The man who was CEO of consultancy PwC Australia for the entire tax payments affair, Luke Sayers, has exited as chair of a charity he runs with his wife.
Last year, as chair of Inclusion Foundation, Sayers declared his wife — the charity’s founder, Cate Sayers — had engaged in no wrongdoing in a major political scandal involving then Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
That was despite Luke Sayers providing no evidence to back his claims.
In bombshell revelations just weeks out from last year’s May federal election, it emerged Cate Sayers and then Guide Dogs Victoria CEO Karen Hayes had appeared in advertisements spruiking Frydenberg for re-election.
It is illegal for charities to endorse politicians or political parties.
Both women appeared in the political advertisements, which were officially authorised by Frydenberg, under the heading “Why I am voting for Josh Frydenberg”.
Hayes appeared as “CEO, Guide Dogs Victoria” and Cate Sayers appeared in as “Founder, Inclusion Foundation”.
Frydenberg political flyer featuring Cate Sayers. Source: Josh Frydenberg.
Inclusion Foundation, founded by Cate Sayers in 2009, provides dance programs for people with disabilities.
When the scandal broke Frydenberg was forced to pull the ads, which appeared online, on Frydenberg’s website and social media, and on flyers distributed in his then electorate of Kooyong in inner Melbourne.
The board of Guide Dogs Victoria almost immediately “stood down” Hayes, announced it had not authorised her to appear in the advertisements, ordered the ads be pulled, and launched an investigation.
Hayes was subsequently forced to resign from the charity, after ten years at its helm.
By contrast, Cate Sayers received the all-clear over the affair — from her husband.
Luke Sayers, as chair, wrote to members of the Inclusion Foundation shortly after the scandal broke, declaring no wrongdoing had occurred — yet he provided no evidence to back the claims.
“Luke Sayers declared no wrongdoing had occurred – yet he provided no evidence to back the claims”
His claims were despite charities regulator the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) stating charities must not be involved in “promoting or opposing a political party or candidate for political office”.
Charities must not promote or oppose “a political party or candidate for political office. Source: ACNC
We have obtained a copy of the letter Luke Sayers sent to charity members shortly after the Frydenberg scandal broke.
It is addressed to “Inclusion Foundation Family”.
“The Board and Management of the Foundation understands the concerns that have been raised over the past few days regarding this,” Luke Sayers writes.
“We are aware of our obligations as a registered charity”.
He writes that “the charity does “not endorse, promote, or oppose any political parties or candidates” — using the wording of the ACNC laws — and that Cate Sayers had shared “her personal views”.
That’s despite Cate Sayers — like Hayes — having repeatedly and directly referred to her charity in the Frydenberg advertisements, even directly praising then Treasurer Frydenberg for his financial support (using taxpayer money) for her charity.
“Josh (Frydenberg) is the epitome of community” and has a “massive track record” of “supporting…our local charities”, Cate Sayers says in the ads.
“Kooyong is also home to a charity I founded in 2009 called Inclusion Foundation (formerly e.motion21) for individuals with Down syndrome.
“Josh understands the dignity that comes through providing a fair go to all of us,” she says.
Frydenberg political ad featuring Cate Sayers. Source: Josh Frydenberg. Markups: The Klaxon
Luke Sayers’ letter makes no mention of the fact he is Cate’s husband – or whether the associated, highly serious, governance issues had been addressed in any way.
It also does not state who specifically from Inclusion Foundation’s “board and management” had given Cate the all-clear, or whether Cate – herself a board member – was removed from those deliberations.
Luke Sayers and Cate Sayers have repeatedly refused to comment over the past 12 months when contacted by The Klaxon.
Luke Sayers repeatedly refused to comment when asked whether he had recused himself from that decision; whether any other Inclusion Foundation directors were involved in the decision; or on what grounds he based assertion that Cate Sayers had engaged in no wrongdoing.
As Inclusion Foundation chair, he was the person responsible for overseeing corporate governance.
The matter goes to the heart of the governance practices of the former PwC Australia CEO, who to date has attracted relatively little scrutiny, despite being the person in charge at PwC throughout the tax leaks affair.
“The matter goes to the heart of the governance practices of the former PwC Australia CEO”
He was PwC Australia CEO from 2012 until mid-2020, which covers the entire period the firm took top-secret Australian Government data and sold it to multinationals seeking to avoid Australian tax.
Luke Sayers’ letter to members as Inclusion Foundation chair. Source: Supplied
Before becoming CEO, Luke Sayers had headed PwC Australia’s tax operations.
While he was CEO the head of PwC Australia’s tax operations was Tom Seymour. Seymour replaced Luke Sayers as CEO in mid-2020.
Last month Seymour was ousted as CEO amid the ongoing tax leaks scandal.
Frydenberg (left), Cate Sayers and Luke Sayers. Source: Supplied
Luke Sayers’ departure as chair of Inclusion Foundation is disclosed on the charity’s website in a “letter from the founder”, Cate Sayers. It states he will stand down as chair but remain a director of the charity.
“After three years of service, Luke Sayers AM will pass the baton to Laura Green to Chair the Inclusion Foundation,” Cate Sayers writes.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank Luke for his dedication and commitment to the Inclusion Foundation, and we are pleased to confirm that he will remain on our Board”.
The letter is dated Friday, April 28.
Days later, on Tuesday May 2, the PwC tax leaks scandal erupted when a heavily redacted 144-page cache of internal PwC emails discussing Project North America was released to a Senate inquiry.
Sayers also did not respond to The Klaxon’s requests for comment regarding the PwC scandal.
A Senate inquiry — headed by politicians of all major political parties — last Wednesday found PwC Australia had engaged in a multi-year cover-up of the tax scandal.
In an interim report called “PwC: A calculated breach of trust” the inquiry found PwC was continuing to obfuscate, with its actions indicating “poor corporate culture” and a lack of “governance and accountability”.
“PwC does not appear to understand proper process, nor do they see the need for transparency and accountability,” the report states.
“PwC does not appear to understand proper process, nor do they see the need for transparency and accountability” Senate inquiry report
Luke Sayers has said extremely little about the PwC scandal.
“If requested, I look forward to engaging with any Senate inquiries or AFP process,” he was reported as saying on June 2, although it is not stated whether he made the statement directly or through a spokesperson.
Last Thursday, after the explosive Senate report was released, a “spokesman” for Luke Sayers was quoted stating the report only mentioned him once, noting he was “the former CEO of PwC”.
“Mr Sayers, who was elected Australian CEO by his fellow partners, was not aware of the confidentiality issues that have since emerged within the international tax practice at PwC,” the spokesman is quoted as saying.
“Mr Sayers, as he has already stated publicly, will of course co-operate with and assist any inquiry into PwC”.
Last month Luke and Cate Sayers departed on an extended luxury holiday to Europe.
On leaving PwC in 2020 Sayers set up a mini-PwC called Sayers Group.
As previously revealed, Sayers Group, since April 2021, has received 17 Federal Government contracts totalling $6.26 million.
‘Since April 2021 Sayers Group has received 17 Federal Government contracts totalling $6.26 million”
Luke Sayers is also President of the Carlton Football Club.
The Senate inquiry has said a substantial part of the cover-up by PwC Australia involved it having refused to provide the Australian Taxation Office with “tens of thousands” of documents, which PwC had falsely claimed were covered by lawyer-client privilege.
In its report released last week, the Senate inquiry said PwC engaged in a “deliberate strategy” over “many years” to cover up the tax leaks affair.
“The committee concludes that PwC engaged in a deliberate strategy over many years to cover up the breach of confidentiality and the plan by PwC personnel to monetise it,” the report states.
“It stretches credulity that the senior leadership of PwC were ignorant of all this. The application of legal professional privilege to large volumes of documents must have had approval from the most senior levels within PwC”.
At the most recent public hearing of the inquiry, on June 14, ALP Senator Deborah O’Neil said she considered it “completely implausible” the CEO of PwC Australia at the time would not have been aware of the matters.
“The CEO at the time…do you know who that was?” O’Neil asked ATO Second Commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn.
“At the relevant times Luke Sayers was CEO of PwC,” Hirschhorn responded.
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