The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, Fairfax Media & Four Corners, ABC TV




All Media: Investigative Journalism

This investigation into the poorly regulated retirement sector showed that retirement village operator Aveo was deliberately targeting the elderly, charging exorbitant “exit fees” when their customers died or left the villages. Close to 200,000 Australians live in retirement villages, a number that is set to double by 2025. 

Adele Ferguson, Sarah Danckert and Klaus Toft followed Freedom of Information documents, spoke to former and current staff and residents, their children and lawyers to build the story. They showed how complex legal documents were being used to dupe the elderly, using dense clauses that ensnared them with crippling fees and oppressive rules. After seeing the story, former ACCC chair Allan Fels called it “the greatest untouched consumer protection issue of this century”. The ACCC launched an investigation into Aveo, the NSW government launched an inquiry, Queensland changed legislation and Western Australia set up a special investigation unit. 

Ferguson is a multi-award winning senior business writer and columnist for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review, and a best-selling author. She won this category in 2016 with Klaus Toft and Mario Christodoulou, and now has a total of eight Walkleys to her name, including the 2014 Gold Walkley. 

Danckert is a multi-award winning senior journalist for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Sarah started her career in journalism at Business Spectator and became commentary editor. She then moved to The Australian as a business reporter. She has also written for The Australian Financial Review. 

Toft has had a long and varied career as a TV producer, director, writer and cinematographer. Four Corners investigations he has produced for the ABC and Fairfax have been honoured with four Walkley Awards. He wrote the book The Navigators: Flinders vs Baudin and has made documentaries for the ABC, PBS, Channel 4, Arte, National Geographic, TVNZ and Discovery.

Judges’ comments:

The benchmark. Underpinned by rigorous journalistic technique and a pursuit of social justice, Adele Ferguson alerted the public and regulators to highly questionable practices in the retirement village sector. The impact was immediate and widespread, changing forever the standards to be applied to the treatment of some of society’s most vulnerable citizens.