Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Mathias Cormann did ‘some work’ for ex-PwC boss Luke Sayers

Mathias Cormann did ‘some work’ for ex-PwC boss Luke Sayers

OECD secretary-general and former finance minister Mathias Cormann worked for the private consulting firm headed by ex-PwC boss Luke Sayers within months of leaving government, new documents reveal.

The pair’s working relationship has stayed largely shrouded in secrecy despite attempts from senators to uncover more details amid ongoing scrutiny of conflicts of interest between consulting firms and their government clients.

Mathias Cormann did “some work” for Luke Sayers after leaving government. Nathan Laine

Government spending on private firms exploded by more than 400 per cent under Mr Cormann’s reign as finance minister, and government contracts with PwC – then headed by Mr Sayers, who led the firm for the entirety of the tax leaks scandal – increased by more than 30 per cent.

The Department of Finance sets the rules for external contracting by the entire government and Mr Cormann was vocal in his support for outsourcing in his time as its leader.

Mr Sayers previously admitted that Mr Cormann received equity in Sayers Group, which he started after leaving PwC, in December 2020, just one month after leaving parliament.

But in answers to questions on notice from the Senate inquiry into consulting, provided in late December, Sayers Group conceded that he also did “some work” for the firm in this time, partly to earn that equity.

Luke Sayers before the Senate inquiry last year. Alex Ellinghausen

“In the period after retiring as finance minister and before taking on the job as OECD
secretary-general, Mr Cormann did some work for Sayers Group, then a start-up advisory and investment business in the process of establishment,” its response to the inquiry said.

“As part of the remuneration arrangements, also in anticipation of him joining Sayers Group as a founding partner, had the application to become OECD secretary-general been unsuccessful, he was provided with a small equity share.”

The firm failed to detail the nature of this work, however, or how Mr Cormann was made aware of the opportunity to invest in Sayers Group in the first place.

This was despite Labor senator Deborah O’Neill directly asking Mr Sayers how Mr Cormann learnt of the investment potential and for details of any meetings, correspondence or notes related to this, and the CEO taking these questions on notice.

No answers

Sayers Group said nobody from the firm had any interactions with Mr Cormann while he was in government and that there were no discussions about the entity with him in that period either.

His equity share, which Mr Cormann gave up when he got the OECD job, was granted via a “bare trust”, meaning it was not publicly declared.

The turnaround from Mr Cormann being in government to owning a stake in Sayers Group was very short, He announced his resignation in July 2020 but did not leave the then government’s cabinet until October or the Senate until November.

He gained his equity share in Sayers Group in December and was announced as OECD secretary-general in early March, meaning his “some work” for the firm was in this period.

Sayers Group also said it had “not discussed externally with any parliamentarian” a “limited tender” awarded to the firm by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission for work from November-December 2020.

It said the contract was limited because the chief information officer of the commission had requested a specific Sayers employee to work on a six-week project until a full-time staffer was hired, hence the limited contract.

The Department of Finance was separately quizzed by the Senate on why Sayers Group, which had never worked for the government at that stage, was awarded the limited tender.

It said that it was “not aware of any concerns raised in relation to this procurement” and that the finance minister was not responsible for making such decisions.

Sayers Group has since clocked up more than $6.1 million in government contracts, according to AusTender data.

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Hannah Wootton is a reporter for the Financial Review. Connect with Hannah on Twitter. Email Hannah at