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Monday, December 13, 2010

Walkley award winner found prize in Defence contract documents

Congratulations to all the Walkley Award 2010 winners for excellence in journalism, particularly to Linton Besser of the Sydney Morning Herald who showed the errors in the information age of that old journalistic notion that there's no story in it if its publicly available. The citation reads:

All Media:Investigative Journalism
"The Department of Defence is Australia’s biggest-spending agency. So where does all the money go? In the four years to 2009, Linton Besser discovered, more than $1.4 billion was spent on travel, accommodation and conferences, almost $48 million had been spent on rental cars, $20 million on corporate coaching, and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of cosmetic surgery and fertility treatments had been subsidised by Defence.

Besser spent months downloading more than 700,000 contracts, and reading the 80,000 which were issued between 2006 and 2009 – some $48 billion worth of spending. Oil paintings, custom-designed chesterfields, games of skirmish, horse-back trail rides and yachting adventures were among the 80,000 contracts Besser scrutinised. Peppers Blue On Blue resort at Magnetic Island and the Lake Crackenback ski resort near Thredbo had been hired out for internal management meetings. More than $18,000 had been spent on “incidentals” for an employee rugby trip to Europe, and taxpayers spent another $11,000 for someone’s membership fees at Singapore’s exclusive Sembawang Country Club. Another find: “Army Cadet Exchange Program – flights to the Cayman Islands – $47,000.”

Defence Minister, John Faulkner, endorsed the Herald’s investigation in an interview which landed on page one the following day: “If you need more evidence of why the [government’s] strategic reform program is required, then you have provided it.”

For the past 18 months, Linton Besser has been stationed in The Sydney Morning Herald’s investigative unit. In this time, he has written reports on corruption and poor accountability within both the NSW and Commonwealth public service, leading to the removal of officials and prompting several high-level inquiries."

The judges commented:
"An outstanding piece of investigative journalism, based on thousands of Australian Defence Department documents. Besser’s incisive analysis, combined with multiplatform publication of the raw documents on which his stories were based, produced a valuable public service. "
See Besser's The wrong stuff published in March this year, and this comment at the time about the need to further improve contract disclosure.


  1. murph the surf.5:45 pm

    I guess we can look forward to seeing him arrested.

  2. I think the term is "black bagged," isn't it? I hope it's all plain siling for him - I reckon he's great.