What’s wrong with PM Turnbull?



As a weary electorate approaches yet another holiday season, looks back over the year and asks: ‘How has our federal government improved life for ordinary Aussies’, the answer is depressing.

Our self-styled ‘adult government’ has achieved so little for so long. We have had to endure indecision, poor planning, stultifying policies, governmental chaos, the dual citizenship shemozzle, infighting, and worst of all, inept decision-making and ineffectual leadership.

While the members of the Coalition must take much of the blame, the one who must shoulder most is the nation’s leader – Malcolm Turnbull. What on earth is wrong with PM Turnbull?

The question is redundant – we already know what’s wrong. We have watched Turnbull for many years now, have written about him over and again, and have predicted just what we are now seeing. A review of The Political Sword Archive reveals over twenty pieces that have been penned about Turnbull with links to many more, dating back nine years to 2008. We ought not be surprised at the Turnbull we now witness and tolerate uneasily.

We had expected so much more from him. Memories of his earlier failures faded during the reign of the awful Tony Abbott. So gross was Abbott that when the intelligent, urbane, personable, cultured, well-spoken, well-presented, persuasive and credible Turnbull toppled him in a cleverly organized coup, the electorate breathed a collective sigh of relief, and, with high hopes, welcomed him warmly. Surely, anyone would be better that the nasty, combative Abbott, whose legacy of destruction lives with us still through the damage he did to energy policy, the NBN, the marriage equality debate, and the damage he still does day after day to the government of which he is a member, and to its elected leader.

The electorate was prepared to give Turnbull a ‘fair go’, hoping that having achieved his life-long goal of prime ministership, we would see a new side of him. We knew of his achievements in business as co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, his success with the ISP OzEmail, his brilliance as a barrister in the famous Spycatcher case where he defeated the UK government and when he defended Kerry Packer (the goanna), his record as a journalist, and his involvement in the unraveling of the corporate failure of insurance company HIH.

We also had memories of Turnbull’s devotion to the Republic, his enthusiasm for combating climate change, his support for marriage equality, and his intention to deliver fast broadband. Sadly he has let us down as Abbott slammed the brakes on these initiatives. You can read the gory details in Abbott's legacy of destruction.

So let’s look back a while and observe how the Turnbull of today was completely predictable many years ago.

As far back as December 2009 The Political Sword featured a piece: Opposition ship docks for repairs that concluded: ‘A combination of lack of purpose, weakness of character, insufficient muscle and diminishing authority, and an ego-centric certainty of the correctness of his own position coupled with an unwillingness to listen, is lethal in a leader. How long can he [Turnbull] last before the murmurings among his crew and the critics begin to further erode his position’.

These sentiments echo still!

Even before that, in April 2009, in Why is Malcolm Turnbull so unpopular?, there were these words:
‘There’s not much need to emphasize Turnbull’s contemporary unpopularity – it’s all over the air waves and the papers. It takes only a few metrics to quantify it. He leads a Coalition that Possum’s Pollytrack currently shows has an average TPP vote of only 40. Pollytrack shows 60/40 in Labor's favour across several polls, and Pollytrend shows a steady trend away from the Coalition.

The latest Newspoll PPM ratings show 67/18. As primary votes are running at 47/36, it means that half of Coalition voters don’t prefer Turnbull as PM.’
In June 2009, a TPS piece: Stop at nothing – Malcolm’s fatal flaw? reviewed Annabel Crabb’s Quarterly Essay about the ’Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull’ – Stop at Nothing. Referring to the 1984 Costigan Royal Commission convened to investigate the activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, Crabb concluded:
From the Costigan affair we can draw some preliminary conclusions about the young Turnbull. The first is that he has no regard for orthodoxy,... and this refusal to ‘play by the rules’ is something of a lifelong pattern for Turnbull; it explains much of his success, but also accounts for the worst of his reputation...The second thing we learn from Costigan is that violent tactical methods are not just something which Turnbull will contemplate turning on if sufficiently provoked. It’s not enough to say that Turnbull is prepared to play hardball. He prefers to play hardball – that’s the point. It is impossible to rid oneself entirely of the suspicion that Turnbull enjoys the intrigue – the hurling of grenades...
It seems though as if Turnbull has lost his aggressive mojo when it comes to standing up to the ultra-conservative rump in his party that threatens his leadership if he does not comply with their every wish. So much for Turnbull’s desire to play hardball! He is unable or unwilling to risk his leadership by defending his long-held ideals. For him, survival always trumps principle!

After Turnbull, written in October 2009, begins: ‘Despite the caution implicit in Mark Twain’s statement about his reported death being an exaggeration, columnists are almost universally predicting Malcolm Turnbull’s political demise.’

They are still.

Way back in 2009, Andrew Bolt wrote: ‘No hope, no real leader, no real successor – could it get any worse for the brawling, broken federal Liberals?’

Today, nothing’s changed except the date!

The only factor protecting Turnbull now is the paucity of replacements.

Shock jocks Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Andrew Bolt would have him replaced in a flash by Tony Abbott, whom they believe should never have been upended as he was.

Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher too was predicting the end of Malcolm Turnbull. In a video he recorded he opined that Malcolm Turnbull “...is in a terminal condition as the Liberal leader”. Hartcher goes on to predict “...the inevitable collapse of the Turnbull leadership,” insisting that “...Turnbull is in the political killing zone.”

Remember, we’re harking back to October 2009, exactly eight years ago!

In July 2016, there was a piece on TPS written in the wake of the 8 July Federal Election when the result was still uncertain: How has it come to this? It began: ‘Far from fulfilling his oft-repeated promise of stable government and sound economic management; far from avoiding the “chaos” of a close result, Turnbull seems unlikely to achieve either. The consensus among those analysing the election results, the commentariat, and the social media, is that the outcome will be a narrow LNP majority.’

It turned out to be a majority of one! Turnbull’s attempt to regain momentum was a flop.



The piece went on: ‘While acknowledging that multiple factors bring about any election outcome, I propose that this time five significant factors have been in play: the Turnbull character; Medicare; Inequality; Turnbull reversals on the NBN, marriage equality, global warming and the Republic; and insensitivity towards the Coalition’s constituency.You can read the details here

Has anything changed since then?

Again, going back to March 2009, in a TPS article titled The Turnbull Twist is this:
This piece proposes that forces within his party regularly pull and push him away from his own considered opinion. As he dances to others’ tune, we see him sometimes gyrating violently, sometimes swaying gently, and sometimes lurching precipitously – this is the ‘Turnbull Twist’.

Turnbull lacks nothing in self-confidence. It was he who said at the Federal Liberal Party Council meeting at the weekend “I am the man to lead Australia”. So why does he twist and turn so often? The answer seems to be that despite his unassailable self-confidence, he has less than supreme confidence in the loyalty and support of his party room. Persistently poor polls since his election to leadership six months ago, his disinclination to seek the views of the party room…and being unable to land many blows on Rudd and his ministers despite his splendid oratory, are among the factors that have eroded party room support.
Again, remember that this was eight years ago!

I have written many times that when Turnbull has his heart in a matter, he can speak eloquently and plausibly. When he has doubts; when he is trying to watch every word that his enemies might seize upon to berate him, he becomes hesitant to the point of being inarticulate, at times almost mute! This is his answer to Sabra Lane during a recent interview on AM about his proposed new laws on national security”
SABRA LANE: Why aren’t existing laws sufficient?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, they just aren’t. There's not the, you need, you also need very clear, clear laws. It’s, it’s important to make sure that you give the police a very clear offence that makes, so that there’s no ambiguity or grey area.
It’s hard to believe that a man whose ability to wax eloquently is widely acknowledged, could be reduced to such a stuttering, almost incoherent state.

Malcolm Turnbull is rattled. He clings by a thread onto his leadership. He is obsessed by the spectre of his conservative enemies, lead by the viciously vindictive Tony Abbott, the very one who, at the time Turnbull upended him promised: “There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping”, yet who thereafter proceeded to do all three, repeatedly!

In October 2009, as storm clouds became threatening, in What will Turnbull do now? you will read these opening words: ‘“Keep on punching Malcolm” is what his father advised. Malcolm Turnbull’s doggedness is legend, but so is his intelligence. Someone as intelligent as all his reviewers insist, must be smart enough to know when to throw in the towel, how to avoid a humiliating knockout. The key is to know when the knockout is imminent.’

The piece concluded:
Has Turnbull enough commonsense and political nous to see that all that lies ahead is more dissent, more corrosive comments,…more desire for another leader if only there was one around,…more media speculation about leadership, its favourite sport, more ridicule from Rudd and his ministers pointing to the rabble he’s trying to lead but can’t,…more poor polls, and almost certain electoral defeat and loss of seats? I suspect he has. His doggedness may well be tempered by an intense desire to ease the pain and call it quits. And if he can do that in a spectacular and relatively face-saving way, he might choose that out.
Here we are eight years later and nothing has changed. PM Turnbull is still the same old Malcolm we have come to know. His characteristics and behaviour are identical to those of eight years ago.

In Turnbull – Abbott from a better postcode? written a year ago, 2353NM concludes:
When Turnbull became prime minister, there was a hope that he would bring the claimed decency and ability to appeal to the middle ground that was so lacking with Abbott. After 13 months, it hasn’t happened. There are two possibilities: Turnbull is just as bad as Abbott (except for better clothing choices and living in a ‘more expensive’ postcode); or, to coin a phrase, Turnbull ’doesn’t have the ticker’ to promote and implement policy and legislation that isn’t approved by his conservative rump thereby ensuring his longevity as prime minister. Either way, the rest of us as Australian citizens will continue to suffer as a result.
We are a forgiving lot. We want to give everyone, even our politicians, a ‘fair go’. We have this pitiable faith that in the end they might come good. We want them to, as their decisions affect us all. Our scepticism about them is tempered by our good nature and our cherished hopes.

Yet they let us down again and again, as is testified in numerous pieces on The Political Sword, too many to enumerate in this single piece.

PM Turnbull came to office buoyed by a surge of goodwill from much of the electorate – we wanted him to succeed after the bitter experience of the belligerent and destructive Abbott. All he had to do was to ride the wave of electoral support and enthusiasm, and then perform. We would have cheered him on.

But once again he has failed, and does so day after day as he struggles to find coherence, flounders as he fights with his own backbenchers, tries vainly to plan effective policies to fill the legislative void, falters as he attempts to achieve anything positive, and makes hard work of improving his standing with the people.

He leaves the electorate gasping for relief from cost-of-living pressures, desperate for forward-looking policies that will enrich our society and each of us individually, all the time hoping for a government that looks as if it knows what it’s doing.

He has botched his leadership yet again. Looking back over the last decade we ought not to be surprised. Nothing has changed but the timeline. What’s wrong with PM Turnbull? Simply, whatever his other attributes, as a Prime Minister Turnbull is a disappointing dud.

We all should have realized that long ago.




What do you think?
Is this a fair assessment of PM Turnbull?

Let us know in comments below.

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Football, meat pies, kangaroos and political storms


Last weekend, we saw the grand finals for both the Australian Football League (AFL) and the National Rugby League (NRL). Coincidently it was also a long weekend in the Eastern States which probably allowed those with a particular allegiance to return to some semblance of normality before they had to go back to work on Tuesday.

There has been a week for all those who know something about football to comment on who won the finals, how well (or badly — depending on your opinion and if you supported the winners or the losers) they played and how this will translate into the 2018 season. Given that this is a political blog, rather than a sporting one, apart from not having a clue, the decision has been taken not add to the hysteria.

Over the years, there has been an increased amount of glitz and glamour at both codes’ end of season celebrations. A cynic could suggest that in part the additional ‘inducements’ such as half-time entertainment, aircraft flyovers and so on attempt to justify the high prices of admission to the MCG or Stadium Australia on the respective Saturday or Sunday.

It was hard to ignore that an American rap singer named Macklemore was booked to sing at the NRL grand final last Sunday thanks to self-appointed Prime Minister in waiting Tony Abbott again making a comment before putting brain in gear. Abbott’s twitter comment was ‘Footy fans shouldn’t be subjected to a politicised grand final. Sport is sport’. Abbott was supporting a Change.org petition by a former NRL player Tony Wall (with a record of 12 NRL games) asking the NRL to re-consider their ‘political’ position.

The reason for the petition was that ‘half-time’ NRL final entertainer Macklemore released a song in 2012 called ‘Same Love’. Apparently it is about same sex marriage, and it was announced that he would sing that plus a couple of other songs in front of 80,000 people at the 2017 NRL grand final. It seems obvious that the NRL have some statistic to link Macklemore and those that are either attracted to (or the NRL would like to attract to) watching Rugby League on a regular basis. It would be standard practice that Macklemore was booked by the NRL after contract negotiations and some agreement on what each party (Macklemore and the NRL) would bring to the day and the decision was made a considerable time ago to fit the artist’s commitments. Considering Turnbull only called the plebiscite (oops! Survey) a few months ago, it stands to reason that the NRL booking was made considerably earlier than Turnbull’s announcement of the survey process.

So when Abbott was on the medal presentation dais (getting booed by the way) at the end of the 2014 NRL grand final he wasn’t politicising sport? OK, we’ll give him the exception that proves the rule. But on second thoughts, how about media interviews in football stadiums, at AFL presentations, at the cricket with then NZ Prime Minister John Keys, with the Australian Woman’s Cricket Team, the Indian Cricket Team, the Australian Soccer Team, when the Australian Rugby Union gave him a named jersey, or in the ABC Cricket commentary box. All of these ‘exceptions’ are lovingly detailed by Buzzfeed here, along with pictures and a link to Macklemore’s subversive and political song which was released five years before Abbott probably knew who Macklemore was.

Abbott’s problems don’t end there. As Attorney-General George Brandis pointed out, Macklemore (as well as the rest of us) have an implied right of free speech, while calling Abbott’s comment ‘bizarre’. Even Abbott’s daughter, Frances (who has appeared in pro same-sex marriage advertising) bought into the discussion
I still remember the first time I heard this song. I was sitting in my car, about to get out and go to work ... but stopped and listened. And that same day I went and bought the album and kept it in my car and listened to it over and over again.

I can’t think of a better song for all the hundreds and thousands of people to listen to on Saturday. This is what we need right now.

Go harder @macklemore.
Go harder’ is another Macklemore song performed last weekend and Frances Abbott’s sentiment was supported by the NRL and the singer
Macklemore himself and the NRL also refused to back down. The rapper said he would “go harder” as a result of the criticism.
The myth is that a gold fish has a three second memory. The myth is wrong but Abbott must think that Australians can’t remember when he was trying to remove Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act a couple of years ago. The problem came about when fellow ultra-conservative and media commentator Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching the Act. Abbott claimed:
Any suggestion you can have free speech as long as it doesn’t hurt people’s feelings is ridiculous,” he said as opposition leader.

If we are going to be a robust democracy, if we are going to be a strong civil society, if we are going to maintain that great spirit of inquiry, which is the spark that has made our civilisation so strong, then we’ve got to allow people to say things that are unsayable in polite company.
The Guardian article linked above also reports a speech made by Abbott to the Institute of Public Affairs in 2012, while still Opposition Leader
[freedom of speech] is not just an academic nicety but the essential precondition for any kind of progress

A child learns by trial and error. A society advances when people can discuss what works and what doesn’t. To the extent that alternatives can’t be discussed, people are tethered to the status quo, regardless of its effectiveness, he said.

Going further, Abbott added that without “free speech, free debate is impossible and without free debate, the democratic process cannot work properly.

Freedom of speech is part of the compact between citizen and society on which democratic government rests, he said.

A threat to citizens’ freedom of speech is more than an error of political judgment. “It reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the give and take between government and citizen on which a peaceful and harmonious society is based.

Abbott in 2012 would not only support things being said that he agreed with:
“It’s human nature of course, to support free speech, as long as it’s agreeable. The trouble is deciding which opinions can be censored.”
Current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was asked on Channel 10’s The Project for his opinion on the call to ‘ban’ Macklemore’s ‘Same Love’.
The Prime Minister described the American as a "great artist", who should be allowed to sing all his hits at Sunday's NRL grand final, despite calls for one song to be banned.

"He should perform whatever he wants to perform, I mean for heaven's sake, it's the half-time entertainment at the grand final," Mr Turnbull told the Ten Network.
Conservative Tasmanian Liberal Party Senator Eric Abetz was on ABC News Breakfast last Sunday making the case that because the Australian Parliament couldn’t make the right decision (i.e. repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act), it can’t be trusted to make the decision on marriage equity. What Abetz and Abbott, to name two, don’t get is that the discussion should be about equity, not equality or the current reality.


As the graphic demonstrates clearly, there is a large gap between the concepts. Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on a person’s race, colour, ethnic or national origin. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to disagree with Senator Abetz because you have a different view of the necessity for the words ‘offend ‘and ‘humiliate’ to be in Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, but it isn’t acceptable in the eyes of the law to disagree with Senator Abetz solely because one of his ancestors had links to the Nazi Party in World War 2 Germany, and nor should it be. Abetz claimed that some of his Senate colleagues were discriminated against in 2016 as they were labelled with a number of uncomplimentary terms including ‘angry white males’ in a Fairfax media report written by Mark Kenny. They weren’t as it was the opinion of the writer being expressed based on facts (the Senators in question are male with white skin) — not a criticism of the respective Senator’s beliefs based on their race, colour or origin.

At least the conservatives are consistent on this. Both the marriage equity and Section 18C debates have been about equity — the concept that not everyone is equal and we as a society should attempt to redress this. The debate (thankfully lost at the moment by the conservatives) was to make it legal to humiliate or offend people solely because they had a different skin colour or came from a certain ethnic or national group. The current debate is to refuse to allow two people who love each other to marry, despite the couple not necessarily fitting into the traditional concept of marriage. In both cases, they are arguing for the entrenchment of the rights of ‘the angry white men’ to continue as the dictators of what is right and acceptable in our society. This is not equality, it’s certainly not equity and it’s also not fair to the people in our society that are not ‘angry white males’.

Not everyone is the same. If everyone had the same aspirations and beliefs, General Motors and Ford would still be rolling Commodores and Falcons down the production line and making squillions, there would only be three or four television channels and only the well-off would be able to travel overseas. Instead we have a large number of vehicle importers, there are numerous options to use various forms of electronic media for education and entertainment and there are full aircraft bound for New Zealand, Bali (volcanos permitting) and beyond daily attesting to the change in demographics of people that can afford to travel overseas.

It is easy to argue that Abbott and Abetz are wrong — the Parliament did actually comply with the wishes of the Australian people on the proposed removal of Section 18C and, based on the opinion polls, the Australian Parliament would have been correct in believing that the majority of Australians either want or don’t care about the removal of gender stereotyping in the Marriage Act. Should there have been a vote without wasting $122 million of your and my money in a non-mandatory, non-binding survey of voters? While the two gentlemen concerned are entitled to an opinion (and for the record I won’t be marrying someone of the same gender any time soon either), none of us have the right to attempt to restrict equity of our society as Abbott, Abetz and their fellow travellers seem to want to do.

Abbott said in 2012 while Opposition Leader, ‘without free debate, the democratic process cannot work properly.’

The NRL (and AFL) have declared that at a corporate level, their respective sports favour marriage equity and according to Abbott in the past, they have the right to proclaim that publicly. While he has the right to proclaim the concept that allowing marriage equity will result in a Pandora’s box of atrocity (which is factually wrong based on experience in any other jurisdiction that allows marriage equity such as New Zealand, the USA and Ireland), Abbott according to his own statement, doesn’t have the right to criticise anyone for publicising an opinion different to his.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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The enduring blight of inequality



How much longer are we prepared to accept the level of inequality that exists in the world?

How much longer are we prepared to accept the level of inequality we now suffer in this country?


If any reader out there still doubts the extent of inequality here, do read a July 8 article in The Conversation by Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, and Francis Markham, Research Fellow at the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences titled: What income inequality looks like across Australia.

They begin: 'With affordable houses increasingly out of reach, wage growth slow and household debt high, Australians are certainly feeling poor.' They conclude: 'Australia has prominent examples of economic policies that disproportionately benefit the upper-middle class, such as the capital gains tax discount and superannuation tax incentives. It also has a geographically concentrated income distribution, with the rich living in neighbourhoods with other rich people. The poor are also more likely to live in close proximity to people who share their disadvantage.'

Treasurer Scott Morrison though insists that inequality is lessening!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote Inequality ambylyopia to highlight the blindness of conservatives, notably our own Treasurer, to the reality and the extent of inequality in this country. The piece argued that while the facts about inequality were abundant and visible to everyone, by the time the evidence reached their visual cortex it had become invisible, just as images transmitted by an amblyotic (lazy) eye are not interpreted properly.

Bill Shorten predicts that inequality will be an issue at the next election. This prediction is not new. In April of last year, before the 2016 federal election, I made the same prediction and wrote Inequality will be a hot button election issue.. It didn’t turn out that way; Shorten is hoping that by the next election inequality and its awful consequences will be burned into the minds of voters, and will influence their voting as he guarantees to do something about it. He will need a sound plan, an understandable and plausible set of objectives, and some appealing slogans to attract attention.

Inequality is omnipresent and persistent. To remind us of this it is worth looking back a little to ascertain if anything has changed.

It is now well over a year since Inequality will be a hot button election issue was published on The Political Sword. It began:

‘Inequality’ is a term used by economists. Joseph Stiglitz has been writing for years about its damaging effect. His book: The Price of Inequality is a classic. More recently, Thomas Piketty entered the arena with his Capital in the Twenty-First Century and hypothesised about the genesis of inequality. He asserted that the main driver of inequality, namely the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth, threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. He reminded us that political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past and could do so again. But is anyone listening?

No matter who writes about inequality, the conclusion is the same: the gap between those at the top and those languishing at the bottom of the pile is widening in many countries, ours among them.

A more familiar way of talking about inequality is to talk about ‘fairness’, a concept every Aussie understands. The ‘fair go’ is valued by most of us. Who would argue against the idea that everyone should have a ‘fair go’?

So look out for emphasis on fairness during the election campaign. You will hear it from Bill Shorten and Labor people; you might not hear much about it from LNP people, although PM Turnbull has often insisted that whatever changes his government makes to the tax system, they must be ‘fair’. We are still waiting to see his version of fairness. Although aware of the angry reaction of the people to the unfair 2014 Abbott/Hockey Budget, he is still seeking approval of many of the elements of it in the Senate. Treasurer Morrison does not seem to have 'fair' in his vocabulary.

Have you noticed that ordinary people are becoming increasingly fed up with the inequality we see day after day where those at the top of the pile gain advantages over those at the bottom? In the past few weeks we have seethed as we saw instance after instance of this. More of this later!

If you question whether inequality really is a problem in this country, take a look at these statistics, which are based on a 2015 ACOSS study: Inequality in Australia: a nation divided:

• Inequality in Australia is higher than the OECD average.
• A person in the top 20% income group has around five times as much income as someone in the bottom 20%.
• There is an urban and regional pattern to income inequality, with people in capital cities more likely to be in the top 20%, while those outside capital cities are more likely to be in the bottom 20%.
• Wealth is far more unequally distributed than income. A person in the top 20% has around 70 times more wealth than a person in the bottom 20%.
• The top 10% of households own 45% of all wealth, most of the remainder of wealth is owned by the next 50% of households, while the bottom 40% of households own just 5% of all wealth.
• The average wealth of a person in the top 20% increased by 28% over the past 8 years while for the bottom 20% it increased by only 3%.

In other words inequality is steadily increasing.
To read the rest of this piece click here.

What is your opinion?
What are views about inequality?

Will it be an election issue?

Let us know in comments below.

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No matter who writes about inequality, the conclusion is the same: the gap between those at the top and those languishing at the bottom of the pile is widening in many countries, ours among them.

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Read more here: