwC and PwC’s Indigenous Consulting all refused to provide a copy of its audited financial accounts, so what PwC’s Indigenous Consulting is currently worth is not known. 

What its outgoing are – including executive salaries – is also not known. 

In 2022, PwC’s Indigenous Consulting was given a record $13.78 million in federal grants.

Brown told The Klaxon: “We have never declared or paid a dividend.”

Whether or not dividends have been paid (whether profits have been drawn down) has no relation to what profits have been earned by the company. 

Rather, the profits simply remain in the company until they are drawn down. 

“PwC Indigenous Consulting (PIC) is a separate organisation to PwC Australia — we are a Supply Nation Certified business (greater than 50% ownership by Indigenous peoples),” said Brown:

“We have prioritised our people and purposes before profit, which has enabled us to grow from a start-up of just over a handful of people in October 2013, to a business which is now approximately 75 people, more than 50% of whom are themselves indigenous peoples.”

As previously revealed, since 2015, PwC’s Indigenous Consulting has been given more than 100 contracts and “contract amendments” (almost all value amendments are upwards) from 19 federal government departments and agencies. 

Totalling $44.67 million, those are the contracts that are of sufficient size and type to require disclosure on the Federal Government’s tender registry, AusTender.

The former Coalition Government repeatedly froze public service hiring, while vastly increasing its spend on consultants and other contractors.

The Australian National Audit Office has found that in the 2022 financial year, the Morrison Government had engaged 53,900 contractors at a cost of $20.8 billion — or $385,185 each.

Among the dozens of “limited tender” deals given to PwC’s Indigenous Consulting is a Department of Social Services contract in February last year for exactly $200,000 for ‘policy and program development services’.

Another Department of Social Services contract was “amended” nine times — with its value upped every time. 

It started at $1.22 million in March 2019 and by June 2021 had increased almost four-fold, to $4.34 million. 

Each “amendment” – which requires a new contract – is marked ‘Limited Tender... SME with at least 50 per cent Indigenous ownership’

PwC is one of the world’s largest businesses. 

Searches of the Northern Territory tender registry show PwC’s Indigenous Consulting has also been given 17 contracts there since 2015.

Totalling $2.96 million, they include $120,000 from the Department of the Chief Minister for a ‘Northern Territory Government Local Decision Making Framework’; $150,000 for ‘provision of specialist advice and support relating to child protection’; and $225,610 for ‘consultancy services for the development of the sports and recreation master plan’.

PwC’s Indigenous Consulting provides ‘advice to government’ and ‘aims to be an emblem for Indigenous self-determination’, its website states.

PwC is embroiled in one of the biggest corporate scandals in Australian history, after being caught selling stolen top-secret Australian Government tax policy information. 

PwC sold the confidential information for millions of dollars to multinationals seeking to avoid Australian tax.

It gleaned the information while providing “advice” to government on creating new laws to prevent multinationals from avoiding Australian tax.

Facing extreme public pressure, the Federal Government on 19 May announced a clampdown on contracts, warning departments and agencies they must consider the performance history of potential suppliers, including failure to abide by confidentiality provisions.

It was reported as an “effective ban” on PwC.

Three days later, the NIAA gave PwC’s Indigenous Consulting a $745,292.57 contract for ‘strategic advice and review services’.

Last week, AusTender was updated to show the NIAA has given PwC’s Indigenous Consulting another contract — $91,982 for ‘stakeholder engagement and consultation services’.

The NIAA is by far the biggest federal funder of PwC’s Indigenous Consulting, giving it $16.3 million in contracts since the NIAA was created by the Morrison Government days after the 2019 Federal Election. 

Since then, almost two-thirds of contracts to PwC’s Indigenous Consulting by value have come from the NIAA — including a $10.2 million contract in April last year for ‘training and development services’.

The offices of PwC's Indigenous Consulting (Source: PwC's Indigenous Consulting)

PwC Australia spokesman Patrick Lane has said PwC’s Indigenous Consulting “is not part of PwC Australia” and “it is its own entity”

The NIAA said PwC’s Indigenous Consulting is “separate” from PwC Australia. 

PwC’s Indigenous Consulting’s website – part of PwC Australia’s website – lists its offices in each Australian state and territory.

In each case, that office is PwC’s head office in that state or territory. 

Anthony Klan is an investigative journalist and editor of The Klaxon. You can follow him on Twitter @Anthony_Klan.

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