The West Australian’s Steve Pennells has won Australia’s most prestigious award in journalism for his coverage of Gina Rinehart’s multi-billion dollar feud with her children and an asylum seeker boat tragedy.
Pennells, already a two-time Walkley award winner, was awarded the Gold Walkley last night at a ceremony in Canberra.
The Gold Walkley is chosen by the Walkley Advisory Board after considering the winners of all other categories.
Pennells’ Gold Walkley was awarded for two stories that won in different categories: Best Scoop of the Year and Social Equity Journalism.
The West Australian editor Brett McCarthy said Pennells was “a great journalist and has been for a very long time”.
“He now gets the recognition that all of us at The West know he deserves,” Mr McCarthy said.
“He takes his position as one of the nation’s best and no doubt he will continue to provide our readers with great journalism for a long time to come. We are all very proud of his achievement.”
Pennells travelled with photographer Lee Griffith to Pakistan to track down the relatives of a group of asylum seekers who died en route to Australia when their boat sunk 220km north of Christmas Island this year.
Pennells spoke to the men’s families and traced their path from the Pakistani city of Parachinar, on the Afghan border, to West Java and onto the doomed boat.
Judges praised the story, which won the Social Equity category, as “an extraordinary and powerful story about a desperate decision which ended in tragedy.”
“Steve Pennells humanised the asylum-seeker debate by shifting the spotlight off politics and on to the lives of those directly affected,” they said.
Pennells’ other award-winning story involved an investigation into Mrs Rinehart’s feud with her children, which ultimately triggered a legal battle with the billionaire.
Judges said Pennells had “consistently led the pack” on the Rinehart story.
“His six-month investigation and access to critical documents and key players resulted in rich, in-depth stories about Rinehart’s multi-billion dollar battle with her children,” they said. “A brilliant scoop with continuing impact.”
Pennells’ journalism career began with stints at The Esperance Express and Kalgoorlie Miner before he joined The West Australian. His career has taken him on assignment to China, Iraq, Sudan, Europe and US and South-East Asia.
He is one of the country’s most decorated journalists, most recently winning the United Nations Media Peace Prize print category and three awards at last month’s WA Media Awards, including the Clarion Award for outstanding journalism.