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The remarkable (?unique) week-long, persistent questioning in Parliament of Prime Minister Gillard about her involvement in the establishment of a slush fund in the name of the AWU has concluded with no definitive conclusion for either side. However, with one or two exceptions the media coverage suggests general agreement that the issue is not closed, albeit with considerable reluctance amongst some in the press gallery (and the disappearance of any mention on the ABC’s radio news after 7.00 am), and that Gillard has left unanswered questions.

Indeed, Abbott has indicated that he will continue the rather belated examination of Gillard’s involvement and will press for a judicial inquiry (see proposed terms of reference below). This will not happen under the Gillard government but it is might do if Abbott is elected. For example, with a widening of the terms of reference, such an inquiry could provide the basis for a major change in other legislation relevant to the regulation of relations between employers and employees. For example, even though Abbott has said he will make no significant changes to the Fair Work Act itself, he could still seek to make unions also subject to either the legislation governing corporations or that outlawing restrictive practices (the existing FWA legislation specifically excludes the application of the latter except for secondary boycotts). Such changes could significantly limit the application of the FWA.

In suggesting that the issue is not closed, I also have in mind that there appears to be potential for considerably more relevant information about the issue to emerge and for this to raise further questions about Gillard’s “explanations” – or failures to explain. Such information could come from a statement by the Victorian police about Blewitt’s statement to it, a release of further sections of the transcript of Gillard’s “farewell” interview with Slater & Gordon, an inquiry by ATSIC into the treatment by S&G of their then client (the AWU), further probing of Roxon on her handling of the files passed to her from S&G after Gillard resigned from that institution as well as of Shorten’s involvement in the internal AWU debate about whether to support Cambridge’s view that a Royal Cn should be held into fraud within the AWU.

Some may doubt whether, even if further information adds weight to suggestions of inadequate behaviour by Gillard in the mid 1990s, this is likely to have any major impact on her role as Prime Minister and leader of the Labor Party. Of course, something would depend on the nature of the information and the extent to which it revealed deliberate avoidance. More importantly, it would add to the now widening understanding that Gillard has close links with the unions and that many of those unions are, to put it mildly, exploiting the powers they have acquired under the FWA and the tribunal that administers that.

In some ways this is the most significant benefit flowing from the questioning episode in Parliament, something which has scarcely been recognised by the media. The main exception is the excellent article in today’s Australian by Henry Ergas (see below).

Des Moore

Joint Press Release with George Brandis -
Independent Judicial Inquiry into the
Australian Workers' Union Workplace Reform Association

Posted on Thursday, 29 November 2012

Today, on behalf of the Coalition, I called on the Government to establish an independent judicial inquiry.

Only an independent judicial inquiry will provide Australians with true and complete answers in relation to the formation and actions of the Australian Workers’ Union Workplace Reform Association.

The Coalition has repeatedly asked Julia Gillard to give a full account of her actions during this time and she has consistently refused to do so.

We have wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt but Julia Gillard has not provided the Parliament with full and complete answers.

We believe that the misuse of union funds is a serious matter. The hard working men and women who are members of trade unions expect their unions to act honestly in the interests of members.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to directly answer the questions asked of her in the Parliament this week. Australians expect better from the Prime Minister.

If Julia Gillard has nothing to hide, why is she refusing to agree to a judicial inquiry that would allow the full and complete facts to be known?

The Coalition believes a judicial inquiry into these matters is warranted and that the judicial inquiry should canvass the following matters.


To inquire into and report on:

  1. The incorporation of the Australian Workers’ Union Workplace Reform Association Inc. (“the Association”) in 1992, and in particular whether misleading statements were made to the Corporate Affairs Commission of Western Australia in relation to the constitution, objects and purposes of the Association.
  2. The conduct and activities of the Association and of its officers.
  3. The operation of all bank accounts held in the name of the Association or operated on behalf of the Association or its office bearers, and in particular the payment from such bank accounts of monies for unlawful or improper purposes and the subsequent use of such monies.
  4. The circumstances surrounding the purchase of the property at 1/85 Kerr Street, Fitzroy, Victoria, in 1993 and in particular the financing of the transaction.
  5. The preparation, execution and use of a Power of Attorney granted by Ralph Blewitt to Bruce Wilson.
  6. The source of monies used to finance renovations to the property at 36 St Phillips Street, Abbotsford, Victoria, in 1994 and 1995.
  7. The sale of the property at 1/85 Kerr Street, Fitzroy in February 1996, and the application of the proceeds of that sale.
  8. Any other matters incidental to these terms of reference.

29 November 2012

Tony Abbott will stay course on AWU

Sid Maher and Pia Akerman, The Australian, November 30, 2012

TONY Abbott has declared he will not back off his allegation that Julia Gillard broke the law and will pursue a judicial inquiry into the Australian Workers Union "slush fund" affair.

But the Prime Minister said yesterday the Opposition Leader had gone too far, failed to produce any hard evidence of a crime and should apologise.

Ms Gillard labelled Mr Abbott's claim of criminality his Godwin Grech moment, a reference to the fake email scandal that engulfed former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull and undermined his authority.

The publication of new material showing Ms Gillard had admitted writing to a government department to overcome its objections to the incorporation of the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association for her then boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, and his partner Ralph Blewitt sparked a spiteful showdown in parliament on its last sitting day of the year.

Ms Gillard suspended question time and demanded Mr Abbott produce evidence of criminal behaviour after he accused her on the Nine Network's Today program of misleading the West Australian Corporate Affairs Commission as to the true purpose of the association. "That would certainly be a breach of the law," he said.

Later, Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott had failed to produce any evidence, but had sent the manager of opposition business in the house, Christopher Pyne, out to call for her resignation.

Mr Abbott told parliament that Ms Gillard had been "at the very least a dodgy and unethical lawyer" and that her denials of wrongdoing were "gravely lacking in truth and in substance".

"The more we hear from the Prime Minister, the more obvious it is that she has been involved in unethical conduct and possibly unlawful behaviour," he said.

Mr Abbott called for a full judicial inquiry to "finally get to the bottom of this whole squalid affair" and later released proposed terms of reference.

Ms Gillard has repeatedly and vehemently denied wrongdoing. She admits providing legal advice to help incorporate the AWU Workplace Reform Association, which was used by Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt to defraud the union, but denies any knowledge of its operation.

Yesterday she told parliament: "The Leader of the Opposition has had his opportunity to put up. Having so frankly failed to put up, now he should be shutting up. The only thing which should be coming out of his mouth is an apology for the false and defamatory allegation he made against me this morning."

The row erupted after it emerged that Ms Gillard wrote to the Commissioner for Corporate Affairs in Western Australia in 1992 arguing against the authority's initial finding that the association was ineligible because of its "trade union" status. The revelation, which was contained in the transcript of an interview Slater & Gordon conducted with Ms Gillard in September 1995, came after days of stonewalling by the Prime Minister on the question of whether she had written to the authority to argue for the entity.

"When queried by the Corporate Affairs Commission, the Prime Minister wrote to the Corporate Affairs Commission stating that the purpose of this association was workplace safety. But it wasn't workplace safety," Mr Abbott told parliament. "We know that it wasn't workplace safety because the Prime Minister subsequently told her own partners that it was a slush fund, a slush fund pure and simple, a slush fund for the re-election of officers to the union, which subsequently turned out to be a vehicle for defrauding the union."

In a reference to Ms Gillard's now famous misogyny speech, Mr Abbott said: "This is not about gender. This is about character and, Prime Minister, you have failed the character test."

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop questioned whether Ms Gillard's conduct appeared to be in breach of sections of the WA Criminal Code, including section 170, which relates to knowingly making false declarations and statements and the Associations Incorporation Act.

But Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott had produced no evidence that she had committed a crime, and had relied on an incorrect report in Fairfax newspapers. She said the Slater & Gordon transcript proved she had no involvement in the association after its incorporation and no knowledge of accounts set up in its name.

Ms Gillard said after the Western Australian government authority suggested the association was a trade union, and therefore ineligible for incorporation under that legislation, she had "submitted on Bruce Wilson's instructions to that authority suggesting that in fact it was not a trade union and arguing the case for its incorporation". "Saying it is not a trade union is a simple matter of fact. This was misreported in Fairfax this morning as me saying or writing that the association had no trade union links," Ms Gillard said. "(Mr Abbott) says I knew the association could not be properly registered. That is false and unsubstantiated. He says I must have known there was wrongdoing but said nothing and that the fraud continued. He has not provided any evidence of that because no evidence could possibly exist -- because I did not know of any wrongdoing."

Mr Abbott called for the same judicial inquiry that former joint national secretary of the AWU Ian Cambridge "was calling for at the time and has been calling for ever since". Mr Cambridge, now a Fair Work commissioner, reaffirmed the call he first made 16 years ago for a judicial inquiry into fraud within the union.

He declined to comment yesterday when asked if he supported the Coalition's call for an inquiry but said through his associate that he stood by his position of 1996.

Earlier yesterday, former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett said a retired judge should be appointed urgently to "clear up" questions about the Prime Minister's actions. "If she has nothing to fear, there is nothing wrong with this inquiry," Mr Kennett said.

The Coalition's proposed terms of reference for the inquiry include whether misleading statements were made to the West Australian Corporate Affairs Commission regarding the 1992 incorporation of the AWU Workplace Reform Association, which was later used to siphon about $400,000 from building company Thiess.

The inquiry would also look at the conduct of the association's officers, Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt, improper payments from its bank accounts, the purchase of a house in Fitzroy using money from its account, and the source of money used to pay for renovations at Ms Gillard's Abbotsford home.

Current Australian Workers' Union secretary Paul Howes dismissed the proposal as a "politically motivated smear". AWU national president Bill Ludwig, who worked with Mr Cambridge to investigate the fraud in late 1995 and 1996, said the call for an inquiry now was "ridiculous'.

Claims, counter-attack and plain hair-splitting

The Age November 30, 2012 Mark Baker

THE Prime Minister and her minders are masters at splitting hairs and using the delicate strands to weave grand rhetorical constructions in the hope of dodging inconvenient truths.

In August a small slip in The Australian newspaper - in which an association was wrongly described as a trust fund - was enough for Gillard to pocket an apology, claim the high moral ground and open fire on a raft of well-sourced revelations about the AWU slush fund scandal.

On Thursday she claimed a ''false report'' in Fairfax Media newspapers discredited new information upon which the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, accused her of involvement in ''unethical conduct and possibly unlawful behaviour''.

This time, editing changes to the Sydney version of the Fairfax Media report - wrongly asserting she had said the association had no union links - were the strand on which she built a ferocious counter-attack on Abbott.

Fairfax Media and The Australian had revealed fresh details of the transcript of a 1995 interview in which Ms Gillard, then a salaried partner at Slater & Gordon, was interrogated by senior partner Peter Gordon about her role in helping establish the AWU Workplace Reform Association, from which her former boyfriend and AWU official Bruce Wilson later stole hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The transcript confirmed what Gillard avoided saying in response to questions in Parliament - that she wrote a letter to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission in 1992 that was instrumental in securing the incorporation of the association.

It verified the authority had challenged the eligibility of the association because of its apparent trade union status and that she had responded, formally denying it. It further challenged Gillard's repeated assertion that she played a minor role advising on the incorporation

Gillard seized on a reference by Gordon to the WA authority having suggested the association ''might be a trade union''. ''Saying it's not a trade union is a simple matter of fact,'' she told Parliament.

Clearly no one at the authority could have imagined that an application to incorporate an ''AWU Workplace Reform Association'' was about incorporating a trade union. Their objection was the apparent union character of an association Gillard had written on the application form was devoted to ''changes to work to achieve safe workplaces'' but she had told Gordon was a union election slush fund.

In her responses in Parliament on Thursday Gillard did not challenge the essential elements of what the transcript revealed about her pivotal role in helping establish the association - and the issues that raised about her contradictory accounts of its true nature. But her answers did confirm another disclosure in the transcript. While Gillard had spent most of this week telling critics to direct questions about the incorporation to the man in whose name she helped set it up - AWU ''bagman'' Ralph Blewitt - it was his ringmaster, Bruce Wilson, who gave instructions and directed her to write the letter to the authority.

Abbott makes reckless charge under pressure

Laura Tingle Political editor AFR 30 Nov 2012

Tony Abbott, in Parliament on Thursday, after the Coalition attack on Julia Gillard had already started to collapse.
Tony Abbott, in Parliament on Thursday, after the Coalition attack on Julia Gillard had already started to collapse.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Accusing a prime minister of criminal behaviour would have once only been done on the basis of solid evidence of really bad behaviour.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did so on Thursday without evidence and even then on what ultimately proved to be the most marginal of charges.

Given 15 minutes to prosecute his case in Parliament, the best he could come up with was that Julia Gillard had engaged in ‘‘conduct unbecoming a prime minister’’, based on a ­misleading claim of what she had told corporate ­regulators in Western Australia.

The ground has moved a long way from allegations she had her house renovations paid for corruptly.

Further, Abbott’s charge came at a point when the Coalition’s attack had already started to collapse under a lack of evidence.

Gillard may have had bad taste in boyfriends. Her decisions as a lawyer 20 years ago may have been unwise.

But as months of allegations came to a head this week in a parliamentary blitzkrieg by the Coalition, no one has yet found anything to substantiate claims she is corrupt, has done anything illegal, or for that matter, anything that suggests she is not fit to be Prime Minister.

That will never satisfy those who believe all these things are true.

But to tie the Coalition’s political fortunes to claiming that this was the case, first with no evidence and second without quietly retreating when the attack started to fail, is both politically reckless and grossly dishonest.

The last opposition leader who accused a prime minister of criminal behaviour was, gee, the last leader of the Coalition.

Malcolm Turnbull’s claims against Kevin Rudd in the ‘‘utegate’’ episode largely destroyed Turnbull’s standing with the electorate.

He, at least, thought he had a ‘‘smoking gun’’ document to prove his case.

Turnbull’s standing with voters slumped to a level comparable with where Abbott’s standing was before he embarked on this pursuit of Gillard.

Depressingly, politics has become such a rank spectre in the meantime that voters – who largely don’t know what the whole Australian Workers Union slush fund issue is about anyway – probably won’t change their views of the Opposition Leader.

Like the Prime Minister, views seem pretty set about Abbott.

MPs on both sides report anger among voters about Parliament putting so much time into the controversy this week.

And this is where the risks in Abbott’s actions this week lie. His political strategy has got the Coalition to an election-winning primary vote but the cost has been an almost toxic view among voters about him.

The government has set itself up to ‘‘go positive’’ next year, and while the Coalition acknowledges the need for Abbott to also do so, it keeps returning to the comfort of its negative political formula.

As the parliamentary year ends, the only thing potentially standing between the Coalition and election victory is the electorate’s view of its leader.

Thursday’s attack should give Coalition voters no reassurance that he can change his spots, but instead only becomes reckless under pressure.

The Australian Financial Review

Lack of hard evidence nothing to crow about

AFR 30 November, Mark Skulley

Julia Gillard argues the documentary evidence supports crucial parts of her explanation about the establishment of the AWU Workplace Reform Association – the infamous “slush fund”.

But the Prime Minister and her office are being too cute, and too legalistic, in pushing their take on the story.

Her team yesterday spun out a series of rhetorical questions:

“So, the Prime Minister wrote to the WA Commissioner? So what? She did what lawyers do. Act on instruction. Provide legal advice.

“So, the Prime Minister can’t remember writing one letter from 20 years ago. So what? Lawyers write thousands of letters in their careers.

“And what does the transcript show? That the PM said the association wasn’t a union. So what? It obviously wasn’t.”

Yet consider her response when the Opposition asked if she had vouched for the association.

“The claim has been made but no correspondence has ever been produced,” she told Parliament.

It’s true no letter has surfaced from her vouching for the association. But there is evidence one was written.

It’s true lawyers write a lot of letters, but it’s surprising that Ms Gillard could not remember this particular letter.

It’s also true the association was not a union. But its full title was the AWU Workplace Reform Association and the prime movers were two AWU officials, Bruce Wilson and Ralph Blewitt.

Western Australia’s Associations Incorporation Act allows for bodies to be established for “political purposes”, which appears to give scope for what Ms Gillard later described as a union “slush fund” for re-electing officials promoting safety at work.

Section 8 of the law says the state corporate affairs commissioner should not incorporate an association by a name that is “likely to mislead the public as to the object or purpose of the association”.

It’s an offence to make false and misleading statements to the commissioner, which carries a $500 fine. The opposition argues there is also the State Crimes Act but it needs more legs to make that argument run.

Moreover, the extra snippet of 1995 transcript released this week had Ms Gillard saying she had no role in setting up bank accounts, or any involvement with the association once it was incorporated.

Yet Ms Gillard and Slater & Gordon were aware of association bank accounts by at least September 1995. The AWU national leadership knew of Victorian-based slush funds by then and reckon they did not learn about the WA-based association until the following April.

Ms Gillard says she could not report what she did not know. Slater & Gordon says it was bound by client confidentiality, even though the AWU and Mr Wilson had switched their business to a rival law firm, Maurice Blackburn.

As things stand, the Opposition needs more hard evidence to make things stick. But that’s nothing for Labor to crow about.

The Australian Financial Review

End politics of disgrace

Editorial Herald Sun November 30, 2012

IF the parliamentary year ended with the Australian people having lost trust in Prime Minister Julia Gillard, it started with the declaration that they already had.

Kevin Rudd, the prime minister she deposed, said it when he announced what was to be a failed attempt to regain the leadership.

\"Rightly or wrongly", he said, "Julia has lost the trust of the Australian people."

The same might be said after another day of vicious accusation in federal Parliament.

Rightly or wrongly, who will trust her now is a question that will be answered at the election next year.

Ms Gillard has responded furiously in Parliament this week over what she did or did not do in giving legal advice to her then boyfriend and union client in the incorporation of the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association.

Some will see her denials as a dying desperation and others as a righteous defiance.

Did she mislead the West Australian Corporations Commissioner when he queried the bona fides of the association from which $400,000 in contributions were later stolen, is the underlying question.

But no matter how robust these allegations, Ms Gillard must expect to have her toes held to the fire.

The Prime Minister's reputation has undoubtedly suffered as a result of the accusations that have raged back and forth, but so too has the reputation of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who must provide the proof.

YESTERDAY, the issues arising from the latest disclosures erupted into one of the most vitriolic exchanges ever heard in federal Parliament.

This was a verbal prize fight. Mr Abbott started savagely: "The more we hear from the Prime Minister, the more obvious it is that she has been involved in unethical conduct and possibly unlawful behaviour."

Swinging freely, Mr Abbott claimed Ms Gillard "knew all along that this was a slush fund for the re-election of union officials".

It was "a sham", he said, "to facilitate a fraud".

Mr Abbott charged Ms Gillard with being "at the very least a dodgy and unethical lawyer and an untrustworthy Prime Minister as has been demonstrated abundantly by the evasions and obfuscations that we have so consistently seen by the Prime Minister in the Parliament this week".

There was then a flurry about the Australian Labor Party being unable to stamp out union corruption when senior members of the Labor Party and the Government had been associated with union corruption themselves.

Ms Gillard counter-punched by calling Mr Abbott "a rash man" who clutched negativity but was "now handcuffed to an allegation against me that I committed a crime and handcuffed to the fact that he does not have any evidence".

NEVER have accusations and insults been flung so freely. The Opposition Leader had failed to "put up" and should now "shut up" finished Ms Gillard.

"The only thing that should be coming out of his mouth should be an apology." Instead, Mr Abbott called for a judicial inquiry, which almost certainly will never happen.

All this was interspersed with uproar from frontbenchers at ringside and backbenchers in the bleachers. Those in the greater Australian audience might consider it a bloody draw, depending on which of the bruised and battered pugilists they support.

More likely, they have already made up their minds whether they trust the Prime Minister or even Mr Abbott.

The Opposition Leader must now make good on his promise to produce policies that people will be able to weigh against what the Government has achieved and what it still hopes to do.

Australians do not want another hung Parliament.

Whichever way they cast their vote, the loser will likely spend a long time in the wilderness

Despite scandal, unions make Gillard strong

Henry Ergas, The Australian, November 30, 2012

IT just won't go away. All week, Julia Gillard refused in parliament to answer detailed questions about her role in overcoming the West Australian regulator's concerns with the incorporation of the so-called AWU Workplace Reform Association. Now it is clear that she was pivotal in doing so.

Gillard says she was unaware of any illegality and has denied any wrongdoing. But there is simply no precedent for such issues to arise about an Australian prime minister. Nor can the events in which Gillard was connected all those years ago be put down to youthful naivety. At the time, Gillard was hardly struggling with adulthood: she was a salaried partner in a prominent law firm. That the decisions she made reflect on her judgment seems undeniable.

But they reflect every bit as importantly on her politics and her policies. For they go to Gillard's links to the unions and her attitudes to their governance.

After all, the most telling moment in her September 1995 interview with Slater & Gordon's then senior partner, Peter Gordon, is when she says that the association was actually a "a re-election fund, slush fund, whatever". That "whatever", with its connotation that these are quibbles scarcely worth mentioning, was not accidental; for those funds, she maintained, were "common practice, indeed every union has (one)".

It is, in other words, acceptable to claim entities are for one purpose when it appears they are really for another. Not only that, it now emerges, but it seems acceptable to do so in the context of the legal process of registration.

What her conduct betrays is a conviction that the standards that apply to union officials are different from those relevant elsewhere. And in that special world, conduct can be tolerated that seems reprehensible.

As matters turned out, Gillard's then client and boyfriend, union boss Bruce Wilson, was not merely operating a slush fund. He was participating in, and benefiting from, misappropriation and industrial corruption.

Unfortunately, those matters have never come to justice, as they might have done, had the police been fully informed at an earlier stage. But however that may be, one might have expected Gillard's experience with the association to make her especially sensitive to union illegality and determined to eliminate it. That is all the more the case as by the time she came to office, Wilson's alleged actions had been exposed, while the Cole royal commission had found evidence of widespread union criminality.

Far from it. Instead, on Labor obtaining power, Gillard emasculated the laws aimed at curtailing union misconduct, particularly in the sector in which Wilson operated, building and construction. The costs stoppages can impose on building firms make them vulnerable to standover tactics. But with the repeal of John Howard's building industry legislation, Gillard cut penalties for union intimidation and threats by two-thirds.

Even more importantly, her changes to the IR laws ensured agreements that might involve that conduct, once reached, were effectively sheltered from review: unlike the Howard legislation, the Fair Work Act provides that concluded agreements are presumed to comply with the industry code of practice; and the powers the previous industry watchdog had to compel evidence in cases of suspected misconduct were dramatically reduced.

The harm those changes inflict is anything but trivial. The Cole royal commission found that once union extortion gains a foothold in a market, it rapidly becomes pervasive and entrenched. Each firm, knowing its competitors have succumbed, rightly fears the concentrated punishment it will suffer should it resist. Moreover, as its competitors are themselves burdened with protection costs, it knows buying peace will not erode its relative position. Far better then to get along by going along.

All that hands extortionists large gains at consumers' expense; but by increasing returns to extortion, it inevitably attracts rivals into its supply. Luckily, Gillard's Fair Work Act shelters unions from competition, safeguarding their monopoly over the rents. That, of course, only makes seizing control of those unions all the more profitable, fuelling the kind of factional bloodbaths on display in the Health Services Union.

The costs that imposes are, in my view, obvious. Yet Gillard has boasted her IR laws are a case of "promises made, promises delivered". And "the promises made, promises delivered" go well beyond the IR laws. They extend to Anthony Albanese's reintroduction of restrictions on foreign vessels in the Australian coastal trade, the failure to address chronic problems of governance in the industry super funds and the proliferation of subsidies to highly unionised industries and activities.

The events that led to Gillard's departure from Slater & Gordon are therefore not merely ancient history. Rather, they are, I believe, fundamental to her current attitudes and policies. And they are at the heart of her government, the bargains it has struck and the interests it protects.

No wonder then that Gillard would prefer that all traces of those events and their legacy would vanish into the night and fog. No wonder too Gillard's office so actively seeks to manage reporting of those events, preferring pressure on the media to the full disclosure so many voices now call for.

But unwelcome facts, as Hannah Arendt once said, "possess an infuriating stubbornness nothing can move". So the awkward questions remain. And all the brow-beating in the world cannot and will not make them disappear.

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