Victoria had a change of government late last year but the same old tactic of dumping annual reports continues. So Swinburne University’s journalism program and Crikey are teaming again to bring you the Baillieu Dump, in an effort to scrutinise the workings of the state government.
You may recall that last year the then-Labor government released the annual reports of about 200 departments, statutory bodies and agencies on the same day. After observing how overwhelmed the media was by this practice, and how few of the reports received scrutiny, we decided to take a closer look at what was in them. The students found about 15 important stories, which we published under the banner of the Brumby Dump.
On the day those annual reports were released, the then-opposition leader, Ted Baillieu, denounced the dumping and vowed that things would improve if he was elected. So this year only half of the reports were released together, with the rest arriving in a couple of tranches on later parliamentary sitting days.
As a result, more reports were covered by the mainstream media this year. But they were still few in number and they tended to be from the agencies that were already topical and on the media’s radar.
The overwhelming majority of the reports were ignored. The media outlets were still unable to process so much information and the news cycle ensured that very few reports were looked at after the day of their release. This is a real shame, considering their important content.
Today we begin with a story about a major superannuation fund that has spent almost $1 million to pay consultants for reviews.
Other stories in the first week will include revelations about misconduct by a prison officer following a whistleblower’s tip off, the alarming loss of some of Australia’s cultural assets due to poor funding and the sale of dangerous goods on the internet. And in the lead-up to next week’s Melbourne Cup, we’ll take a look at problems in the horse racing industry.
These, and the many other Baillieu Dump stories, create a snapshot of the state’s administration during the transition from an 11-year-old Labor government to a newly elected Coalition. They highlight some of the priorities of the new government and reveal how entrenched problems are not easily fixed.
Many of the reporters are in their first year of journalism studies. But in researching and writing these stories they have encountered the same hurdles faced by seasoned reporters. They’ve had to apply their news sense to find stories hidden deep in the reports’ text or financial statements. They have had to decipher the bureaucratic language and the PR spin to spot where officials are actually criticising others or revealing real problems. They have had to grapple with overworked or under-helpful communications staff and they’ve had to battle to get access to the key people.
They have done the important work of journalism. They have attempted to discover new information about important issues and they have worked hard to faithfully report what they’ve found.
The future of the news media is debated endlessly these days, and there are well founded doubts about the viability of investigative reporting while the business models that have supported it are collapsing. We think this exercise demonstrates just what can be done if journalists are given the training, time and opportunity to uncover the real stories.
The internet may bring increasing opportunities for citizen journalism, but we will always need reporters who are trained in the difficult and important tasks of moderating and filtering the great weight of information thrust upon us, to reveal the stories that lie within.
We hope you’ll enjoy reading the Baillieu Dump.