Ben Hills is one of Australia's best-known investigative journalists, the author of five books, a former foreign correspondent and TV producer. He is a winner of the Walkley Award (Australia's Pulitzer Prize) and has been highly commended for the Graham Perkin Award for Australian Journalist of the Year.
Now freelancing, Ben has spent 30 years working for Australia's two leading broadsheets - The Age in Melbourne and the Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney. He was a line producer for the Australian 60 Minutes programme for four years, and has worked as a foreign correspondent in more than 60 countries.
Ben was born in Grassington Yorkshire, and educated at various private and government schools in England, on the Continent, and in Australia after the family migrated in 1959. He attended Queensland University, then took a job as a cadet reporter on the Stanthorpe Border Post. He subsequently worked for papers in Forbes and Goulburn NSW and Hobart, Tasmania, before joining The Age in Melbourne in 1969 when it was led by the late, great Graham Perkin. He led The Age Insight investigative team, which had a number of notable scoops including exposing corruption in Housing Commission land deals which eventually contributed to the downfall of the Hamer/Thompson Liberal Government, and the "Loans Affair" expose which led to the sacking of the Whitlam Labor government in 1975.
Ben served as a foreign correspondent:
• In the mid-1970s based in London but principally covering the Middle East and Africa as a "roving correspondent" for the Melbourne Age. He reported on civil wars in the Lebanon, the Sahara, Liberia, Ethiopia, and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), as well as Northern Ireland and Iceland (the so-called Cod Wars). The stories he covered in Africa included the coronation of the Emperor Bokassa in the Central African Empire, ivory-smuggling in Kenya, the campaign to eradicate "river blindness" in Upper Volta, disasters involving oil tankers registered in Liberia, a political show-trial in Zanzibar, and the independence movements in Rhodesia and Djibouti. In the Middle East and North Africa he covered elections in Israel, and reported from Palestinian refugee-camps in Lebanon, and from Egypt, Syria and Colonel Ghaddafi's Libya.
• In the early 1980's Ben spent two years in Hong Kong as publisher of Syme Media Enterprises, a small magazine-publishing business owned by The Age, traveling extensively around Asia. When he returned to Melbourne he was appointed an assistant editor of the Age, but left not long afterwards to return to reporting - as a producer for the Australian 60 Minutes current affairs programme. In four years with the programme Ben produced for the original team of Jana Wendt, George Negus, Ian Leslie and Ray Martin under the leadership of the programme's founding executive producer Gerald Stone. It involved extensive assignments overseas : exposing a racket in stolen babies in Taiwan, various killer drugs and medical products released in the US such as the Dalkon Shield, gold-mining in Brazil, the first TV reporting on AIDS in Australia, issues involving Australia's Aboriginal population, live sheep exports, and the missile defence systems.
• From 1992 to 1995 Ben was Japan correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, also covering issues and events in China, Siberia, and North and South Korea. It was a momentous time in Japan : the 50th anniversary commemorations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki marking the end of World War II, the aum shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the Kobe earthquake, the election of the first non-LDP government. As well, Ben covered a range of social issues affecting Japan : the advent of unemployment, women's issues, the battle for compensation by minorities such as the victims of the Minamata pollution and wartime slave prostitutes, whaling and other conservation issues. He covered these experiences in his second book, Japan-Behind the Lines (Hodder Headline).
In the late 1980s through to today Ben has specialized in exposing business and political corruption for the Sydney Morning Herald and (for two years) the Melbourne Herald. His Walkley award was for The Big Steal, a three-continent investigation of a $70 million sting on the Swiss Banking Corporation. His investigations have included revealing corruption at the Tricontinental Bank in Victoria which led to the bank's collapse and the jailing of its managing director, infiltrating the Raelian religious cult, and exposing Exxon's global strategies for avoiding legal liability for industrial disasters.
For almost 20 years, Ben has campaigned against the asbestos industry, particularly the major Australian producer CSR, and the region's largest manufacturer, James Hardie Ltd. His first book was an account of the battle for justice by victims of CSR's Wittenoom asbestos mine in Western Australia. His most recent contribution was an account of the James Hardie corporation's attempt to avoid a $1.5 billion liability to its victims around the world (International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, May 2005)