The names are very familiar, KPMG and Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), two of the biggest accounting firms in the world, are now playing increasing roles in this cash drain, securing contracts for Australian Government services at a rate that is mind-boggling. The biggest beneficiary of our Government’s desire to ‘cut red tape’ is KPMG securing 596 contracts from various Commonwealth departments since the 1st July 2018, amounting to between 1-2 contracts per day.
KPMG has received in lucrative contracts with the Defence Department in the last 18 months a reliably estimated amount of around $200 million. As Defense Department contract, constitute approximately 50% of all contracts awarded in this time, it is estimated that in total, around $400 million have been dished out to KPMG in contracts in the last 18 months. PWC has also done well, receiving five contracts in the last 18 months amounting to some $1.6m.
The services these firms are providing are more than just accounting and auditing, but increasingly they are seen as advisors on management and implementation of policy. Services provided by these firms are now described as ‘management advisory services’, ‘research programs’, ‘project’ or ‘strategic planning’ and ‘administration’, arguably tasks which could be undertaken by the departments themselves. Much of this has come at the expense of public investment in our government departments, for while we are supposedly in a ‘surplus’, departments are seeing less and less of the public pie.
CSIRO has seen 1000 jobs slashed since 2017. If we look at the Department of Environment and Energy (DEE), it has received cuts to public expenditure to the tune of 25% and a loss of 60 out of 200 staff in their conservation and biodiversity division. As a result, threatened species recovery plans have been abandoned, oversight over environmental assessments reduced with a Minister making determinations based on poor evidence. We only have to see the decision regarding the Carmichael Mine with the unresolved questions regarding impacts on water resources to understand the consequences.
PWC, who service the DEE, have received $2. 2 million in contracts over the last five years, at the same time the department was massively defunded. What is noticeable is that while contracts formerly were restricted to accounting and audit services, in October 2018 a contract was awarded for the provision of ‘specialised or professional skills’ to undertake a ‘fuel cost benefit analysis’. This contract was for $275,000. While most contracts are open to the public to view, this particular contract has been deemed to be too sensitive for public scrutiny, rasining many questions on how it has affected government policy in this area. Has this information fuelled the Government’s recent calls for greater hazard reduction burning? Our Government does not want us to know.
Not to mention the incredible $434.2 million given to the private Great Barrier Reef Foundation to ‘improve the resilience’ of our Reef, for which the Foundation claims it has awarded only $22 million in grants since the lucrative deal was signed, without tender. It should be no surprise that both KPMG and PWC are ‘foundation supporters’ in this venture, which is looking more like a corporate cash cow as time goes on.