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Lose our democracy? It’s as easy as ABC.

“We need a president who isn’t a laughing stock to the entire world. We need a truly great leader, a genius at strategy and winning. Respect!” Donald Trump tweet, August 2014.

 

They laugh in Trump’s face at the UN, Tuesday. Twice. Is it a sign of rude good health in an international set too keen to kow-tow, suspend judgement or collude in the vainglorious delusions of the self-styled “stable genius”?

Trump is visibly taken aback; retreats into Security Adviser “barking” John Bolton’s bonkers script; pulls his head into his shell in Turtle Bay, midtown Manhattan NY site of UN Headquarters, a metonym for the UN itself . It’s Trump’s worst nightmare; his speeches are strewn with tell-tale images of being the laughing stock of the world.

The world? A hundred world leaders, ministers, ambassadors and dignitaries are present. Their laughter is an unprecedented breach of decorum. Never before have they laughed out loud at the most powerful man in the room. Or the least stable. It is not unreasonable to wonder how and when Trump will seek his revenge.

Our universe is also turned upside down. Not only is Turnbull’s pick to be ABC MD, Mal’s pal, Michelle Guthrie, unceremoniously dumped overboard shortly after she’s been made to walk the plank- an amazing coincidence as many have noted – the execution is so badly botched that ABC Board Chairman Justin Milne is forced to resign.

Intriguingly, neither Milne, nor the Minister for (mis)Communication, “bitchin'” Mitch Fifield, a minister who has made a record six complaints against the ABC in five months, can articulate why Guthrie has been boned. It’s something to do with her “leadership style”, Milne faffs around endlessly in response to pointed questions from a forensic Sales. It’s painful and damning. Incredibly, he clearly believes he has no obligation to explain himself.

Sales grills Milne on ABC 7:30 after his resignation Thursday. Weirdly, parts of the interview are used as ABC promos all that day. Did Milne resign in the studio before informing the board? Is Sales a Liberal fixer? Sales seems to push it uphill with her notion that his board stooges must explain why they didn’t act on damaging emails they had been shown between him and Ms Guthrie until after they were revealed by Fairfax Media.

Of course, she does obliquely make the point that his board is just there to rubber-stamp Milne’s decisions. Later, the nation is overjoyed to learn that one of the board, Kirstin Ferguson is to become acting deputy-chairman, meaning that she will fill Justin Milne’s shoes, at least, as the fiction goes, a new Chairman is appointed.

Or however long it takes before Ferguson’s history with Theiss is in the public domain. Thiess was involved in a 2010 bribery scandal over a $6bn Indian coal mine deal. A whistle-blower contacted Leighton’s ethical committee chair and then Thiess advisory board chair Dr Kirstin Ferguson about the payments, but no action was taken. Instead, the whistle-blower was dismissed in accordance with our new rules of corporate and offshore detention.

“I’m really glad to have you in that role. I really am,” Dr Kirstin Ferguson her whistle-blower. Ferguson was speaking to David (not his real name) who for more than two years had been working to stamp out alleged corruption and misconduct within his company, Thiess, part of the Leighton group which is implicated in serious foreign bribery and corruption cases involving negotiations over the $6 bn Indian coal mine concession.

David was suffering stress and anxiety because he feared – with good reason – that his boss was cutting him loose. Two weeks later, he was given three months’ notice and told to go immediately on “garden leave”.

Perhaps Malcolm or Lucy Turnbull are interested and available? Julie Bishop may be at a loose end soon. So, too, if predictions are accurate, could be Peter Dutton. Judging by Milne’s stonewalling and evasion, not to mention how he’s let it be known that the ABC as it stands is “dead to me”, the totally hands-off Dutto would be ideal.

The plan to combine the SBS and ABC, which Morrison magnanimously refuses to rule out, would suit someone of Dutton’s megalomaniacal temperament or would be an ideal add-on to his current suite of responsibilities. His appointment would be a logical extension of installing the PM’s mate as the government’s man on the board.

Milne, whom Fairfax media reports, refers to female colleagues as “chicks” and “babes”, finally quits after sacking MD Michelle Guthrie, “the missus”, as he refers to her in a Trump-like infantilising and objectifying of women.

Not that he’s been told to interfere or end journo’s careers. Like ScoMo, his hands are clean. Honest Injun. Evidence emerges that, in fact he’s been very “hands-on” voicing displeasure with the work of Emma Alberici, Tom Ballard and Andrew Probyn. (Curiously those like Laura Tingle and Phil Coorey who have written for other publications to express similarly heretical viewpoints have escaped unscathed.)

The singling out of ABC journalists tends to confirm that it is not just a matter of correcting errors of fact as the government maintains but, rather, a desire to eliminate dissent, as Waleed Aly writes for Fairfax. Aly contends that the week is one in which the ABC has been recast as an organisation more concerned with keeping the government happy than with the non-negotiability of journalistic independence.

For Ali, “it’s about a civic culture that is slowly falling apart: a political class with fewer civic boundaries, less concerned with the independence of institutions, and a muscular intolerance of dissent.

It’s also a ruling class is happy to cling to power by mounting increasingly legalistic, hair-splitting defences.

“I never provided instructions that anyone be sacked he tells ABC 7:30…I have never sent an email to Michelle Guthrie or anybody else, which says you must sack Emma Alberici or Andrew Probyn or anybody else.’

Yet that’s exactly what his email to Guthrie, republished by Fairfax shows he did do. Other excuses follow. His “email was taken out of context.” Astonishingly, a former PM and his personal friend is quick to back him up.

Nor, stresses Turnbull from his pad overlooking Central Park in NY, did he ever issue any such instructions. Not that he had to. Being the PM’s bestie and former OzEmail business associate would help him pick up the vibe.

Calling, hands-free, from New York, Turnbull denies instructing anyone to sack anyone. All he’s done is appoint Milne to the board; a friend he could then harangue about the performance of various journalists and their stories. Did he also get stuck into Guthrie? Who knows? Turnbull’s personal hotline to Milne would do the trick.

A lot of tosh fills the airwaves on chat shows like The Drum which help Liberal stooges to deceive voters that ABC journalists are never directly berated by politicians, an illusion Jacqueline Maley is quick to dispel. She notes our nation’s “sharp segue from a national conversation about media interference in the politics, following the (latest) spill, to political interference in the media.”

It’s less a national conversation – more that the nation is dumbfounded by a collective sense of outrage.

Incredibly the rest of the ABC is struck dumb. Not a peep is heard from other Liberal stooges on the broadcaster’s board – five of whom were appointed directly by Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield- aka “the talking toilet brush”, who appears also to be able to bypass regulations designed to ward off political influence with impunity.

Just as they sat on Milne’s email since Friday. The chairman was making an inappropriate if not illegal request. Were they so in thrall they were powerless? What was stopping any one of them from blowing the whistle?

Breaking rules with impunity are our usurious robber-barons of banking. Commissioner Kenneth Hayne’s interim report of his banking and financial services Royal Commission hammers banks and slack regulators,

“… the conduct identified and criticised in this report was driven by the pursuit of profit – the entity’s revenue and profit and the individual actor’s profit. Employees of banks learned to treat sales, or revenue and profit, as the measure of their success.”  (And not just banks.) He should next have a word with Centrelink about Robodebt.

“Too often, the answer seems to be greed — the pursuit of short-term profit at the expense of basic standards of honesty,” he says. “How else is charging continuing advice fees to the dead to be explained?” 

Part of the answer is that neoliberalism itself is dead. Hayne would do well to refer to The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss, How Neoliberalism Ate Itself. Yet, as Denniss concludes, even as a corpse, the false idea that what is good for business is good for the country has so much rhetorical and political clout in Australia – it has vitiated if not utterly corrupted healthy social relationships. Even caring has become a “service delivery industry”.

Hayne sees a problem in bankers’ pay structure; a base salary supplemented with incentives or bonuses an inducement to greed. “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works,” chortles the deluded

Gordon Gekko, a satirical character in Wall Street (1987.) While Wall Street foresaw the era in which we live, one defined by greater inequality and the normalisation of corporate greed, Gekko is not a role model.

Greed is not good for us; let alone our banks – despite the claims of parliamentarians and The Business Council of Australia who witter on endlessly about “flexibility”, code for even more casual, underpaid, underemployment.

Claims? Two years ago, Arthur Sinodinos gave a gold standard definition when he railed against entitlements, defending Steve Irons who spent thousands on airfares and accommodation to attend Melbourne’s Derby Day and a golf tournament on the Gold Coast. On another occasion, Steve charged taxpayers to get to his own wedding.

 “These are work expenses which are paid for by the taxpayer.” Some say MPs work hard and are entitled to everything they get – or it prevents bribery. It’s as specious as the claim that bankers won’t work properly, or even stay in Australia, unless they receive special incentives or help to profiteer.

Irons’ claims were all honoured. Haynes is not having a bar of it. Even his interim report has stirred the possum.

It’s put the wind up Scott Morrison who voted against a Royal Commission 26 times. ASIC, he falsely claimed, had greater powers. Yet now, novice-Treasurer Josh Frydenberg makes ASIC the scapegoat. Another stunning reversal.

Frydenberg blames the regulators, namely ASIC for seeking “negotiated outcomes” instead of pursuing litigation or forcing entities to face the courts. This strategy saw ASIC working too closely with the sector it was regulating.

Yet, as Kaye Lee reports in The AIMN, ASIC was crippled by Coalition funding cuts. And it gave fair warning. After Tony Abbott cut ASIC’s budget $120 million in 2014, she notes, its chairman Greg Medcraft, warned that over 200 staff would be cut. Worse. The regulator just couldn’t do its job properly.

 “Our proactive surveillance will substantially reduce across the sectors we regulate, and in some cases stop.”

In many cases it did. In 2016, Scott Morrison was inspired to announce “reforms” to shift the regulator to a “user-pays” funding model – in which the institutions it regulates are forced to pay for the ongoing cost of their regulation – so taxpayers no longer have to fund its operations, a brilliant incentive to ignore infringements.

Similarly, as with recent Coalition governments, a culture of evasion, secrecy and lies is nurtured. Hayne warns.

“If the short term incentive scheme reduces the amount allowed if an employee does not meet some standard (of accuracy, or behaviour) the employee may focus as much upon avoiding error being discovered as upon avoidance of error.”

May or will? In his bravura performances of the week, banking royal commissioner, captivating Kenny Hayne, concludes, in his sonorous, gravel baritone, the interim stage of his mini-morality play by finding vice is to blame. Vice is leads to usury, theft, extortion not to mention collusion over interest rate fixing or an oligopoly itself.

“Too often, the answer seems to be greed — the pursuit of short-term profit at the expense of basic standards of honesty,” he writes. It’s not his lines so much but the way he delivers them that make him such a crack-up.

Another funny man, Donald Trump is laughed at by the UN, the butt of an entire world’s jokes. But not by its loyal cultural colony of Australia, a satellite of mateship to whom, as Turnbull says, the US is “joined at the hip” and not the funny-bone. Raised in a Queens mansion, Trump remains an outsider in Manhattan, an unwelcome, parvenu. Yet the polite titters and Bronx cheers he receives are unprecedented, if not shockingly un-Australian.

When Trump proceeds to assert – “Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy …” he draws a similar response. Germany’s delegation laughs and snickers. But it’s sacrilege to us fair dinkum, down-under allies.

We must suck up to Trump, our Siamese twin, culturally, economically, politically; ape America’s decadence and double-speak, fawn over its hypocritical “rules based world order”; just as we cheered its illicit attacks on a base in Syria in 2017 and its three further, more expansive strikes on what it claims were chemical weapons sites in 2018.

How we eagerly joined its illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq. PM Howard only had to pretend he had legal authority . Few brave our patriotic press to explain that the failed invasions have created a refugee crisis, let alone colossal human suffering, which we have no hope of dealing with. Perhaps guilt helps fuel our anti-refugee hysteria.

As obsequious, fawning lickspittles we help normalise Agent Orange, as Trump is sometimes known.

And we love a stoush. A frisson of anticipation runs round our island nation’s high command at the merest hint of a role to play in invading North Korea, Syria or Iran or wherever the flower of democracy must next be tenderly preserved. As the needs of the military-industrial complex, as Eisenhower warned in 1961, demand.

Imagine, as Orwell puts it, whenever you think of the future, a boot stamping on a human face forever.

We’ve just put our hands up to join a NATO-led mission in Iraq “to improve the country’s military academies”. How else to stop the return of ISIS or a resurgence of terrorism? We’ll “train the trainers” who’ll teach Iraqi soldiers how to counter suicide bombers and detect, defuse and dispose of terrorists’ improvised explosives.

At least that’s the official spin, loyally and faithfully reproduced by Fairfax and our ABC over the last five years.

The Donald may be a joke to the rest of the world. But not us. We are remaking our politics in his own image. It’s not just how we’ve taken to fake news increasingly found in Murdoch tabloids and Sky after Dark. Even our ABC dare not put a foot out line in singing the praises of the wisdom of toxic, expensive, coal-fired base-load power.

Think Great Barrier Reef Foundation where we tip a bucket of money over a group of fossil fuel executives, coal lobbyists and other climate change deniers. We have to give them $444,000, to meet UN requirements regarding deadlines set for spending and amounts to keep the reef registered on the world heritage list. The chief advocate for this decision has gone on to knife his PM and wear a Trump-like cap.

Our own unelected PM, Scott Mad Max Morrison is so utterly converted to Trumpism that he’s taken to wearing baseball caps – all that’s missing is the MAGA logo.  Or is it? A closer look at the UN laugh-in is instructive. The rest of the world is less prepared to pretend that the emperor wears new clothes. The worm may be turning.

Deluded narcissist, monster-baby and first US President from Russia with love, Trump takes his Fox-populist Neocon shtick on the road, Tuesday, only to have United Nations General Assembly delegates, laugh at his own trumpet-blowing; chutzpah solo, the hollowest boast UN members have ever heard from any president.

And the most far-fetched fantasy. “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”

Delegates laugh at the leader of the free world. Fifty-five per cent of the UN’s 193 members represent dictatorships – or in UN double-speak “not fully-fledged democracies” evoking Dryden’s nod to Aristotle’s view of man as an unfeathered two-legged thing. Tyranny and despotism are equally plucked; featherless.

But common to all democracies is a free press. Some of these even have a proudly independent national broadcaster free from political interference. And they’ve cut away the dead albatross; the decay corpse of neoliberalism from around their necks leaving them to invest in schools and hospitals not the service delivery of privatised and outsourced health care and educational options. And banks set up not to profit out of need and vulnerability but to supply the funds to develop a civil society.


18 comments

  1. Babyjewels

    I’m just not sure about Leigh Sales…Friend recently observed Leigh, Malcolm and Lucy enjoying a meal together at an inner Sydney city restaurant about 2 months ago. Said they looked like old mates…

  2. John Ocallaghan

    Thank you for an exellent article, and Leigh Sales is a Liberal sycophant who absolutely loathes Shorten and Labor but loves Scotty and Mal.
    Morrison calls her by her nickname which is “Red”

  3. Kaye Lee

    VERY interesting link to Kirstin Ferguson’s role in the Thiess affair. I am very surprised I haven’t heard it mentioned elsewhere yet. Thanks for drawing my attention to it David. She is a very busy girl.

    Kirstin currently sits on the boards of:

    Australian Broadcasting Corporation
    SCA Property Group Limited (ASX:SCP)
    EML Payments Limited (ASX:EML)
    Hyne Timber Pty Ltd

    Kirstin is on the Advisory Panel of a female led tech startup incubator, SheStarts, and she is Chairman of the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards judging panel. Kirstin is also a mentor with the Science & Technology Superstars of STEM program.

    Kirstin has previously been a director of:

    Layne Beachley’s Aim for the Stars Foundation
    CIMIC Ltd (ASX:CIM)
    Dart Energy Ltd (ASX:DTE)
    SunWater Limited
    Queensland Rugby Union
    Queensland Theatre Company
    Queensland Workplace Health and Safety Board

    And in a serendipitous turn of events, she just so happens to be in the middle of a speaking tour launching her new book. What a happy coinkidinky for her.

    https://www.murdochbooks.com.au/browse/events/890-women-kind-events

    Her time in the air force was spent getting two degrees. She also has two kids.

  4. Andrew Smith

    Good read. Curious as to how those who frame questions about the ABC i.e. IPA, LNP and NewsCorp avoid scrutiny?

    Australia now has one of the most consolidated, narrow and shallow media in the world, surely diversity is important?

    Leigh Sales ‘interviewed’ Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neill some years ago, fawning and parochial e.g. ‘Do you like Australia?’ (or something similar).

    Seems to reinforce the notion that Australians should look to the UK and US for influence or leadership?

  5. David John Tyler

    Thanks Kaye. Busy doesn’t begin to describe it. Little wonder she had no time to blow the whistle on Justin Milne’s bullying and otherwise totally inappropriate email. When they amalgamate SBS and ABC, halving the budgets for each, she’ll be even busier.

  6. Kaye Lee

    This gets worse the more I look into it.

    The Senate Economics References Committee put out a paper on Foreign bribery on 22 March 2018. It has an extensive section on Leighton Holdings.

    “The whistleblower raised concerns about a contract in India with Leighton’s ethics committee chair. The whistleblower approached Leighton’s ethics committee chair in 2014 referring to an internal report prepared for Thiess by its law firm, Ashurst, which is said to reveal Thiess’ exposure to an alleged multi-million dollar bribery scandal in India. After the whistleblower’s disclosure, the report was ‘buried’ and the employee was allegedly ‘forced’ out of their job. Thiess later settled an unfair dismissal case with the whistleblower for an undisclosed sum.

    The committee has written to Leighton Holdings, now CIMIC, on a number of occasions to seek a response to the allegations. No response has been received to date.

    Mr Sasse: The division had its own board. It did have a mechanism for whistleblowers and, as I mentioned earlier, one of the investigations that that board initiated in relation to the whistleblower’s complaints, which was conducted by an external third party, seems to have been done specifically with the instruction not to get to the bottom of it.

    Senator EDWARDS: So there was nowhere really to go for any kind of reporting of commercial inappropriateness or impropriety?

    Mr Sasse: If I could put it this way: if the board is not interested, that is kind of the end of the line.”

    Ferguson became head of the ethics committee in July 2014. She started her ABC gig on 12 November, 2015. Apparently Dr Ferguson’s ability to sweep corruption under the carpet makes her an excellent choice for the Coalition government. This report came out 6 months ago!!

  7. David John Tyler

    Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus told Fairfax Media earlier this year (2016) that the scandal meant “it has to be asked if Dr Ferguson is an appropriate person for the ABC board and its audit and risk committee”.

    Still an unanswered question. Needs a response even more now.

  8. Kaye Lee

    The ABC board has hired public relations firm FTI Consulting to help it with “crisis management”. They no doubt came up with Ferguson’s oft-repeated line that she was “grateful Justin had resigned”.

  9. Kaye Lee

    Interestingly, the Leighton case is about to hit the news again (or not)

    “former Primary Healthcare CEO Peter Gregg will finally get to face court, after having been accused of two counts of criminally falsifying books and records while at Leighton Holdings (now CIMIC), following an ASIC investigation. Gregg has denied the charges, and will argue his innocence come October. He received nearly $1 million in severance pay when he left Primary shortly after the criminal charges were filed.”

    He’s selling his mansion to help foot his legal bills apparently.

    https://www.afr.com/brand/rear-window/peter-greggs-mansion-on-the-market-as-he-preps-for-legal-case-20180730-h13b3m

    Will Dr Ferguson get a mention…. or be asked by the Senate Foreign Bribery Committee to respond…or be questioned by ASIC…or be stood down as not fit to chair the ABC?

  10. Matters Not

    RE:

    selling his mansion to help foot his legal bills apparently.

    Possibly – but apparently there’s also a she involved – who just might want her share before the dollars are all gone on silks.

    … owned by former Primary Health Care chief Peter Gregg and his estranged wife Tobi Moroz

    https://www.domain.com.au/news/peter-greggs-landmark-double-bay-home-listed-for-8-million-as-criminal-trial-looms-20180731-h13cut-755538/

    Perhaps Tobi just wants her share of the ill-gotten gains? Without doing the time?

    BTW, it’s only a weekender that’s for sale. Not the principal residence.

  11. Bracket Creep

    John Ocallaghan Scott has a nick name for Annabelle Crabb he just calls her Crabsticks and Leigh Sales he calls affectionately Lee – Lee But they all get on like a house on fire. It’s beautifull.

  12. Terence Mills

    The former Labor government sought to take the politics and nepotism out of appointments by setting up an arm’s length process for board appointments designed to stop political stacking. A nomination panel would carry out an objective assessment of applicants and make recommendations to the minister.

    The current communications minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, trashed that process.

    In three cases in recent years – board director Donny Walford in 2015, mining executive Vanessa Guthrie in 2017 and lawyer Joseph Gersh in May this year – he has appointed people without obviously relevant qualifications who were not recommended by the panel. That’s three directors of a total of seven plus the Chairman Milne who was a mate of Turnbull’s.

    The just appointed acting chair, Kirstin Ferguson, has the merit of having been recommended by the independent panel and so far she has demonstrated that she is a capable pair of hands.

    Minister Fifield has some questions to answer.

  13. Kaye Lee

    They have done the same thing with appointing judges…

    ” the former Labor government had “developed what appeared to be a successful mechanism … to recommend appointments to the family courts”.

    This mechanism, which involved judicial vacancies being advertised and the use of advisory panels to assess candidates, was scrapped by Mr Brandis.”

    https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/attorney-general-under-pressure-over-family-court-appointments-20180930-p506xp.html

    PS Terence, considering what Ferguson did at Leighton (covering up corruption and throwing the whistleblower under the bus), and her inaction when contacted by Guthrie in May, I think she is far from a capable pair of hands.

  14. Terence Mills

    A couple of weeks ago the Liberal party closed down our national parliament when they were in the middle of an internal leadership crisis.

    On Insiders yesterday there was this exchange :

    Scott Morrison : I think that the ABC needs to stop talking about itself and get back to work.

    Barrie Cassidy: We never stopped work.

    — Scott Morrison and Barrie Cassidy.

    Ouch !

  15. Henry Rodrigues

    The most charitable accolade anyone can afford Dr Kirsten Ferguson is that she has an effervescent smile complimented by an expensive sparkling set of choppers. Helps to look good when one is in the public relations business. To all intents and purposes a clone in the Liberal party mode. Refer to Jules and screaming Cash for context.,

  16. wam

    How depressing it it must be for labor politicians to read causeries like this and be silent.
    Perhaps they are copying the rabbott who reads nothing outside the church, in case his beliefs are challenged and never watches the ABC, in case lies are reported,
    The difference being he has a ‘reading friend’ who filters the dangerous ideas out and relates the tale or rewrites the sanitised version. Labor potters on in the garden pulling a weed or two but full of hope.
    The ABC/SBS will go if the sonofasmallcar cons another term and he is on track to do so. What a ^^@^@^^ DISASTER that will be.
    Please billy listen to reason and get on the real tv where the workers watch

  17. lawrence winder

    The au-pair scandals prised open publicly the web these mongrels weave with contacts, associations and all interacting for mutual benefit at public expense . The Ferguson/Thiess, connection just another in the saga. And wasn’t Thiess who had strong dealings with the Bjelke Peterson dictatorship?
    Re: Crabb and Sales …include Uhlmann in that little cabal: I noted in http://shanewombat.blogspot.com/2016/07/not-with-bang-but-whimper.html their appalling performance during that election night where their bias was palpable and embarrassment extreme.

  18. Kronomex

    Speaking of The Donald –

    https://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/donald-trump-on-brett-kavanaugh-scary-time-for-young-men-in-us/news-story/9c60528589c02e6f8347106c0d10b45e

    My favourite line –
    ““I don’t think you should lie to Congress and there are a lot of people over the past year who have lied to Congress,” he said. “For me, that would not be acceptable.”” Lots of people lie to Congress but I’m not one of them. I only tell the truth, the Trump Truth, which is not lying because I’m the most honest man the world has ever seen.

    Do we really expect anything different from the LNP regarding entrenching their mates and ideologies in every level of state and federal goverments? Things were awful under the Abbott of Abbey LNP. Things became woeful under Trembles of Crawling Manor. Things are now taking a scary turn for the worse under the Pastor of The Church of Happy Clapping and Fascism.

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