Why is Malcolm Turnbull so unpopular?

To borrow a term from Malcolm Turnbull himself, his unpopularity seems to be the result of Turnbull’s Terrible Trifecta.  More of that later.

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 showing 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.  Presumably most of them prefer Kevin Rudd.  Finally, for the first time in Newspoll, Turnbull’s satisfaction/dissatisfaction rating is in negative territory: 39/42.  Essential Research gives a similar result.  Possum has this to say about the most recent Newspoll: “Turnbull’s satisfaction dynamics have an eerie longer term linear quality to them; you can almost run a straight line through them starting from his November 2008 satisfaction figures and ending on today’s. Since November, Turnbull is losing around 100,000 people a week in terms of the number of folks that are satisfied with his performance across the Australian electorate. With his dissatisfaction levels it’s even worse, with around 115,000 people a week becoming dissatisfied. The difference between those rates, that 15 thousand people or so, represents the rate at which the Undecideds are breaking against him. Turnbull’s problem isn’t any given Newspoll; it’s his longer term performance that’s grinding him into the dirt...”  In today’s Pollytics, where Possum analyses voting trends by gender, he concludes: “The lunge away from Turnbull and toward Labor ... is singularly a female voter movement, with the Coalition currently getting their equal lowest level of female voter support since these Newspoll breakdowns started in 1996 - blowing out a 12 point female voter advantage to Labor.”   [more]

Why is Turnbull so unpopular in the polls, particularly among female voters?  In any dynamic system there are always multiple causes, but forced to name just one, it would be ‘Negativity’.  Add to that ‘Arrogance’, then ‘Disingenuousness’ to complete Turnbull’s Terrible Trifecta: Negativity-Arrogance-Disingenuousness.

Negativity:  Columnists, commentators on TV and radio, bloggers and talkback callers comment on Turnbull’s consistent negativity.  According to Turnbull and his colleagues, nothing the Government does is ever right.  They bungle and botch at every turn.  Their policies are always flawed, and never as wise and circumspect as the Coalition’s.  They are slaves to the age-old Whitlamesque habit of spend, spend, spend, and debt, debt, debt, ideological flaws they cannot shake off.  They consistently make bad situations worse.  They regularly make the wrong calls – talking up inflation and then talking down the economy.  They never seem to get it right, but what do we expect of Labor anyway?  They never could manage money; they certainly can’t manage a trillion dollar high-speed economy. 

Here’s just a small illustrative sample from media releases taken from the Liberal Party website over the last couple of days:
Kevin Rudd's economic mismanagement
Rudd's broadband gamble
Mr Rudd’s inability to manage our economy, running up enormous debt resulting in higher taxes and higher interest rates in the future
$800 million loss in income for Universities while Government spends $3.9 billion on Pink Batts
Competition for housing finance hits all time low under Rudd
Drought report a reminder of the damning delays in water infrastructure
Urgent inquiry demanded - Why was the boat left stuck on a reef for four days?
Rudd government withholds information on boat arrivals
Defence inquiry a futile exercise

Kevin Rudd’s Jekyll and Hyde economic performance

And let’s not forget “Labor’s terrible trifecta of higher unemployment, higher debt, and more days lost to strikes.”  What strikes Turnbull is referring to is not stated.  The media seems to have missed them.

Of course some of the criticism might be justified, but it is astonishing that Rudd and Labor seem to get so little right.

Now if the polls reflect reality at all, those polled simply don’t believe Turnbull.  The people see a Government that keeps them informed every day about what’s happening, particularly regarding the global economic downturn, and that is active in shielding Australia as much as it can from the dire consequences.  Of course Turnbull says the Government has got it all wrong.  The people seem not to agree with him.  Comments on The Political Sword to the previous post Why is our PM so popular? are telling.  Dave55 says “Most people are pragmatic, unless they have really been screwed over by a particular policy, they will weigh up the overall picture they get from the Government. That picture at the moment is one that is acting to minimise the harm to Australia from things that happened outside Australia - so far, these things seem to be working or at least working a lot better than in other countries“. Janice says: “While his critics slam him over his boring oratory skills, ordinary voting Australians see him [Rudd] as speaking openly and truthfully in plain understandable language.” Rx says: “For what it's worth, I think he's [Rudd] doing a bloody good job under most trying circumstances. A global financial crisis and hostile spiteful media have caused barely a stumble. In fact they seem to strengthen his resolve and dignity.”  The public tires of continual carping criticism, especially when it sees what it believes is a Government actively intervening in the nation’s interest.  BH comments: “Pity that the Libs can't see that we don't like their continual denigration.” 

Unwarranted negativity is a killer – it saps the public’s confidence and satisfaction in any leader who uses that negative weapon.

Turnbull is said to be supremely intelligent, and so must know this.  Why then does he persist?  A regular commentator on The Political Sword has some answers.  Bushfire Bill says: “The Libs seem to think there's a latent antagonism to Labor that is waiting to burst out of people, if only the right trigger point can be found.... In short, it's Chris Uhlmann's famous ‘House of Cards’ theory. Chip away at the ones on the bottom and the whole thing will suddenly come tumbling down. The whole Lib approach is to short cut policy and diligence on the way back to power by re-achieving government with a conjurer's trick, a clever move that will see the scales fall instantly from the public's eyes, revealing the Rudd government for what it really is: a bunch of amateurs who fart in front of the Queen. So we get the Hostie story, the toxic bore description, Heiner, the continual gotchas and, shock horror, endless recantations that Rudd is not Howard and never can be.”

That sounds right.  And it’s not just Turnbull who utters these negative mantras, other front-benchers do.  On last Thursday’s ABC TV’s Q&A Helen Coonan repeated the ‘What has the Rudd Government ever done’ mantra.  Bloggers say the same.  This week one said on The Australian’s House Rules Blog “Name me one OUTCOME from this Dud government. Apart from a huge debt I can’t see one promise delivered, not one.”  When I referred him to the Government Watch page on The Political Sword where media releases and speeches are placed, 350 for March alone, he replied “Mate I feel sorry for you if you think that an RSS feed from the Australian Labor Party website, where it places its media statements, is anything more than propaganda.”   So there you have it.  Turnbull hopes that attitude will spread until it engulfs the majority of punters, who will then turn to him for salvation.

Arrogance:  It would be hard, even for his most ardent supporters, to deny that Turnbull is arrogant, although they would probably prefer to call this characteristic ‘self-confidence’.  His bearing is one of ‘I know best’, and if he feels he’s not convincing his audience, he’ll tell them again and again he knows best, and will quote his business or banking experience to back his claim.  Only this week he insisted that the Government’s new NBN won’t be financially viable, quoting his experience in establishing Ozemail to prove the point. QED.  No figures or appraisal necessary.  He just knows.  Who’s to argue?

Macca, commenting on The Political Sword says: “Turnbull has turned into one of the politicians that just annoy me every time he talks - I want to listen to him because I want him to snap out of his political opportunism but he always disappoints and I end up switching off.”   Of course Turnbull may not be arrogant.  All those telling anecdotes may be wrong; that imperious look may not be arrogance at all – it may be simply all in our imagination.  But if the many commentators who read his verbal and non-verbal signals as arrogance are right, it’s a lethal companion to negativity, and for that matter disingenuousness

Disingenuousness:  The third leg of Turnbull’s Terrible Trifecta.  By the term I mean not being candid or sincere, dissembling, duplicitous.  Much of what has been said earlier in this piece is evidence of this attribute.  So much of Turnbull’s negativity is deceitful.  He’s simply misrepresenting the truth.  He must know that, or worst still has begun to believe his own spin.  Only this week, on release of the unemployment figures of 5.7%, Turnbull said that Rudd’s ‘cash splash’ had done no good and that instead of creating jobs, jobs had been lost – his implication being that the fiscal stimulus had resulted in job losses.  He implies this so bald-facedly, yet he knows that it’s incorrect, he knows why jobs are being lost, particularly in the mining states, he knows that the retail sector has appreciated the first phases of the fiscal stimulus, and he knows that there is no evidence that the fiscal stimulus has caused job losses.  The people see through his dissembling, and mark him down for it.

Turnbull seems to be relying on the economy steadily worsening, unemployment rising towards 10% and with it anger rising too, anger that would be vented in many ways, not least against those in Government.  Then he believes the people will conclude they have been duped by an incompetent Rudd Government, and that a change back to competent economic managers, the Coalition, is the only solution.  Indeed just this week he announced that only when he becomes Prime Minister at the next election would the economy be in safe hands.

Instead of Turnbull’s Terrible Trifecta, another choice for him and the Coalition would be to develop decent policy options and plausible alternatives to Government policy; introduce them modestly rather than insisting they are the only way to go; stick to the facts and avoid deceit.  Public respect, now so profoundly lacking, might then be gradually restored.  But at the moment Turnbull seems hell-bent on leading his colleagues, like lemmings, right over the cliff.  Does he know how close to the edge he is?

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Just Me

11/04/2009[i]Of course some of the criticism might be justified, but it is astonishing that Rudd and Labor seem to get so little right.[/i] And still somehow manage to be so extraordinarily and consistently popular. Must be all those irresponsible handouts. Vote buying. Of course, that's it. Couldn't possibly be anything else. [i]Does he know how close to the edge he is?[/i] Probably. He seems to have reached the desperation of the crash or crash through phase, where you reflexively blurt out whatever reactionary nonsense that first enters your head just to score political points, any political points, of any kind. IOW, it is pretty well all over for Mr T. But the real fun question is, who do the coalition turn to now for leadershp? Costello? Bwahahahahahahaha. Hockey? Now my sides are starting to hurt. Bishop (J)? Stop, stop, I can barely breath. Dutton? Get me an ambulance, I feel an hysterical laughter induced seizure coming on. Or... well, who? We are seeing the bitter fruits of Howard's ruthless repression and emasculation of viable successors (because, of course, they would have been a threat to him). He failed what is arguably the most important test of a leader, the smooth handing over of power to the next generation. Blew it totally through greed, ambition, and selfishness (and a touch of megalomania, it has to be said). Fine by me. Keeps the feckers out for longer.

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11/04/2009You're so right Just Me. Turnbull's only bright spot is that there's now no one else who could mount a challenge, except Costello. As you correctly point out, Turnbull can thank Howard for that, and even Costello seems still to be suffering from the Howard years of repression and emasculation.

Sir Ian Crisp

11/04/2009What can you say about The Banker? Sadly, an uncomplimentary word that rhymes with banker just about sums him up. The Banker was packaged as the only one in the Liberal’s ranks who could arrest the erosion of support being suffered by the Lib-NP camorra. Today, The Banker is about as popular as a pigskin wallet in a synagogue. I’ll bet Brendan’s schadenfreude meter is reading ‘very high’ at the moment. The Banker fails to connect with the voters; he doesn’t engage with them. It’s like he’s talking quantum physics to a room full of bargain-hunting shoppers. He doesn’t always get it wrong. For instance, Paul Broad, a man who knows how to price IT products backs The Banker and says Mr Rude’s NBN is another case of mere woolgathering. Let's not get carried away with Mr Rude and the truth. The truth drug ‘Scopolamine’ has been administered to all of our politicians and so far has failed to elicit the truth. It was only in September 2008 that Mr Rude and his alleged Treasurer and brown paper bag fancier vouchsafed our financial future by telling us that China would power on and drag us with her. Recession would bypass us. More woolgathering. The Banker was part of that harlequinade with his own version of the truth. We can handle the truth if only our politicians knew how to deal with it. The party machines continue to throw up stodgy politicians and The Banker is yet another product of that process.


12/04/2009Any Opposition leader would be rowing uphill against an overwhelmingly popular first-term Prime Minister. Whatever else Turnbull does right or wrong, the political cycle is against him for a start. And they are doing a lot wrongly. The Liberals are hoping that the Global Financial Crisis will be their lightning rod back to power. It is a contemptible position they take: hoping the economy tanks so badly, that many people will be hurt and turn their frustration against the government. In their rhetoric every day you can see the lousy Liberals posturing to take advantage of the downturn. Even as they chant "Jobs, jobs, jobs", they are aware that jobs are being lost globally, including Australia. They know (and would admit same if not characteristically Liberal-dishonest), that there is little any government can do but allow this thing to run its cyclical course. If honest they would admit that they have no answers themselves, either now in Opposition, or if they were in government. Yet still they chant "Jobs, jobs, jobs", hoping that those who do lose jobs, or live in fear of losing jobs, will turn in anger at the Labor Party at the ballot box. Yes, it is a seedy route to score political points, but the Liberals have shown, many times over recent years, that, if it works, the seedier the better. Their problem is this. People are not silly. They know (up to a point) what is going on. One doesn't need to be very engaged with current affairs to be aware that this recession is global, and did not originate in this country. Even the most casual observers would know that their PM (who they happen to like very much) is working tirelessly to mollify its effects on Australia. So, when they see this Turnbull character (and that oaf, Hockey etc), orating them on the telly, referring to this as "THE RUDD RECESSION", their reaction would be quite predictable. They'd think, "Why is he putting Mr Rudd's name to something he did not cause and is doing his best to avert?" When you like someone, as the public appears to with Kevin Rudd, you take offence at them being blamed, and blamed very personally by having his name put to it, when innocent. Those Australians a little more clued in than the average also know that Turnbull is a past life was a Merchant Banker. Yes, a Banker!! He comes from the ilk - bankers and finance types - that helped to precipitate the destruction of the world's economy. He's on the telly every night calling this a "RUDD RECESSION", when he himself comes from the profession which DID in fact, contribute to the problem! What are people going to think about this big-mouthed smartarse? I can only guess their sentiment is feeding into his rising dissatisfaction levels. If there is any justice, this dissatisfaction won't wane; it will sweep the dishonest Turnbull, Hockey etc right out of politics. Financial crisis aside, I wonder how many Australians will not forgive the Coalition for the egregious WorkChoices. I know I cannot look at or hear any Liberal without remembering that they voted for the biggest assault and rip-off of Australian employees in a hundred years. How sweet to see some ads running into the next election from the unions or the Labor Party with mugshots of Liberal politicians, paraded one after the other, each face stamped over with big red lettering: "VOTED FOR WORKCHOICES". Bring it on!

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12/04/2009Sir Ian, I agree with your comments about The Banker. In a piece some time ago I argued that Turnbull is still in Banker mode, Businessman mode, and Barrister mode, the 3Bs, but not in Politician mode. He thinks in 3B paradigms, not political ones. This is one reason he seems to make bad judgement calls in formulating political strategy. On the issue of the recession, I don’t recall Rudd insisting that it would bypass us, but I do recall him asking time and again prior to the election how Australia would manage when the mining boom faltered. The Coalition did not want to hear that. Now it has faltered, not for the reason Rudd was assuming; the GFC did the job much quicker than anyone could have predicted. I agree with you that all politicians have a tendency to handle the truth carelessly, not so much via blatant lies, but through half truths, omission of relevant facts or misrepresenting them, avoiding answering direct questions, misquoting their opponents, quoting views that agree with their position but not those that don’t, and putting in juxtaposition unrelated events or facts so as to imply a cause-effect association. There are many ways of being untruthful; politicians are versed in them all. Rx, Thank you for reminding us of ‘The Rudd Recession’. That was a gross act of disingenuousness, perpetrated by Turnbull and Hockey. I can’t recall other Coalition members using it; I suspect they found it too blatant a misrepresentation. I agree that such disingenuousness is readily detected, even by casual observers of the political scene. They find it distasteful, especially when directed at a PM who is popular seemingly because he talks frankly about the financial crisis and seems to be doing something about it. Turnbull seems not to have realized that the people continue to mark him down in part because of such talk. Maybe ‘The Rudd Recession’ is his counter to the obvious comeback ‘The Banker Turnbull Recession’.

Sir Ian Crisp

12/04/2009No recession but jobless to rise: leaders Jessica Irvine October 13, 2008 AUSTRALIA is likely to avoid recession, but economic growth will slow and more people will lose their jobs as the global financial crisis hits home, the Federal Government says. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said yesterday that the crisis had entered a "new and dangerous phase" with "real consequences for growth [and] for jobs". He saw it as the "economic equivalent of a rolling national security crisis". http://business.smh.com.au/business/no-recession-but-jobless-to-rise-leaders-20081012-4z55.html Somehow Ad Astra I think if Adolf Hitler was pre-selected to represent the ALP in a federal seat you'd be out there telling us that he wasn't such a bad bloke once you get to know him.

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12/04/2009Thank you for the reference Sir Ian. October 13 was six months ago. What he said was that Australia was [b][i]likely[/i][/b] to avoid recession. I think that was a pretty fair assessment then. The Government was not wanting to use the scary word 'recession', but the use of "new and dangerous phase" indicates that Rudd was worried and his warning of "real consequences for growth and for jobs" prescient. 'Real consequences' point to recession. He was just not willing to call it then. He wasn't saying there would definitely be no recession. Do you recall when 'recession' was first used by [b][i]anyone[/i][/b]? You're a bit tough on me Sir Ian. Hitler was a fascist anyway, not a commie.

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12/04/2009Did you notice the editorial in [i]The Weekend Australian[/i], [i]Danger lies in PM'S call to action[/i] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25318080-16741,00.html which was aimed at Rudd’s ‘do something rather than do nothing approach’, nevertheless had this to say: [quote]“Mr Turnbull is reduced to whining, whingeing and complaining while the Prime Minister is out there in his RM Williams boots looking busy on the six o'clock news.”[/quote] You may also be interested in Lenore Taylor’s piece in the same paper [i]Turnbull’s bad mid-term blues[/i]. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25318143-5017906,00.html


12/04/2009George M's new blog entry in the same paper is an interesting analysis of voting patterns, offering some well supported insights into what is happening in the Australian electorate.

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12/04/2009Thank you tweetiepie. A great article by George M: [i]Australia leans centre-left for now[/i] http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/meganomics/index.php/theaustralian/comments/australia_leans_centre_left_for_now/

Just Me

12/04/2009GM's article is certainly worth a read. From the article: [i]But Howard was banking on the nation sharing his values for the long term. It didn’t, and now his relentless war against the moderates looks like a political suicide mission. With no preferences to fall back on, a Coalition with a three in front of its primary vote is in spanking territory. The seeds of the despair were sown in Howard’s heyday when he mistook Labor’s weakness for his vindication.[/i] Kinda puts a lie to the claim that Howard was a master politician. More a cunning opportunist than anything else. Ties in with my point above about Howard failing to manage the leadership transition.

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13/04/2009Agree Just Me. Political opportunism was Howard's specialty. It was the media that painted him as the master politician, always able to pull the 'rabbit out of the hat'. Eventually there were no more rabbits, and he knew it.

Just Me

13/04/2009Continuing with the theme of this thread: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/electorate-not-listening-to-the-party-of-no-20090412-a3yb.html?page=-1

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13/04/2009Another article Turnbull should read Just Me. Isn't it curious how many are now pointing to Turnbull's negativity as a prime cause of his unpopularity. My contention is that Turnbull has never been able to think in Political mode; he's stuck in Banker mode, or Businessman mode or Barrister mode. Unless he can begin to think as a natural politician thinks, he will continue to languish, and the Coalition with him. The Coorey article is interesting also because it points to Coalition members being dismayed by Turnbull's negativity. That spells danger for him. Bad polls are a problem, but internal dissent is even more corrosive.

Bushfire Bill

13/04/2009I've been away for the weekend with the g/kids so missed much of the above debate. I have always said Turnbull was a lot of things, but "politician" was not one of them. He doesn't have the common touch, the ability to get down in the dirt and listen to the voters, as Rudd does. You could say the Republican referendum was one to lose, but Turnbull made such a meal of it that I was left hoping against hope that he'd never turn up in Labor ranks as a candidate. The man was a complete klutz at politics, from his condescending dismissals of the "elected President" section of Republican movement to his disastrous description of John Howard - his future boss! - as "the man who broke the nation's heart". No judgement, no foresight... just 100% Malcolm. The other aspect ofTurnbull's personality that roughly coincides with what AA calls "disingenuousness" is what I call his "Rainmaker" tactic. Praise to heaven the Rudd stimulus and then condemn it, eventually completely disown it [i]as if his party had not voted unanimously for it in the first place[/i]. Spruikers and lurk merchants like Turnbull and his finance-bizoid-whizkid mates will say anything - [i]anything[/i] - to get a mug punter to sign on the dotted line. They will promise the moon, the stars and then when it all turns into bulldust, employ another battery of smarmy lawyers to get them off the hook. Rainmkaker scams only work when the mugs don't know of the existence of each other. The mug who is told it will rain tomorrow must not know that another mug has been told by the same scammer that tomorrow is all blue sky. Otherwise both will realise they're being conned. How inept is Turnbull to think he can get away with one press release claiming support for the government stimpac and anopther claiming it will ruin the country and has been dreamed up by a bunch of fiscal incompetents? Both on the same day? Mugs are mugs and there are always a few of them, but the latest polling figures show just how few there are. Rely on Malcolm Turnbull to try to say whatever you want to hear, but don't rely on him to realise that voters can add up and come to the conclusion that a positive plus a negative adds up to a big fat zero. People want hope. They want Kevin Rudd to succeed, because if Kevin Rudd succeeds we're out of the poo, or at least stand a good chance of only having to clean a few dags off our shoes. They do not want turmoil and negativism, constant naysaying and especially don't want a glass-half-empty lurk merchant from Point Piper telling them they were wrong when they voted for Rudd and continue to be wrong in supporting him. "Oh really? Well cop this Malcolm!" Incidentally, Ozemail started up when 14k modems were all the rage. I was one of its first subscribers. How does helming Ozemail at its inception entitle Turnbull to speak authoritatively on 100 megabit broadband, a system so much faster - [i]7,000 times faster[/i] - as to be a completely new ball game in technology? I shudder to think what would have happened if Henry Ford had given up on motor vehicle manufacture because he listened to someone who said, "What's wrong with horses?" Or Alexander Graham Bell had stuck to education for the deaf because "Writing letters is a perfectly satisfactory way of communicating person to person." Or the Wright Brothers with air transport. Or Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates with computers. Or indeed if an earlier, younger, brasher Malcolm Turnbull had declined to invest in Ozemail because faxes were perfectly OK with him as a method of business communication. The man's crazy to think that his negativism will get him anywhere with the Australian people. I cannot believe that professional PR advisers are telling him to say what he says, night after night (unless they are secretly working for Costello). I'm starting to think he's dismissed them as well, taken his own advice, and is making it up all by himself out of his own, clearly empty, political head.

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14/04/2009Welcome back BB. As always, your analysis is sound. The 'Rainmaker' metaphor, which you invented some time ago, is spot-on. Rainmaker behaviour is an extreme form of disingenuousness, better expressed by its synonym 'duplicitous' - saying one thing and then the opposite, hoping no one will notice the contradiction. He might do another Rainmaker over the NBN. I'm just about to post a piece I wrote over Easter titled [i]The NBN saga[/i], which, amongst many other things, canvasses the possibility of Turnbull's initial trenchant opposition to the new NBN turning around as pressure from within his party mounts to support it. You'll be interested to see that I've used the same argument as you have that Turnbull using his experience in establishing Ozemail to can the new NBN shows how out of touch he is with contemporary IT.


26/06/2009I enjoyed reading your post, BB. Turnbull will never get that job he so covets. He's not a man of the people. His vision doesn't extend beyond college street...
I have two politicians and add 17 clowns and 14 chimpanzees; how many clowns are there?