On 23.1.23, the press sensationally reported that the former PwC international tax partner (and Tax Institute 2016 ‘Corporate Tax Adviser of the Year) had been deregistered by the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) and PwC had been sanctioned too (see related TT article). Further, the Assistant Treasurer weighed in, to put Tax Practioners ‘on notice’ regarding the way they consult with Treasury and the ATO on the development of new taxation law. The allegation was that Peter Collins passed on confidential information, that he got, whilst consulting with Treasury and the ATO on new tax law. The allegation is, also, that Peter passed it on, to other PwC practitioners, who used it for their clients’ advantage and the firm’s advantage.

I have been careful in reporting this, as I know Peter Collins, as a fellow practitioner, with a prodigious expertise in his area of specialty. I am not rushing to judge this, because I have not spoken to Peter, about this, and there is so much that I (and probably you) don’t know.

  • We don’t know the reality of the central allegation, that Peter breached confidentiality – for instance, by simply passing on confidential documents, or whether it was more complicated than that.
  • I’m no apologist for PwC (who ‘have form’ with the ATO) but we don’t know, what level of knowledge Peter had, about the way the relevant information, would be used, by his colleagues.
  • It may seem ‘open and shut’, in that the TPB has made its finding, to deregister Peter (who, it seems, has not appealed) and he no longer works for PwC. Further, PwC has expressed contrition and accepted some sanctions (though they are relatively light, and they also allow PwC, to look virtuous, by accepting, and implementing, them).
  • There is a risk, though, that the ATO has brought pressure on PwC, through the TPB (it wouldn’t be the first time) and PwC has ‘thrown Peter under a bus’ for its own purposes. I’m not saying this has happened – only that it is a risk that it is difficult to entirely discount.
  • The TPB has long ‘carried lead in its saddle’ about how ‘independent’ it looks, from the ATO. This is because the TPB takes a huge percentage of its staff, from the ATO, and it takes premises, in ATO offices (neither of which, the Inspector-General and Taxation Ombudsman, would do).
  • Defending TPB allegations can be difficult. One might suppose that Peter was defended (or at least funded) by PwC, but that may not be so. Even without PwC’s support, Peter has earned very well, in his life, and ought to have been able to fund a competent defence, but you never know.

I don’t know what Peter’s plans are now, but this deregistration, will bring more than its fair share of problems.

  • It might appear that Peter would not need registration, as a ‘tax agent’, to carry on practice (as he doesn’t lodge tax returns). However, I don’t think Peter is a lawyer, and without the Constitutional protection, of registration under a Federal Act, advising on tax law could be prosecuted, under State law, as unqualified legal practice (see related TT article).
  • Even if Peter does have a law degree, it is likely that this deregistration would preclude him getting a practising certificate, by virtue of not being a ‘fit and proper person’ for practice. Professional disciplinary action, by one professional association, creates ‘follow on’ problems, in another sphere. I’m aware, for instance, of a doctor, who was the subject of adverse findings, under a highly fraught ‘Professional Services Review’ mechanism (in the Health Insurance Act) some years later, is still unable to get a practicing certificate, as a lawyer, on just these ‘fit and proper person’ grounds.
  • And, even if Peter does have a practising certificate, as a lawyer, it is likely he would lose it, as the deregistration, as a tax agent, would have to be reported to the legal regulator.

It is difficult to know what is going here, but there is, I think, ’cause to pause’ before reaching any judgement.



[Tax Month – January 2023, previous month, 23.1.23]