The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council will close its trailblazing magazine Tracker by June, citing problems with "cost and effectiveness". But the magazine's closure comes after a front-page attack on Tony Abbott, published soon after the 2013 federal election, drew the ire of NSW Indigenous Affairs Minister Victor Dominello.
Dominello told NM by phone this morning that he met with senior members of the NSW ALC, Chairman Craig Cromelin, and Deputy Chair Roy Ah-See, following the publication of Tracker's October 2013 issue, which featured a blistering front-page story on Tony Abbott's standing in Aboriginal Australia.
Titled "Vote of No Confidence — How Black Australia Rejected Tony Abbott", the story presented booth-by-booth analysis on how Indigenous communities voted in the election. The journalist responsible for the piece, Chris Graham, concluded that, "Nationally, 64 percent of Aboriginal electors directed their vote — either before or after preferences — to the Labor Party."
Dominello told NM that in his meeting with Cromelin and Ah-See, he "said to them words to the effect of: 'I was hoping that we could work with the Federal Government in delivering good reforms for the land rights network in NSW and foster a good working relationship with people like Nigel Scullion … Having an article attacking the Federal Government makes our job a bit harder from day one when they've barely been there a day.'
"That was the only thing I said," Dominello told NM. "I am all for freedom of the press … but equally I'm entitled to express my view in terms of trying to build good relationships with key stakeholders into the future."
Dominello said that he had not read the article before meeting with Cromelin and Ah-See, because he had to "rush in", and said his problem was with the front-page splash and the polemical tone of the headline.
"Oh yeah, it was the tone and the front page. Look — to be honest — I saw that on a coffee table and I didn't even need to look at the content. I just looked at the front page and I thought 'What if I were a minister in Canberra or a senior bureaucrat in Canberra who's already got preconceived, historically bad ideas about the land rights network in NSW?'"
Dominello also insisted to NM that "I didn't intervene. I expressed a view. I didn't intervene at all," and that the first he had heard of NSW ALC's decision to shut Tracker was in a network message put out late last month. "How they deal with it is an internal matter," he said.
In the network message, dated 21 February, the NSWALC Chairman Craig Cromelin wrote that Tracker was being closed because of "the same challenges faced by mainstream print media in terms of cost and effectiveness, as well as the rise of the internet and social media."
But prominent Aboriginal historian and Tracker contributor Gary Foley, although not a member of the editorial team, says that the financial explanation doesn't make sense.
"I think that the excuse that they've put out … insinuating that the the reason for closing it was a financial thing — I think that's disingenuous, possibly dishonest," Foley told NM this morning by phone.
"Disingenuous because they're an organisation with nearly $700 million in assets. The cost of producing Tracker is insignificant in that context."
Foley also mused that "It seems a remarkable coincidence that after that meeting — in which I believe that Dominello strongly criticised Tracker to these Land Council officials — the response of the land council is to close Tracker down."
Editors Chris Munro and Amy McQuire were both unwilling to speak to NM regarding the circumstances of the magazine's closure or the council's decision.
NSW ALC Chairman Craig Cromelin told NM yesterday that "we've put out a press release and are not interested in talking. We've made a decision, council has made a decision. We'll put out releases as and when we need to."
In a press release put out this morning, Cromelin wrote "NSWALC rejects any suggestion that its decision to disband or phase-out Tracker was made because of external opinions."
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