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Howard Reshuffle; Vanstone, Hardgrave Sacked; Turnbull Into Cabinet

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has sacked Amanda Vanstone and Gary Hardgrave and promoted Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey in a reshuffle of his ministry that is more wide-ranging than expected.

Senator Amanda Vanstone, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, has been sacked from Cabinet and the ministry. Her department is to be renamed Immigration and Citizenship and will be taken over by Kevin Andrews. Andrews is replaced as Minister for Workplace Relations by Joe Hockey, who moves into the Cabinet.

The Minister for Vocational and Technical Education, Gary Hardgrave, has also been sacked. His position is taken by Andrew Robb who is promoted from parliamentary secretary to Minister for Vocational and Further Education.

The big winner in the reshuffle is Malcolm Turnbull, who leaps from a parliamentary secretary’s position into the Cabinet as Minister for Environment and Water Resources.

Newcomers to the ministry are Queensland Senator George Brandis as Minister for Arts and Sport, and Northern Territory Senator Nigel Scullion as Minister for Community Services.

  • Listen to Howard’s press conference (33m)

Transcript of John Howard’s press conference announcing the ministerial reshuffle.

PRIME MINISTER: Welcome, happy new year, good to see you all, look forward to seeing you all over the weeks and months ahead. I’ve called this news conference ladies and gentlemen to announce a number of changes to the ministerial team. These changes include two promotions into Cabinet, three new appointments to the outer Ministry and two new Parliamentary Secretaries. Let me start by indicating that a number of people who are in the current Ministry will not be included in the new line-up.

I start, first of all, by reference to Senator Amanda Vanstone and I record my very deep appreciation to her for her continuous service as a member of my Ministry since the election of the Government in March of 1996. She’s a very colourful person who has worked very hard and in a very committed fashion in the various portfolios that she’s held. She’s made a wonderful contribution to the Government, and to Australia, and importantly she retains an enthusiasm for future public service.

I’d also like to record my thanks to Senator Rod Kemp, who has indicated that in the light of his not contesting the next election, he did not wish to be considered for reappointment to the Ministry in the event of a reshuffle. Rod has served for most of the time, in fact over 10 of the almost 11 years of the Government’s term of office, and I want to thank him for the great work he’s done as Minister, particularly for the Arts and Sport and to wish he and Danielle all good fortune for the future.

Gary Hardgrave who served as Minister for Vocational and Technical Education over the past two years will not be included in the Ministry. I want to thank him for his work there and his previous work as Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, and particularly for his work in relation to Australian Technical Colleges. He will be contesting the next election in what will be a difficult fight in his seat of Moreton and I’m confident that he’ll be successful and continue with a long and successful parliamentary career. I should also mention that Sandy Macdonald of the National Party, who will not be contesting the next election as a consequence of a pre-selection decision within his own party, indicated that if there were a reshuffle it would not be appropriate for him to continue as a Parliamentary Secretary. And I want to thank him very warmly for his work as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence.

Within the Cabinet there are a number of important changes. I’ve decided to appoint Malcolm Turnbull as Minister for the Environment and Water Resources. I intend to amalgamate within this new department all of the water resource functions of the Government. And he will be assisted by a Parliamentary Secretary with a new designation and I’ll come to that in a moment.

Senator Ian Campbell will assume the position of Minister for Human Services and Kevin Andrews will be appointed to the vacant position of Minister for Immigration. I intend to rename the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in recognition of the obvious fact, and obvious belief on the part of the entire Australian community, that immigration should lead to citizenship. The whole purpose of immigration is to recruit more people to the broader Australian family. Kevin Andrews will take over that responsibility and his current portfolio of Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations will be assumed by the Honourable Joe Hockey, who is currently the Minister for Human Services. I want to pay tribute to both Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull for the excellent work that they have done in their respective positions to now, in relation to Joe as Minister for Human Services and assistant to Kevin Andrews in Workplace Relations and Malcolm Turnbull as my Parliamentary Secretary.

I’ve indicated that there will be two name changes to departments. The current Department of Environment and Heritage will become the Department of the Environment and Water Resources, and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs will become the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. To assist functional arrangements I’ve decided to include the Human Services Department and therefore the Minister within the Cabinet grouping. It doesn’t affect, of course, the overall size of the Ministry.

Moving to the outer Ministry, there are some changes. I propose appointing Andrew Robb, currently Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, to the position of Minister of Vocational and Further Education. Andrew will bring to that portfolio his very keen mind and intellect, and I’m sure he’ll make an extremely good job of that. I intend to appoint in place of Rod Kemp, the current Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator George Brandis of Queensland, as the Minister for Arts and Sport; I should say Senator George Brandis SC of Queensland, to the Ministerial team as the Minister for Arts and Sport. The other change to the Ministry is the appointment of Senator Nigel Scullion of the Northern Territory to the portfolio of Minister for Community Services in place of the Honourable John Cobb who currently holds that position.

There will be two new Parliamentary Secretaries and some rearrangement of the parliamentary secretarial positions. The new appointments are Peter Lindsay, the Member for Herbert in Queensland, who will become the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence and Tony Smith of Victoria who will become Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. There will be some rearrangement of other responsibilities. Greg Hunt will move from being Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage to become Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Teresa Gambaro will move from Foreign Affairs to become Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

As is currently the position, there will be 12 Parliamentary Secretaryships within the new Ministerial line-up, however one innovation that I’ve decided on is in recognition of additional responsibilities and particular seniority is to designate two of those Parliamentary Secretaries as Assistant Ministers. It’s within current arrangements to do that, they will in a technical sense be Parliamentary Secretaries, but they will carry the designation in recognition of their additional responsibilities of Assistant Minister. There will not automatically, let me say, in consequence of this, be any change in their remuneration. The two people in question are John Cobb, who is currently the Minister for Community Services, he will go into the position of Assistant Minister under the new designation for the Environment and Water Resources, and the other will be Christopher Pyne, who’s currently Parliamentary Secretary in the Health and Ageing portfolio, and he will assume the new designation of Assistant Minister.

The swearing in of the new Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries will take place next Tuesday. I want to say that I’ve given a great deal of thought, as you might expect, to this new line-up. I think it is strong, without in any way reflecting adversely on the performance of people who have held other portfolios. I think it is an effective concentration of the firepower of the prominent people within the Government. There’s no doubt that issues relating to climate change and water are going to be very important. Obviously the continued promotion of the benefits of the WorkChoices legislation is important and I believe the inclusion of some new blood in the outer Ministry, combining with some of the more seasoned players who’ve been around for a while, provides an extremely good mix.

I’ve said to all of you before, and I take the opportunity of saying it again, the next election will be a very tough one for the Government, that’s something that I have acknowledged for a long time and I acknowledge it again. And what I’ve done today is to make some difficult decisions, they’re always difficult because they involve people’s futures, they involve making judgements to prefer a man or a women over somebody else, and that’s always hard. And I believe that I’ve done a job that has produced about the best mix that one can of experience, and energy, and recognising that it is a strong Government, and it’s had a number of very senior people who’ve held very senior positions for quite a number of years now. But fortunately the Liberal Party has been infused over the last couple of elections with a number of talented new people who’ve performed very well in a short period of time. I’ve tried to reward effort, I’ve tried to recognise commitment and energy and I believe the new team will be of great service to the nation. They’ll get to work straight away and we have no illusions politically about the task ahead and we retain an enormous amount of zeal and commitment to our responsibilities.

JOURNALIST: How difficult was it to move Senator Vanstone aside?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I don’t intend to talk about any of the discussions I’ve had with any of my colleagues except to say that in relation to Amanda, as always, she handles her situations in a very spirited and committed and decent fashion. I admire her as a colleague, I like her and I thank her for her past services and I know as I noted in my introductory remarks that she retains a great enthusiasm for public service.

JOURNALIST: You’ve taken a ministry away from the Nationals, is that correct?

PRIME MINISTER: No, Nigel Scullion sits with the National Party.

JOURNALIST: Will Amanda Vanstone get an outside job Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER: No, hang on. Nigel Scullion sits with the National Party.

JOURNALIST: That’s semantics isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER: No. He’s a member of the Federal Parliamentary National Party in the same way that David Tollner from the Northern Territory is a member of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party.

JOURNALIST: Have you offered Amanda Vanstone an opportunity to continue her public service, perhaps in an overseas role?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I don’t intend to canvas the discussions I’ve had with her, but let me say that she retains a very strong enthusiasm for public service.

JOURNALIST: And can you just explain a little further about this decision to remove the multicultural term from the ministry, do you believe that that term is now defunct, that it’s now over?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don’t think the term is defunct. I think the desired progression is that an immigrant becomes an Australian, simple as that. I think the title of the new department expresses the desire and the aspiration and that is that people who come to this country who emigrate, immigrants become Australians. That’s what the Australian people want and this is not designed to kick multiculturalism, it’s designed to better reflect the pathway to becoming an Australian inherent in a vibrant immigration program.

JOURNALIST: Previously Mr Howard you had Mr Hockey assisting Kevin Andrews in selling the message on IR, will anybody be in that role assisting Mr Hockey?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t propose at present except I’ll retain, of course, the junior Ministry of Workforce Participation, but I don’t at this stage propose, no.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what would you say to critics who say this is a bigger reshuffle than some expected and that could be seen as evidence of the Government running out of puff a bit, you’re tired?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a criticism is it? Might be a reflection on some people’s speculative powers, but I wouldn’t have thought it would be a criticism.

JOURNALIST: So you don’t see there’s any evidence here in the size of this reshuffle and these rearrangements as evidence the government’s running out of puff a bit?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I would have thought a government that’s running out of puff is a government that’s scared to make big changes. My experience over 32 years is that subtraction of puff is normally evidenced by inertia and inaction. Governments become paralysed and can’t make decisions and can’t embrace difficult choices and prime ministers find it hard to make difficult personnel decisions. Personnel decisions are always quite hard and our party and our government is different from the Labor Party in that there is far more authority vested in the leader to make decisions. It’s quite a difficult responsibility and one that I’ve approached very conscientiously because I know that the decisions I make have an enormous impact on people’s careers, both for the people who are promoted or perhaps passed over or left out and it’s very difficult. But I would have thought running out of puff is when you don’t make difficult decisions, rather than the reverse?

JOURNALIST: Why these changes now?

PRIME MINISTER: Why? Because clearly there was the need, given Rod Kemp’s indication, at some point to have a minor reshuffle and I couldn’t see the point of having a series of minor reshuffles.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I think you referred to Mr Malcolm Turnbull in that newly named environment portfolio bringing together the Commonwealth focus on water resources management. Given Kevin Rudd’s remarks of the last 48 hours or so, do you expect bipartisan support for that given that Mr Rudd will probably say it was his idea?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s hardly, it would hardly be a breathless expression of bipartisanship to support a new administrative arrangement, but yes I would. I’ve been thinking about this new portfolio for some weeks, I’m interested that he probably sat down and worked out that it might happen and so therefore suggested it. But I will welcome his bipartisan support and I will welcome his bipartisan support for the policies that Mr Turnbull will advocate as well.

JOURNALIST: Does this promotion boost his leadership credentials do you think, Mr Turnbull’s?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, I don’t get into that, except I will take the opportunity of saying, again, that there is only one serious contender for the leadership of the Liberal Party if I were to be suddenly removed and that is Peter Costello. My view has not altered that if I suddenly departed this world or this scene for whatever reason that the Party would be foolish not to choose Peter as my replacement.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, it’s a big promotion for George Brandis.


JOURNALIST: Do you think that he’s been kept back for too long and do you think he’s very sporty?

PRIME MINISTER: I always found him an intensely sporting character and I think I have reciprocated that with equal sportsmanship towards him.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, apart from Joe Hockey’s regular appearances on a high rating TV show, what do you expect him to bring to the Workplace Relations portfolio and is that a recognition that Kevin Andrews was not cutting through on a critical election issue.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I think what you have is a situation where Joe will bring energy, he will bring intelligence. I’ve been very impressed with the way he’s gone out and sold the Human Services arrangement and portfolio and I think brought a great deal of personal touch and so forth to that portfolio. I think Joe’s a good media performer, Joe’s an avuncular sort of bloke and I think Kevin has done a splendid job in shepherding the legislation through. It survived the challenge before the High Court and in a technical sense Kevin has had an absolute mastery of this legislation, but I think now Joe’s particular talents in that area will be very good and I need a new Immigration Minister and I need somebody who’s got a big command of detail in that portfolio and I believe Kevin will fill that bill very, very effectively.

JOURNALIST: Will he be reassuring to people who are nervous, you mention him being avuncular?

PRIME MINISTER: He’s certainly avuncular and if he reassures and is friendly and embracing and he’s a big bear of a man, well what’s wrong with that?

JOURNALIST: Did you offer the job to Mr Abbott first?

PRIME MINISTER: No. No, there was no…let me make that very clear, that I didn’t offer any of the positions I have now allocated to other people only for them to say no. I don’t operate in that basis. Once I’ve made a decision about where somebody’s going, well I make the offer and that’s it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, South Australia’s going to be a pretty important state at the next election and it can be a parochial state. Senator Vanstone’s the second Cabinet minister they’ve lost in 12 months. Is that something that concerns you, how it may play out?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t think so because they have within their ranks, they have two of the most senior people in the Government. They have the person who is effectively the number three individual in the Liberal Party, that’s Alexander Downer after myself and Peter Costello. I mean, Alexander Downer is a former leader, he’s the only other person apart from the Treasurer and myself who’ve served continuously in the same portfolio and he’s Australia’s longest serving Foreign Minister and they also have the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I don’t think South Australia can feel in any way short-changed. But I mean, it is absolutely replete with representation in our ranks compared with the pathetic representation on the Labor Party frontbench. But there were some people some years ago who said South Australia was over represented. Now, applying the merit principle, I didn’t believe it was. But, look, I think every state’s fairly represented. Inevitably you’re going to have some occasions where you have more from one state than another, but you’ve got to pay a bit of regard to the people. I mean, you’ve got to look at this from a national perspective and people do that, I don’t think South Australians are going to be feeling short changed by this at all.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, how will the Assistant Ministers work? Will they be answering in Question time?

PRIME MINISTER: They will do the same work plus a bit more than the other people who are Parliamentary Secretaries. They won’t automatically be paid anymore, but it’s just a recognition within the ranks of the parliamentary secretaries by the designation of Assistant Ministers that there are a couple who have particular responsibilities.

JOURNALIST: Did you give much thought, Prime Minister, to including climate change as a specific name for a portfolio?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I thought the Environment and Water Resources was the right description. The big issue for everybody in Australia at the present time is water and water resources had to go into the title. The environment, obviously, has an impact on water resources and water resources are part of the environment.

JOURNALIST: You already had an Environment Minister in Cabinet, what was he doing wrong?

PRIME MINISTER: He wasn’t doing anything wrong. If he had been doing something wrong, he wouldn’t be included in the new Cabinet in another job. I haven’t, I mean, you know I haven’t shifted him out of the Cabinet I have shifted him into another position.

JOURNALIST: What was Mr Hardgrave doing wrong in Vocational and Technical Education and what do you expect Mr Robb to do differently?

PRIME MINISTER: The question is when you make a decision to replace one person with another you take particularly into account your relative assessments of what each can do and I have come to the conclusion that Andrew Robb could do a particularly good job there and it is more a recognition of his talent than a reflection on Gary that I took the decision I did.

JOURNALIST: Just on Mr Robb, why did you choose not…why did you not choose to elevate him to Cabinet?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I didn’t want to make the Cabinet any larger and obviously if you promote somebody from Parliamentary Secretary to Cabinet that’s a recognition of their particular expertise. I think Malcolm has done a very good job over the last year, I think Andrew’s done a good job. You can make your own assessments as to which has done the better, they’ve both done a good job, but I am not going to have a Cabinet of 30 and I have decided that Malcolm was deserving of promotion into that very big new position. It’s not unknown for me to promote somebody from Parliamentary Secretary to Cabinet in one hit, I have done that on two earlier occasions. I did it with Kay Patterson after the 2001 election and I did it, I think, with Brendan Nelson didn’t I; on recollection?

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard in Iraq the suicide bombers have killed a hundred people overnight. How can this be an indication of things improving post President Bush’s decision to send more troops?

PRIME MINISTER: Can you just repeat that question?

JOURNALIST: A hundred people killed overnight.


JOURNALIST: This is clearly not a sign that things are improving are they, how is President Bush’s decision to send more troops in a surge made anything better in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it is far too early, Karen, to make any assessment of the impact of the increase. Of course, I remain concerned about the continued conflict in Iraq, of course I am concerned about the loss of life, but it is ludicrous to make a judgement after two weeks only of the announcement and my view remains that in all of the difficult options that were available to President Bush, the troop increase was the right decision. It’s going to be difficult and the alternative, of course, would be even worse. The alternative would be infinitely greater bloodshed and chaos and an enormous victory to the terrorists.

JOURNALIST: Did you see Newspoll today suggesting the Australian…?


JOURNALIST: …some 70 per cent of Australians are making of judgement of concern about Iraq. How much is it becoming an electoral issue for you in a negative sense?

PRIME MINISTER: Well Karen, when I took the decision back in 2003 to become part of the coalition, the polls were about the same. I think at one stage there was only six per cent of people in a Herald-Age poll that expressed support for us joining the coalition and I believed it was right then and I still believe the decision we took was right. There’s a lot more at stake than just the simple decision of whether you are part of the coalition. You have to look at the consequences of Australia pulling out now and that is the policy of the Labor Party. They try and camouflage it by saying they’d have a talk to the Americans. Of course, if we were to decide to pull out I would ring up President Bush and say well I have decided to pull out and he would say well that’s your decision and he would, of course he would, accept it. But it wouldn’t leave the Australian-American alliance in exactly the same position as it is now and however much Mr Rudd may try to fudge it, he is in favour of pulling out of the coalition. It might be preceded by a phone call in two or three months if he were to become Prime Minister but the bottom line is that if he were in my position now, he would be indicating a pull out. Now I think given the larger things that are at stake with the alliance and the fact that you do stick by your close allies when things are difficult, I think that would do a lot of damage to the alliance and it would not be the right thing to do and it is not something that I will do. I want to make that very clear that my position in relation to this has not changed and I read opinion polls, I’ve been accused on occasions of being poll driven. I can’t think of a position I’ve had in public life that has been less poll driven than the position I’ve taken in relation to Iraq and the associated matters of terrorism. The terrorists will get an enormous boost if the Rudd philosophy were to flow through to all the members of the coalition and I’ve said before that if it’s okay for us to pull out why isn’t it okay for the Americans and the British to do the same?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, doesn’t the BBC poll today in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald say that the terrorists are already getting this boost that you talk about. In other words the situation is a lose, lose.

PRIME MINISTER: Well Paul, it’s a question of what are the options and my argument is that to pull out would be an enormous boost to terrorism. If you think things are difficult now they will be infinitely worse if the Americans pack up and go from the Middle East. It will de-stabilise the whole area, it will unleash unchartered areas of potential conflict involving Israel and Lebanon, it will undermine Saudi Arabia, it will undermine Jordan, it will create a whole new crisis within the Middle East and it will give an enormous boost to the terrorists. Now it is not an easy situation but I have the responsibility of calculating the impact of following the policy advocated by my opponent and his policy is basically we pack up and go. I think that would do damage to the alliance, I think it would send a bad signal. And morally, if it is okay for us to pack up and go before the job is done, it’s okay for the Americans and the British to do the same.

JOURNALIST: How do you read the poll result on David Hicks Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER: That doesn’t surprise me. Neither of those results surprise me. I mean let me say in relation to Hicks that we are unhappy that it has taken so long for him to be charged again. Now remember he was charged before and that was overturned and at my request and that of the Foreign Minister we have indicated to the Americans in the past 24 hours that we want him charged by the middle of February.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard just back on the reshuffle, in your New Year’s message you talked about water being one of the top priorities, you’ve now promoted Turnbull in the new sort of super water ministry. What exactly is the Government proposing to do different on the water issue that has not been achieved so far?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think it is a bit early to expect a minister to have a repertoire…

JOURNALIST: You nominated it yourself…

PRIME MINISTER: Are you are asking me? Well I have had quite a lot to say about water and I and my colleagues will be saying more things about water in the time immediately ahead.

JOURNALIST: Do we need a revolution in education?

PRIME MINISTER: A revolution? No, I don’t think we need a revolution in education. I tell you what we need in education more than anything else: basic standards. We need basic standards of literacy, of numeracy, a proper and rigorous understanding according to an appropriate narrative sense of the history of this country, the history of the influences that have made and conditioned this country, they are the sort of things that we need more than anything else in education. They are things that we have been on about years and they’ve been stymied by Mr Rudd’s mates in the education unions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard back on David Hicks you say you’ve told the Americans you want him charged by February.

PRIME MINISTER: By the middle of February.

JOURNALIST: Yes, what if they don’t…

PRIME MINISTER: Well let’s deal with that issue if that eventuality arises.

JOURNALIST: Well have you told them what would happen after that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we have said what I have said.

JOURNALIST: Who conveyed it?

PRIME MINISTER: The Ambassador.

JOURNALIST: And have you had any response from the American Government?

PRIME MINISTER: Let us wait and let a bit of time go by.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard you’ve said you will bring him home if he’s not charged, does that…

PRIME MINISTER: Did I say that?

JOURNALIST: The Government has said that if he is not charged…

PRIME MINISTER: Who said that?

JOURNALIST: The Government has said previously, as is the case of Mamdouh Habib…

PRIME MINISTER: Who actually said that?

JOURNALIST: I believe that the Attorney General has said that.

PRIME MINISTER: I’d have to check that.

JOURNALIST: Who did Mr Richardson talk to Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER: An appropriate person. I don’t know, I mean, what happened; the Foreign Minister and I discussed the matter, and the AG, we discussed the matter yesterday and the decision was taken to formerly convey to the Americans our view that he should be charged by the middle of February.

JOURNALIST: In your view is that the strongest representation you’ve made to the US Government on David Hicks?

PRIME MINISTER: Well look that is commentary, I’ll leave that to you.

JOURNALIST: Was it a positive response from Washington?

PRIME MINISTER: We are reasonably optimistic there will be, but let’s wait and see.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard though isn’t it academic given that Hicks could be in limbo for another couple of years anyway with legal challenges and legislative challenges as well?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I don’t know about that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard with the departure of Amanda Vanstone I think that takes you back to just two women in Cabinet and there weren’t…didn’t appear to be any women amongst the other elevations. What does that say to talented women in the Liberal Party who are hoping to…

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t think it says anything either way. I don’t think talented women in the Liberal Party do these sums every time there’s an adjustment made; I think that is a rather patronising, old fashioned view to take. Most of the talented women in the Liberal Party take the view that you’ve got to make decisions. Sometimes they fall in favour of more women, sometimes they don’t. Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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