ABC journalist Anne Connolly has won the 44th Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year award, one of the highest honours in Australian journalism. The award was presented at the Melbourne Press Club's annual Quill Awards dinner in Melbourne on Friday 6 March 2020.

The judges said of the winning work:

Anne Connolly's reporting was critical in triggering the Royal Commission into the aged care sector, and she has continued to expose the industry to unwanted scrutiny. In a series of reports across TV, radio and online, Connolly has revealed further cases of nursing home residents being sexually assaulted, chemically and physically restrained, and generally neglected in a shameful way. Such is her reputation and credibility, Connolly has been deluged with emails and letters from families of aged care residents wanting her to tell their stories of mistreatment. Anne Connolly has stayed with this story when many others have moved on. She has become the leading reporter in an area that will become increasingly important in Australian life. Her tenacity and fearlessness are in the true Graham Perkin tradition.

(Draft) Transcript:

Okay, we are almost at the break before main course, but it is time for the most prestigious national award in Australian journalism, and that is of course, the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year award. In October, it will be 45 years since the sudden death of one of Australia's finest editors Graham Perkin.

Tonight, the Melbourne Press Club is very proud and honored to present the 44th Australian journalist of the Year award in his honor, as we know it is one of Australian journalism richest prizes sponsored by the aged Perkins newspaper with a $20,000 prize and is also supported by Virgin Australia.

To present this next award, please give a very warm welcome to Perkin Award Chief Judge Michael Roland and the Editor of The Age, Mr Alex Laval.

[Applause] [Music]

Thank you very much Alicia, it was a great pleasure, great honor to be the Chief judge of the Perkin award this award was very much judged in Graham's spirit recognizing his tenacity, his courage, his determination to right wrongs, his support of all of his journalists and I've got to know a fair bit about knowing Graham Perkin in my time at the Press Club over the last few years and I know that the editor he was, would have been absolutely appalled and incensed at the assault on media freedom we've all seen over the last year.

And let's go straight to the shortlist, I'd like to thank my fellow judges Duskas Asyllage of The Age and Helen Trinker of The Australian. It was a very tough task, we had a very large field of entrants it was very tough to get it down to the shortlist of four and even tougher to choose the winner.

So to the finalists in alphabetical order, the ABCs Anne Connolly, Anne Connolly as you would have known, has been instrumental in setting up the Royal Commission in aged care and last year she continued to come up with some searing exposes of maltreatment of old people in our nursing homes and aged care centres.

Peter Charley of Al Jazeera for that searing report into one nations attempts to solicit cash from the National Rifle Association for use in Australian politics, a story that had massive implications for One Nation and key figures in that party. Nick McKenzie of The Age - every year Nick McKenzie cements his reputation as one of this one of this country's if not the most sterling journalist in Australia in this series of reports he covered everything from Chinese infiltration into Australian politics, the dubious activities of some high rollers here at Crown and allegations of SAS war crimes.

I'm trying not to look at Anne Peacock while I'm saying that, and finally Royce Millar and Ben Schneiders of The Age as well. This pair did some fantastic reporting exposing some really dodgy stuff at Casey Council as we know Casey Council was sacked in the last few weeks they also did some great reporting on wage theft in the restaurant industry in Melbourne and reporting on the dubious personal life of one (inaudible), so please congratulate all of our finalists and I hand the microphone over to Alex Flavel.

Thanks very much and notwithstanding the sad news about AAP this week, I like to just reiterate what Alicia said at the start and what a bright and exciting future there is in the industry and with a focus on policy and engagement and courage which we're all celebrating here tonight we'll secure that.

And the winner of the 44th Graham Perkin Australian journalist of the Year Award, is Anne Connolly of the ABC. [Applause]

Anne Connolly's reporting was critical and triggering the Royal Commission into the aged care sector and she has continued to expose the industry to unwanted scrutiny in a series of reports across TV, radio and online. Connolly has revealed further cases of nursing home residents being sexually assaulted, chemically and physically restrained and generally neglected in a shameful way.

"over the next 10 days Margaret had seven falls: "...because I think she had become a little bit aggressive she was given drugs and because of the drugs she lost her balance and she got a bruising of her black eye and broken pelvis, in fact, terrible conditions really there..."

"... when I finally got the call that she'd been admitted to Frankston Hospital and I went to see her and I just was just, utterly unbelievable, because she just looked like, you know, skin and bones, and they said I know look, she'll be ok you can go home so I travelled two and a half hours back home again and only to get a phone call the next morning that she died... and I wasn't there...she was by herself..."

Such is her reputation and credibility, Connolly has been deluged with emails and letters from families of aged care residents wanting her to tell their stories of mistreatment. Anne Connolly has stayed with the story when many others have moved on. She has become the leading reporter in an area that would become increasingly important to Australian life. Her tenacity and fearlessness are in the true Graham Perkin tradition.


Anne Connolly:

Thank you so very much, it is an enormous honor to receive this award. I'd like to acknowledge my fellow nominees Nick and Peter, Royce and Ben. We all do hard work and we all do it for the right reasons as everybody in this room does and I started off in newspapers so I have a great deal of respect for the Graham Perkin award. Although I've been covering this aged care and reporting on it for the last two years, I've actually been investigating it for the past 10 years.

It started when I was working at Four Corners as a producer and I did a fly in the world documentary, covering and following three people with dementia, and it was my very first time going into a nursing home and I was shocked by what I saw and obviously it was hard to get access to these places, so they obviously thought things were okay there, but I thought people sitting around just watching TV, people crying out for help, it disturbed me. And then it became very personal for me when my mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's went into an extremely high-end, very expensive nursing home in Sydney and she was, locked in a dementia ward. She was chemically restrained with drugs. She was often thirsty when we went to see her, she was wearing other people's clothes other than hers.

The staff there had no understanding of how dementia worked, and what was so disturbing for us as a family, we complained, we met with managers, it all fell on deaf ears, and the same with the complaints process and the same with a regulatory process as well, so it hit me in a very personal way and of course when things like that happen, you know, you do take a great deal of notice.

Every media report, I spoke to a lot of people, but as I said I was a producer, I didn't have the position as an on-air reporter and so that's where I was very lucky in that Joe Puccini the head of the Investigations Unit, we had worked together at Four Corners, she knew how passionate I was about this, she trusted me and together we launched probably the ABCs most accessible crowd-sourced investigation asking families and staff to come forward and tell us their stories, and within a week we had over 4,000 people respond, largely because the advocacy groups which are supposed to possibly help these people are scared of speaking up mainly because they're funded by the government. So there was nowhere for these people to turn - they turned to us and with that wealth of material, we went to Four Corners Executive Producers Sally Neighbor and supervising producer (inaudible), who were incredibly helpful.

They basically said this deserves a two-part series and that's what we did. And as you probably all know, a day before that, the first of that, was that two-part series went to air, the Royal Commission was called which was the best prize that anybody could ever ask for. We don't care how it happened, it happened.

So I think the thing that's sort of a little bit disturbing for me is that even while this Royal Commission is on, I still get emails all the time and that's why I've been able to report for a whole year on this subject, that's all I do, because there are so many people who are distressed, there's a lot of trauma. I don't think it should be underestimated the amount of trauma that families feel about having let down, they feel their loved ones, because the door has been closed on them in terms of trying to get redressed for what's happened, and although a lot of those stories have come out at the Royal Commission, not quite as many as I would like to see and I think that there needs to be an investigation into the regulatory process, the complaints process, the people that basically have shut the door on many of these people that are our most vulnerable. And I mean to be perfectly honest, we're all there one day.

I guess this whole story has made me incredibly aware of how our media presents older people, and I think it's time that you know this idea that this is not a subject that rates, has to go. We're all a little bit concerned nowadays with what gets clicks, what gets the engagement time and so forth, but there is great value in our role as presenting evidence to the public about abuse of power, about people who are neglected, abused, chemically and physically restrained, who have no recourse.

I've got a lot of people to thank. The one thing that I should actually say is we would not be anywhere without all of those amazing people who came forward, some at great risk to themselves. So many staff wrote to us and said 'please do something, I'm too frightened to speak up,' but they were asking us for help and the ABC has been absolutely amazing because as part of the Investigations Unit I've been able to work for all sections of the ABC. So I suppose the thing that I must say first of all is I must thank Joe Puccini who has encouraged me to continue working on this story throughout, as she does with everybody in the investigations unit.

It's a great little unit and we manage to produce stories for all of the ABC. Sally Neighbour and (inaudible), as I mentioned Jon Stewart has been my producer throughout the whole thing and has been incredible, 7:30 Report Justin Stephens, Alice Brennan from Background Briefing, all of 7pm News, AM, News 24, everybody has been able to broadcast these programs, and I think that's really had an impact.

So I really want to say thank you so much to those people, thank you for this award and I'm so grateful to be part of this industry which is so important when we have a such an important role to play in making sure that people who are in power are called to account and I would just encourage everybody here it's a great opportunity to say please let's not forget what's happening in aged care. I know it's a little bit of a difficult sector to get your head around, but it's crucial because actually it affects all of our futures, thank you so much.

[Applause] [Music] [Applause] [Music]

Beautifully said and well done on all of your work over your career, but particularly your investigations into aged care and congratulations once again. Put your hands together for our 2019 Australian journalist of the year Anne Connolly and thank you very much also to you Michael and Alex as well.