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Anton Nilsson

Government body ‘does not believe’ it censored a report critical of Big Four

An Australian government agency has denied censoring an academic report that was critical of the country’s major consultancy firms, saying its leader “did not believe” the silencing had happened.

According to evidence to a parliamentary committee hearing reported by Guardian Australia, the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB) had commissioned two Deakin University researchers to look into the quality of financial reports. But because the board included members who worked for the Big Four consultancy firms, the researchers were allegedly told to remove criticism of those firms from their report.

“We do not believe that any instructions were given to leave names or businesses out of this report, or restrict what could be published,” AASB chair Keith Kendall told Crikey. 

Kendall, who became chair in 2020, said the report predated his time at the board and that his comments were based on his knowledge of the project and the board: “All board members are appointed based on their skills and experience, depending on what advice is needed at the time.

“Importantly, each member is appointed based on their individual capacity and not as a representative of a firm or our stakeholder community. This has certainly been the case during my tenure since 2020, and I believe this was the case prior to that.”

The Guardian Australia report said Deakin University researchers Peter Carey and George Tanewski believed, based on their research, that some audits done by KPMG, Deloitte, EY and PwC “did not uphold quality”. Asked for more details, Carey reportedly told the inquiry he would rather not say, alleging he had been asked not to by the AASB, according to the Guardian. 

“We were told we probably shouldn’t put it in the report because each of the representatives of the big four sit on the Accounting Standards Board and they do it voluntarily, which is a problem,” he said.

Inquiry chair and Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill said: “We’re in the world of regulatory capture here, aren’t we?” to which Carey replied: “We are.”

The Guardian Australia story said AASB had not responded to requests for comment ahead of publication, but Crikey reached the board through a PR firm employed by it. O’Neill was sought for comment.

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