Friday 29th April 2022 from 9am

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ABC Four Corners team receive distinguished Clarion award of “Journalist of the Year” for investigation into Public Trustee horror stories


Attwood Marshall Lawyers would like to congratulate ABC Four Corners team for receiving well-deserved recognition of excellence in Queensland reporting at the Queensland Clarion Awards 2022. Anne Connolly, Ali Russell and Stephanie Zillman jointly received the top gong Journalist of the Year award for their efforts. We were honoured to be asked to assist ABC in their investigative report ‘State Control’, which shone a light on the Public Trustee’s failings. This story was fronted by ABC investigative journalist Anne Connelly, who works tirelessly to inform the community about serious issues with Public Trustee’s across the nation. We acknowledge Anne’s efforts in bringing this story to life, which was an extremely challenging task, explains Attwood Marshall Lawyers Legal Practice Director, Jeff Garrett.

Queensland Clarion Awards 2022

The Queensland Clarion Awards are open to all journalists and media professionals in Queensland and cover both print and electronic media. Judging panels are comprised of media professionals, academics, and prior Clarion Award winners. To determine who is worthy of an award, the judging panel considers research and investigation, production pressures and any deadlines or time constraints, demonstration of best use of the format in which the work was published, excellence in written or verbal communication and technical production skills, public impact or benefit, including audience engagement and serving specific communities, to name a few criteria areas.

The Clarion Journalist of the Year title is a very distinguished and highly sought-after award. It is no easy feat to win the award and it is significant that a joint award was made in this instance to the team at the very well respected Four Corners program.

Recapping the Report – ‘State Control’

ABC’s Four Corners Report ‘State Control’, which aired March 2022, raised much needed community awareness about the Public Trustee’s failings across Australia, but particularly in Queensland with the heart-breaking story of Chris Pearson and his treatment at the hands of the Public Trustee.

The report uncovered astonishing cases where individuals claimed they were held against their will and prevented from living in their own homes or having access to their own finances for their basic living needs.

It was revealed that the Public Trustee engaged in financial mismanagement and fee gouging tactics and that they failed to protect the very vulnerable people they were entrusted to look after.

As a result of this report, the Queensland government ordered two separate investigations into the state office of the Public Trustee.

Apart from an appointment of a Board to oversee the Public Trustee in Queensland, there has been no further announcements from the government concerning the outcome of these investigations. One would hope some genuine progress will be made in this critical area, with changes that will assist our most vulnerable people.

The difficulty of telling this story

Anne Connolly, Ali Russell and Stephanie Zillman were acknowledged not only for shining a spotlight on the exploitation of Queensland’s most vulnerable people who place their trust in the Public Trustee, but for the complexity and degree of difficulty in bringing this particular story to life and getting it on air.

It was only after a 12-month long investigation and applications to the Supreme Courts in Queensland and Western Australia that the report was able to see the light of day.

In general, Public Trustees can escape media scrutiny by being protected by ‘gag laws’ stopping ‘clients’ from speaking out about what is being done to them by these organisations.

If journalists report on these types of stories they can be fined or even imprisoned, even if they identify people after they have died.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers Legal Practice Director, Jeff Garrett, being interviewed by ABC’s Anne Connolly for the Four Corners Report ‘State Control’

Exposing Public Trustees for mismanagement of financial affairs, overcharging and mining of deceased estates, and failure to uphold their fiduciary duties to Australia’s most vulnerable people is something that Attwood Marshall Lawyers are extremely passionate about. We acknowledge that it took great determination and bravery for ABC’s journalists to see this story through to the end and  want to congratulate Anne, Ali and Stephanie for their achievement.

We were honoured to be asked to be part of this report and share our views on what we see every day inflicted on vulnerable Australians by Public Trustees. Legal Practice Director, Jeff Garrett, was one of the few lawyers prepared to go on air and publicly speak out in support of our most vulnerable people and the issues experienced by them and their families. We continue to support ABC and other media outlets who share our values and determination to push for change and hold these government instrumentalities accountable for their actions.

Read more: Four Corners Program exposes Public Trustee horror stories

Helping people who have been harmed by Public Trustees

Attwood Marshall Lawyers continue to receive hundreds of enquiries every month from people who want to extract themselves from the clutches of the Public Trustees, whether that be redrafting a Will they had done by the Public Trustee or reaching out on behalf of a loved one who is under the Public Trustee’s financial management. We have helped hundreds of people have the Public Trustee removed from their position and make an application to appoint an alternative trustee to the role, changing their lives for the better.

We are proud to be able to play our part in educating the community and helping those in need to ensure this issue is brought to light and more people can avoid this happening to them.

We will endeavour to continue to fight to do what we can to hold these institutions accountable and call for action to be taken.

If you are unhappy with how the Public Trustee has handled your affairs, or that of a loved one, whether it be by charging exorbitant fees, financial mismanagement, or failing to administer a deceased estate appropriately, it is imperative to seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity. We have a dedicated team of lawyers who practice exclusively in estate litigation and handle a significant number of matters involving Public Trustee disputes.

These are extremely complex matters and require legal assistance from someone who understands the state specific legislation and process involved in holding Public Trustees accountable for their bad behaviour.

We have helped hundreds of clients involved in Public Trustee disputes and will continue to fight for people who have suffered under the control of Public Trustees around Australia. The Four Corners story has also prompted many people who received a ‘free Will’ from the Public Trustee to have a new Will done elsewhere. Please see our blog on the issue of ‘Free Wills’

If you require advice about a Public Trustee related matter, contact our experienced team any time by contacting Estate Litigation Department Manager, Amanda Heather, on direct line 07 5506 8245, email or free call 1800 621 071.

Update 18th November 2022: ABC does it again and wins 2022 Gold Walkley Award

Anne Connelly, Stephanie Zillman, and Ali Russell continue to be awarded for their gripping investigative reporting, receiving the Gold Walkley Award for Public Service Journalism for their investigation into the Public Trustee, “State Control”. 

The Gold Walkley judging panel stated that the report was “enlightening and determined reporting, giving power to voiceless people and allowing them to tell a story of complete powerlessness”.

The Walkley Awards are major awards for Australian journalism and winners are chosen by the Walkley Advisory Board. These awards were first established in 1978 and continue to be considered the pinnacle of journalistic achievement. Once again this acknowledgement is a testament to the determination and talent Anne and her team displayed in bringing attention to this important issue. 

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Jeff Garrett - Legal Practice Director - Wills & Estates, Estate Litigation, Property & Commercial, Compensation Law, Commercial Litigation, Criminal Law, Racing & Equine Law

Jeff Garrett

Legal Practice Director
Wills & Estates, Estate Litigation, Property & Commercial, Compensation Law, Commercial Litigation, Criminal Law, Racing & Equine Law

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The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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