Tony Abbott's FUD factor

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'Abbott's FUD Factor' by Chris JohnstonIn the 1980s computer journalists used to refer to the 'FUD' factor and its impact on computer purchases. FUD — Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

With the various changes in technology, new operating systems, processor chips, computer architectures and so on, it was never clear which way the market would go. As long as fears, uncertainties and doubts remained, purchasers would simply sit tight, hold on to tried and tested technologies and wait for things to settle down.

The FUD factor has now found a home in politics. Tony Abbott has become the master of the FUD factor in the present debate over climate change and the carbon tax.

First, sow the seeds of doubt — climate change may or may not be real:

We can't conclusively say whether man-made carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to climate change. If they are, we don't know whether they are exacerbating or counteracting what might otherwise be happening to global climate. Even if they are adding to climatic extremes, humanity may be able to cope with only modest adjustments.

Then sow the seeds on uncertainty:

There may even have been a slight decrease in global temperatures (the measurement data differs on this point) over the past decade despite continued large increases in emissions associated with the rapid economic growth of China and India.

And to cap it all play on people's fears, especially in relation to the proposed carbon tax:

The important thing is what will it do to people's cost of living and if it drives up your cost of living it is a tax. It's effectively an increase in the rate of GST  —  that's what it is.

In fact Abbott has been so successful in his campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt that some commentators have credited him with having an impact on consumer confidence, as people adopt a 'wait and see' attitude to the proposed carbon tax and are saving rather than spending their incomes.

The problem in discussing Abbott's stance on climate change is that, in a cliché he himself would use, he has held more positions than the karma sutra.

Earlier this year Crikey published an article, 'Climate change cage match: Abbott debates Abbott', consisting of a string of quotes in which he took up just about every position under the sun, from supporting an emissions trading scheme to rejecting it, acknowledging the reality of human induced climate change to casting doubt on it and so on.

Since then we have had the more recent spectacle of Abbott rejecting the notion of a 5 per cent reduction in carbon emissions declaring it 'crazy', only to be reminded that this was in fact his own party's policy; and telling an audience that carbon dioxide is an 'odourless, colourless, and weightless gas' and so is difficult to measure. Abbott is clearly scientifically illiterate if this is what he truly thinks.

A somewhat shameless Abbott then attacked Julia Gillard on the ABC AM show (25 July 2011) for not saying what she really believes on climate change and the best way to manage it. He wants her to be more truthful!

How can we understand such flexibility in Abbott's stance? Have we, as some have claimed, reached the stage where we are facing the prospect of a first post-modern prime minister, someone freed from the shackles of facts and a commitment to truthfulness?

As I have observed before, I think Abbott is best understood as a debater, first and foremost. He will say anything he needs to in order to win a debate. Whatever the audience will accept, he will reflect back to them and use for his own end. And that end is to win power.

This flexibility with facts is disappointing in light of Abbott's Catholicism.

In many ways Abbott embodies the Church's understanding of what the role of the laity should be. As explicated in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, 'the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God'.

The Council document on the laity spells out this vocation in terms of 'the good things of life and the prosperity of the family, culture, economic matters, the arts and professions, the laws of the political community, international relations'.

Abbott is out in the world seeking to make a difference. But the difference he is seeking to make bears little resemblance to the values of the 'kingdom of God'.

On matters such as asylum seekers, industrial relations, the unemployed and welfare recipients, and climate change, he is more interested in playing on the fears of the people, while protecting the position of the powerful. Always an appeal to self-interest, the hip pocket nerve, the lowest common denominator; never an appeal to self-transcendence, to generosity or largeness of heart.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt win out every time over a thoughtful, well-reasoned, generous position.


Neil MitchellNeil Ormerod is Professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University. 

Topic tags: Neil Ormerod, Tony Abbott, FUD Factor, climate change, carbon tax

 

 

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Existing comments

Unfortunately, the last line seems to say it all in the political domain!
Mick Bezzina | 01 August 2011


Why does "the FUD factor win out everytime over a thoughtful, well-reasoned generous position"

I ponder this question so many times on the issues in dispute in Australia mentioned in the article....
surely our system of education must be severely askew or is basic human nature self-serving with scant regard for "the other"
GAJ | 01 August 2011


Abbott said yesterday (re the U.K. Prime Minister's letter to Gillard re Carbon Tax)"It means we are leading the world"

Denmark has had Carbon Tax for 20 years
Australia LEADING the world??
Mick Sullivan, Brisbane
Michael P. Sullivan | 01 August 2011


Thanks for a very thoughtful piece, Neil — not for the first time, of course! Thanks also for the reminder of Bernard Keane's article in Crikey. It is a superb piece too, but I think your explanation of Abbott-as-debater brings the threads together more cleanly than Levi us attempts to explain his approach.

There remains a question about dog-whistle tactics, which I suspect the "debater" model could explain too. When Abbott rails about taxing an "odourless, weightless gas," although he surely knows that carbon dioxide is not weightless, it increasingly looks as though he is sending a deliberate signal to the overt climate change deniers, saying "I'm with you,and will do whatever I can get away with to support you."

What does that mean? Well, it suggests that people in the Liberal Party need to choose between party unity and a genuine policy on climate change. Great debaters like Malcolm Turnbull can try to hedge their bets for a while, but eventually the crunch-call has tobe made by them all, no matter how clever.
Tom Clark | 01 August 2011


Tony Abbott is a typical Catholic secondary school graduate whose theological development has never been allowed to keep pace with his secular learning.As some one trying to build a life based on Christian moral values, the last peson I want as P.M. is a poorly informed, Catholic whose own faith is founded on fear. At the same time much of the pro Climate Change talk from the ALP is also fear politics.
Grebo | 01 August 2011


Thank you, Neil, for articulating what many of us not only feel but are appalled by. Abbott's stance is not only negative and ignorant but, aided and abetted by the likes of Alan Jones, extremely dangerous.

It is a short distance from posing beside 'Ditch the Witch' banners and Jones's suggestion of dumping the PM in the sea to some nutter actually taking a potshot. Abbott is the Sarah Palin of Australian politics and leads not so much a political party as a baying bunch of rather nasty wolves. Politics - and Australia - deserve a better Opposition.
Duncan MacLaren | 01 August 2011


Thanks for these insights Neil. If only the general public would recognise this more. I really fear for this country's future under an Abbott Government. I honestly cannot remember a more unprincipled politician in my lifetime.

We are lacking mature leadership in this country. As Richard Rohr says, our culture has not developed past the adolescent stage; we think only of our short-term gain and not the long-term consequences.

We need more articles like this to let the message sink in that we need mature leadership for our own good and the good of the world.
Nils | 01 August 2011


Two things offended me in this post, one the image of Tony Abbott always caricatured in speedos.It seems that it's a "sin" or something not good being healthy and being a role model for overweight Australia. The second, more sulphur, carbon dioxide (which we/trees need to survive) and other toxins spurt out of an active volcano than we could manufacture in years.This carbon issue is a con for something else.

We dont need a new tax to make up for bad spending. Look at the economy..People are afraid. We are in an idiotic situation for a land filled with plenty.

Anne Lastman | 01 August 2011


Neil Omerod bluntly but indisputably shows that Tony Abbott’s statements are contradictory and despicable.
And Gaj asks the pertinent question of why Abbott’s tactics are effective – which is partly answered by Omerod’s reference to the FUD factor.

I suggest that another factor is the long-continuing campaign to distract attention away from politics – or to label it as 'a nasty business that should be ignored'. This is a threat to hard-won democracy by those who have already gained inordinate power through their wealth and influence, including control of much of the news media.

Bob Corcoran | 01 August 2011


Tony Abbott has more positions on climate change than the Kama Sutra. I can't understand why the mainstream media won't call him to account. If Julia Gillard had as many positions on climate change as Abbott the media would be all over her.
Frank Golding | 01 August 2011


I agree that the FUD factor played a bit role during the GST debate. The FUD factor almost defeated John Howard during the GST election campaign. During the Hawke-Keating period the introduction of an Australia Card was defeated because of the FUD factor.

What Australians are more worried about then the FUD factor is the CAL factor, which means “Certainly A Lie”. Julia Gillard and Bob Brown have hoped that lies and more lies would make Australians more tolerant to lies. I am sure the use of the CAL factor is used like an inoculation. People will expect that politicians are lying and Julia Gillard can remain as PM after having misled all Australians.
How do we want to lead us? A leader who has asks questions or a leader who lies?

Beat Odermatt | 01 August 2011


I think everything Neil Omerod could be applied to Julia Gillard. We don't need a "Carbon Tax" and the fear mongers are the Climate Alarmists!
Trent | 01 August 2011


Bob Corcoran you said...
"I suggest that another factor is the long-continuing campaign to distract attention away from politics – or to label it as 'a nasty business that should be ignored'. This is a threat to hard-won democracy by those who have already gained inordinate power through their wealth and influence, including control of much of the news media."

I suppose the Liberal Party (Abbott) wants to do away with democracy right? because thats what you are implying. I suggest you look in the right sector for that and stop being so blinkered.

Anne Lastman | 01 August 2011


First, sow the seeds of doubt — climate change may or may not be real: "We can't conclusively say whether man-made carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to climate change. ..."

Abbott is wrong - we can conclusively say that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to climate change

"... Even if they are adding to climatic extremes, humanity may be able to cope with only modest adjustments." Perhaps - but can humanity cope with the 1.6m sea level rise that will by 2100, or the 7m sea level rise extrapolation of current trends by 2200?

Then sow the seeds on uncertainty: "There may even have been a slight decrease in global temperatures (the measurement data differs on this point) over the past decade ..." Abbott is wrong - all the credible data sets (ie every one except Roy Spencer) confirm the ongoing warming trend
DESPITE the extended minimum (2005-2010) in intensity of solar output.

In space, no-one can hear you scream.
In politics, everyone can hear you lie .. and no-one can stop you.
David Arthur | 01 August 2011


I think everything Neil Omerod says in his article could be applied to Julia Gillard. We don't need a "Carbon Tax" and the Fear Mongers are the Climate Alarmists!
I find the continual cartoons of Tony Abbott in Speedos to be crude and very offensive, and not the way a Catholic publication should portray anyone!!!
Trent | 01 August 2011


I do not know whether Tony Abbott is a gate keeper, a devil's advocate or a wannabic demagogue but I will leave that to every other person's opinion.

However, I am for the opinion that Tony's point of view must also be given a critical evaluation if the following abstractive food-for-thought propositions are anything to go by:

1. What value does it add to Australia to trade-off carbon emissions at the expense of increased cost of living while the rest of the world remain indifferent? Doesn't carbon flow freely across the globe irrespective of international borderies.

2. The scientific community is divided about the red flags being raised about climate change

3. Available evidence suggest that many a times todays human solution are as well tomorrows problems and that by appearing "to do something about it" just but satisfys the public psych of the moment.

4. Correlational research (use of correlation coefficent index) has become a preferred political tool to address prevailing circumstances.

5. Are politicians really the best of the members of the human society to champion this course? Historical evident seem to suggest otherwise.

6. Is doing nothing about it to the interest of the society?

The take is yours.




Hillan Nzioka | 01 August 2011


David Arthur, I know that a month ago I pressed a button and bang went the volcano and even a bigger one last year and the year before.I know I caused those emitted toxins. I am smart arent I? This to follow your comment " Abbott is wrong - we can conclusively say that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to climate change"

My idea is this why don't we all work towards feeding 12 million people who are dying in Southern Africa and stop this idiocy about carbon dioxide (trees/vegetaion needs this for us to live-see no trees in Africa) which have been in existence since time immemorial.
Why is it that we cannot see forest for the trees? Climate changes have been with us forever and humanity have continued and will continue except for those who are starving. for them no climate emission taxes matter they are dying because we don't care enough. We pontificate over idiocies


Anne Lastman | 01 August 2011


Mr Abbott has the mentality of a show-tent pugilist. If he can instil fear, uncertainty, doubt in his opponents and create the impression that the bout will be decided on the roar of the crowd and not the referee (if there is one) he has the upper hand before the fight begins.

The mass media in Australia has been derelict in not exposing Abbott's tactics. Why? Because the media thrives on conflict. Politics has become a blood sport.
Uncle Pat | 01 August 2011


Why does any debate against the Federal government's policies and ideas always meet with derision and personal vilification? Surely there is a place in our country for conservative views....prudence is a virtue. Yes we should "move forward",just as slowly, prayerfully and carefully as the Church, but so far all this government has done is get us into debt and blamed world circumstances...just hold on for America's latest fracas.... and what promises to be a bad outcome for the world as well as the former. . A further reason no doubt why our Treasurer will have another excuse coming up for bad management...Oops, another few months should show us the truth in this .
I am a Catholic and am surprised to hear that Professor Ormerod takes such an anti-Abbott stance when so many of the policies and utterances of this governemnt do not support the many Catholic/Christiann values that I have absorbed and held. I see myself still as a thinking person. Tony Abbott has had to play down his Catholicism, since religion seems to be vilified in so many views led by our media today. Just let him say he is a Catholic and the media crucifies him . One example constantly brought up is the sensible advice he gave his daughter, which has been mocked and scorned by the media and who seem to hold great sway with the public particularly young people. Seems like it is a sin to hold Christian values. Good on Tony for at least standing up for good choices. It also seems to me today that being in politics and the way you live your life is not the example you set, just how clever you are. There surely must be room for both ibn our leaders particularly.

Yes, I realise I am open to attack on "why attack politician's personal behaviour only look at their policies". Well then the media should/public opinion give Tony a fair go. Seems too that our media is ruled by left wing politics....take teh ABC as an example. Alll opposition opinion is noticeably side-lined, ignored or both. Julia is with her cultivated charm is the mouthpiece for hard left wing unionists and social engineers. I wonder whether in the future we shall even be allowed to practice our chosen religion if the government and media keeps up the propaganda long enough. Where is free will and choice and public debate en mass? Sorry Professor Ormerod I cannot agree with your opinion of Tony Abbott, who strikes me as hard a working thoughtful politician, who maintains his sense of humour in this climate of the FUD factor, largely generated by this Federal government.
Penny | 01 August 2011


I will briefly add my voice to the double standards about honesty and carbon tax expressed by Professor Ormerod. The PM could just as well have been depicted with her hands on the two different flags.

I find it very hypocritical of Eureka Street to be criticising Tony Abbott's Catholicism. He has tried to take some steps to stop the slaughter of abortion. I have never seen a word of support for his stance here. If anything, most contributors here are pro-abortion. Hardly a genuine Catholic position.

Further to this, when Tony Abbott advised his daugthers not to make themselves available to the first drunk that came near them, he was misrepresented and criticised. Catherine Marshall was not willing to think that teenagers could control themselves. "Trying to suppress sex, particularly among hormone-fuelled teens and young adults, is like halting a tsunami with the palm of one's hand." (Eureka Street 29 January, 2010.)

Where was any explanation of the Church's view on abstinence and control? Where was there any reference to anything the Church said on this issue?

Eureka Street's writers need to be more careful before casting stones from their glasshouse. Just how "genuine" their Catholicism might be is not beyond question.
Patrick James | 01 August 2011


Hillan, I cannot in all conscience let your comment about divided opinion go unchallenged. Amongst those who know what they are talking about (i.e. climate experts as opposed to non-experts like Lord Monckton and Ian Plimer), the support for global warming and its causes runs to about 95% for man-made causes and 5% against. A division hardly worth raising. But even if there were a more even division, what exactly is wrong with trying to cut down on coal usage and pollution? Wow, my grandchildren and their children might have some left to power their needs. And if I don't have to breathe in the other pollutants like carbon monoxide, the nitrous oxides and the sulphur oxides that are emitted by burning coal and petrol, then I am not going to be unhappy about that. As for the idea that countries like China and India are bigger emitters: yes, that's true, but maybe we need to understand that our life style has been built on ripping the Third World off and perhaps it's time we started paying for that - a little social justice? If we stopped looking beyond our own selfish wants (not needs!), we would see that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is NOT a bad thing, regardless of the reasons for actually doing it.
ErikH | 01 August 2011


Well FUD works - as referenced here by comments supporting Abbott and his stance. My own mother believes him simply because he's Catholic and a Liberal (voted that way all her life. The thing I've tried to point out is that it may (under different circumstances) have been them in a position to price carbon - as most other conservative governments across the world have done. I try to disentangle the politics from the policy but while she gets certain aspects she just wants to keep her head in the sand. For people like this you can give them proof and facts but if Abbott told them the sky was green they'd not only believe it they'd argue the point with media supplied talking points.
Voxpop | 01 August 2011


Terrific stuff - right on the money. I only wish that the commercial Media and ABC would examine the policies of Abbott rather than his 'one-liners' and budgie smugglers; a most unedifying sight. The nonsense that man spouts is an insult to the intelligence of the electorate - or is it? Maybe we deserve a postmodern PM.
Jeff KETTERING TAS 7155 | 01 August 2011


If Tony Abbott has varied his stance on climate change cause and action, that is because the continuing debate, with experts such as Bob Carter as well as Ian Plimer joining in,is challenging the governments' (UN included)funded so called scientists' 'consesnsus'view than man made CO2 emissions are the prime or even a major cause of current modest global warming. There is massive exageration going on to create fear and 'need' for (carbon pricing) action driven by 'greens' agenda.
Gerard Tonks | 01 August 2011


Thanks for a very thoughtful piece, Neil — not for the first time, of course! Thanks also for the reminder of Bernard Keane's article in Crikey. It is a superb piece too, but I think your explanation of Abbott-as-debater brings the threads together more cleanly than Levi us attempts to explain his approach.

There remains a question about dog-whistle tactics, which I suspect the "debater" model could explain too. When Abbott rails about taxing an "odourless, weightless gas," although he surely knows that carbon dioxide is not weightless, it increasingly looks as though he is sending a deliberate signal to the overt climate change deniers, saying "I'm with you,and will do whatever I can get away with to support you."

What does that mean? Well, it suggests that people in the Liberal Party need to choose between party unity and a genuine policy on climate change. Great debaters like Malcolm Turnbull can try to hedge their bets for a while, but eventually the crunch-call has tobe made by them all, no matter how clever.
Tom Clark | 01 August 2011


I would like to add my voice to this debate. Remember "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead"
Ron Cini | 01 August 2011


Thanks Neil, I think your article hits the nail on the head where Tony Abbott's statements on climate change are concerned. The experts may be divided as one respondent has said but I think it might be in the order of 90% in favour of the view that climate change is happening on an unprecedented scale and is mainly produced by us and is damaging the environment, and 10% are opposed to this view. Why not listen to this majority? But unfortunately many Australians listen to Abbott rather than look at facts - a situation which is an alarming sign that something is radically wrong with our society.

Many people in Australia seem to be unable to ignore the smoke screens that politicians put up to obscure anything which might lead people away from what they consider uncomfortable truths.
Tony Santospirito | 01 August 2011


I agree with Voxpop01 - FUD works - "you can give them proof and facts but if Abbott (or whoever else) told them the sky was green they'd not only believe it they'd argue the point with media supplied talking points." Much the same happened in Toowoomba when the anti-recycled water camp used FUD to win. Fear/emotion often seems to win over rational argument.

For those people who do want to look into the question more fully, I recommend the following links:

http://sites.google.com/site/sutherlandcan/sceptics/ashby-response
http://www.coolmax.com.au/ht/debunking-a-climate-sceptic.php

http://skeptoid.com/blog/2011/06/15/i-global-warming-skeptic/ - a former denier.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php - debunks pretty much all the denier arguments in a clear way - an excellent resource.



Frank S | 01 August 2011


If the name of the good professor was not at the end of the article I would have thought that it was written by the good Senator Brown. As a student of environmental studies over some years now and one who has followed and studied the climate change saga more than most, the fear factor portrayed by the global warmists puts Tony Abbott well in the shade. It is honestly staggering the claims and predictions that have been made over the years about global warming - all of which have not eventuated. Perhaps the good professor might leave aside the 'class struggle' allegations of 'protecting the position of the powerful' and look at the opinion polls which show old Tony well above the working class PM. The polls ask working class people of their opinions too.
Bill Spence | 01 August 2011


In response to Anne Lastman's assertion, we humans emit 100 times more CO2 into the atmosphere per annum than volcanoes. See
http://skepticalscience.com/volcanoes-and-global-warming.htm

Certainly, plants need CO2, but many will also suffer from higher temperatures which CO2 is causing. Overall, the effect will be negative.
Peter Horan | 02 August 2011


Oh, come on, Neil.

You've already established with irrefutable evidence that Tony Abbott has no "moral core". So isn't this latest line just raking over old coals?

I mean: yes, we all know that Julia Gillard promised "There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead", and then flipped.

But Julia's got a moral core because ... because ... well, as she inimitably puts it in her schoolmarmish drone: "I believe it's the right decision for Australia". Who could argue with such impeccable reasoning, so fervently delivered?

My fear is: if you keep dancing so exultantly on Tony Abbott's grave, others might suspect you may just have an agenda.



HH | 02 August 2011


A good article Neil.

The real issue is that the mainstream media in Australia is incapable of providing an informed and rational debate on climate change and anything else. Most of the content of commercial radio, TV and newspapers is trivial and celebrity nonsense. Most of the content of news and current affairs on the ABC networks such as radio 774 and the 24 hour TV news is mediocre and superficial.

The only electronic media which provides useful information and rational debate are ABC radio national and community radio stations 3CR and 3RRR.
Mark Doyle | 03 August 2011


I think we are also seeing the result of the downturn in Australian Media. One side of the media waiting with bated breath for every utterance of Tony and the other side too lazy or too underfunded to properly research and bring to account the contradictions.

The evidence of stories written from press releases or copied from media outlets that themselves have written from press releases feeds the problem. You can see evidence even at the ABC of this type of journalism. This allows the FUD to be spread and the calm scientific facts of the matter ignored.

Apart from the fear of letting the liberals get hold of power again so soon, it would be interesting to see how they would govern as all we have heard is No, and as Turnbull himself indicated, at some stage you have to actually DO something.
Fred | 04 August 2011


Anne Lastman advises me to forget about global warming and be concerned with ameliorating African famines.

Anne's comments neglect the fact that we can address more than one crisis at a time, and indicate a non-appreciation of how and why changes to the biosphere are now dominated by humans, or the severity of those anthropogenic changes.

Historic fossil fuel use and cement production data (Oak Ridge National (US) Laboratory Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center) shows sufficient CO2 emission from 1800 to raise atmospheric CO2 from 280 ppm to 430 ppm. Dissolution of CO2 in oceans has limited atmospheric CO2 to about 390 ppm, and decreased ocean pH.

Greenhouse gases such as H2O, CO2, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), CFC's, and ozone (O3) hinder the passage of some of the longwave radiation that the earth must emit to space in order to balance incoming shortwave solar energy.

About 85% of retained heat warms oceans, accelerating ice melting (sea level rise) and water evaporation (increasing rain, storms and cyclones).

Deforestation limits biosequestration of atmospheric CO2 so that reversion to glacial conditions is not presently possible, even when earth's orbital precession minimises intensity of sunlight on Arctic terrestrial icecaps (ie right now).
David Arthur | 05 August 2011


Thank you Neil for a thought provoking article. It is sad to see, from many of the comments here, just how many people have been deceived by Abbott (and other climate change deniers)into rejecting what the majority of climate scientists say IS really happening. I would say they, the deniers, are all suffering from what we might call the "Ostrich factor": "If we bury our heads in the sand long enough, it will all go away!" Instead we should be learning from the "Canary factor" where, if the bird in the cage dies while down in the coal mine, we know its time to get out while we still can. I think the news media has a great deal to answer for in relativising the debate and so misleading people. Our Julia may not be a good example of what a political leader should be but God save us if Tony Abbott should ever get into power!
Chris Bennie | 05 August 2011


Bit hard to read fear mongering into Abbott's statements. Rather it is those who press the modeled alarmist human caused climate change scenario who are guilty of using scare tactics. Abbott is a bit better read than most of the politicians who have joined the alarmist camp. Highly credentialed climate scientists like Lindzen, Christy and Spencer are a lot more circumspect with respect to how much the present state of climate science can be depended upon to tell us anything about future climate change whether by natural variability or by human activities..
Llew Jones | 24 August 2011


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