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The Federal Treasurer, the Hon Jim Chalmers MP joined business journalists at a lunch hosted by the Walkley Foundation on Wednesday, September 20 for the announcement of the 68th Walkley Award for Business Journalism finalists, supported by ING Australia.

The chair of the Walkley Foundation Adele Ferguson conducted a lively Q&A with Dr Chalmers probing his thoughts on key issues facing the country and the financial sector ahead of questions from the floor.

In his speech, Dr Chalmers emphasised the importance of celebrating journalism of the highest calibre is an “opportunity to recognise the central role of media in a healthy, functioning economy, democracy and society.” 

Referring to the number of past Walkley winners at the lunch and the impact of their stories, the Treasurer said: “At your best, you can generate real and beneficial change”.

He also commented on the content and significance of the stories that made the final three:

Our main job today is to acknowledge those journalists whose outstanding work saw them nominated and announced a few minutes ago as finalists in the 2023 Walkley Business Awards.

“I’m told it was an absolutely first-class field, so I first wanted to congratulate all those who entered the business journalism category of the 68th Walkley Awards here today.

“And a big thank you to the volunteer judges who are also here with us.

“You had a tough task to get it down to just three entries, but you’ve done a stellar job, and we have three very deserving finalists – and I’ll come to them shortly.

“First I wanted to say that celebrating journalism of this calibre is our opportunity to recognise the central role of media in a healthy, functioning economy, democracy and society.

“Work which connects people with information, shaping how we understand the global context, and the complexities and uncertainties of our own economic conditions and investor climate.

“In the room today we have great journalists who have previously won this prestigious award.

“They broke stories covering the underpayment of wages and exploited migrant workers, money laundering in gambling and misconduct in the banking system.

“These stories led to royal commissions, Senate inquiries and overhauls in corporate culture.

“So the impact goes far beyond the pages of the financial papers, newsrooms or awards events like this one.

“In the day-to-day and in the longer sweep, you help decision-makers make good, often fast decisions by informing them and shaping them.

“And you inform and shape government policies too.

“At your best, you can generate real and beneficial change.

“There is one journalist with us today who knows more than most about this, Adele Ferguson – I pay tribute to you Adele.

“Not just for winning this award a number of times, but for work that was so undeniable, of such high quality, it made a lasting difference.

“Adele’s coverage of 7 Eleven’s systemic underpayment of wages instigated an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman, set up the Migrant Workers Taskforce and prompted legislative change that meant franchisors would be held responsible for wage fraud by franchisees.

“Her multiple investigations into our financial services sector led to the establishment of a royal commission, of which the final major recommendation has been implemented with the passing of the Financial Accountability Regime, only weeks ago.

“This is the high standard that nominees of this prestigious award are expected to meet.

“We have three today, of the highest calibre.

“Bri Lee’s Monthly essay about the collapse of fashion label Ellery is a story of a fashion house which left local small businesses high and dry – preying on the goodwill of its suppliers until the very end, owing them millions of dollars when it fell over.

“One of the strengths of the essay is how it balanced the technical with the personal.

“It takes the reader through complex business structures and regulations, while also putting a human face to the story, speaking directly with the small business people left in the lurch.

“It was vivid, comprehensive and compassionate.

“And if we move from fashion to Fortescue we see in Peter Ker and Brad Thompson’s coverage in the Financial Review the changing face of FMG and FFI – an absorbing and essential story.

“A story which merges the personal and the transformational, particularly when it comes to clean energy, and a critical year that could define the future of the country’s eighth biggest listed company.

“Pete and Brad’s thorough and expansive analysis of Fortescue’s energy pivot highlights the challenges and the opportunities for businesses engaged in the transition from hydrocarbons to renewables.

“It was a complex yarn and Peter and Brad approached it with diligence and skill.

“Finally, we come to Neil Chenoweth’s and Edmund Tadros’ multiple stories about the PwC tax scandal.

“What they revealed in the Financial Review was deeply, deeply troubling.

“Neil and Edmund took us inside the shocking breaking of trust PwC engaged in.

“It was clear and methodical.

“It laid out for all of us how a tax advisory firm that was supposed to be sharing its expertise in good faith, for the development of multinational tax integrity laws, instead used its privileged position to serve itself.

“What they revealed has likely changed PwC Australia forever and led to the breaking up of the partnership in Australia.

“When it broke, it cascaded across the professional services sector and the Parliament, and it is leading to real change.

“On May 2, the PwC emails tabled in Parliament by the Tax Practitioners Board revealed the significant extent of the breach of trust.

“On May 24 when the seriousness of PwC’s misconduct came to light, Treasury referred the matter to the AFP to consider criminal investigations.

“In August, we announced the biggest crackdown on tax adviser misconduct in Australian history and a strengthening of the Commonwealth’s procurement framework.

“And today we have released draft legislation designed to strengthen the integrity of our tax system and give greater powers to regulators to prevent and address this kind of misconduct.

“The new legislation will help prevent a scandal like PwC from happening again, empower the regulators to hold offenders to account and help rebuild confidence in the industry, where the vast majority of advisors are doing the right thing.

“Without the excellent journalism from Neil and Edmund, the true depth and extent of this breach of trust might not have been so public.

“So to them and to all the finalists, we say congratulations and we wish you well, and I thank you all again for the opportunity to be part of today.”

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