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The Idiot’s Guide to avoiding Terrorists under the bed

“When Abbott was voted in, various jokes circulated about Australia returning to the 1950s.  It seems that these weren’t too far from the truth” writes Kate M.

In the 1950s

When communism reached Vietnam in the 1950s, paranoia struck the country! Anyone you knew could be a ‘red’. And there was a fairly good chance there were ‘reds under the bed’.

This paranoia was fueled by the Liberal Government deliberately using anti-Communist propaganda to gain support for going to war in Vietnam.  The Reds, or so the propaganda said, were poised to strike, to “destroy the Australian way of life‘ – both from without and within the country. People were instructed to be vigilant – to spy on their neighbours, their friends, even their family – and report any suspicious behaviour.

The “Reds under the bed” propaganda campaign served to distract the Australian public from the real dangers and hardships of the time – a growing inflation rate, and a debt level much larger than what we live with now.  It was further used to control striking unions who, the propaganda said, were controlled by the Communist Party of Australia.

ASIO grew in power and strength during the 1950s, gaining stronger surveillance powers than it had ever had before.

The Liberal Party derived further political gain from this powerful propaganda, managing to link the Labor Party to the Communist Party, undermining their voter base.

If this isn’t all sounding very very familiar to you … here’s how this plot-line is playing out in 2015.

In 2015

When Abbott was voted in, various jokes circulated about Australia returning to the 1950s.  It seems that these weren’t too far from the truth.

With 69% of Australians recently telling the Lowy institute that they believe terrorists pose a high risk to our safety, both at home and abroad, and with terrorism rating as the number one perceived threat to Australian security from within Australia, terrorists have become the communists of this century.

As in the 1950s, this is serving to distract Australians from actual real threats to our way of life.  Things like:

  • Unemployment rates continuing to grow
  • Climate change
  • Growing debt and deficit levels, with no signs of any reduction in the near future
  • Legislation to increase government powers and reduce individual freedoms
  • The Humanitarian crisis on our doorstep, with 1000s of thousands refugees finding themselves stateless and homeless
  • Domestic violence killing seven women a month (on average)
  • Three-word slogan propaganda campaigns designed to distract Aussies from wanting to know the truth.

As in the 1950s, the perceived threat of terrorism has been used to take us to war, this time in Iraq – some 11,000 kms away, half way across the globe. And again, as in the 50s, the Liberal government is using its perceived brand as being stronger on defence than Labor to their political advantage, with political polls seeing the Libs get an immediate [albeit slight] boost following one of Abbott’s many ‘terror’ talks. In a recent talk he gave on the 11th of June, he literally said “Daesh is coming, if it can, for every person“.

The handy guide I promised you…

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”,  said Edmund Burke.  And it seems Australians have a short memory.

Image from progressiveconversation.wordpress.com

Image from progressiveconversation.wordpress.com

So here’s the number one tip in my handy guide to avoid terrorists under the bed – learn from the past.

Instead of focusing on a distant threat to our safety and security, we should be focusing on the very real and very current threats to our safety and ongoing security – many of which are listed above – and looking at how we can deal with them.  We are allowing trite three word slogans to distract us from what’s really going on, and allowing our politicians to obfuscate and lie their way out of things like #OnWaterGate.

The very best way to avoid a terrorist under your bed is to realise that there is very, very high probability that there aren’t any there. None. Nada. Zilch. 

Statistically, even if you assumed that all the terrorist attempts the government claims to have foiled on Australian soil this century actually went ahead, you are still way more likely to be killed by falling out of bed than by a terrorist under it.

If we don’t do this, if we don’t stop looking for terrorists under the bed, we are facing a bleak future indeed – and it won’t be due to any terrorist group. It will be due to the very poor decisions we are allowing our politicians to make on our behalf, without question and without consequence.

This article was first published on Kate M’s blog Progressive Conversation.

 


38 comments

  1. John Kelly

    I well remember the 1950s, the ‘reds under the beds’ and the rest of it. Abbott has nothing original to contribute and often refers to the past for guidance.

  2. Kaye Lee

    The only threat we have here may be from a radicalised kid or a mentally ill man who thinks the authorities are against him.

    The only threats? that have been foiled have come from community tip-offs.

    The best way to avoid these threats is to listen to disaffected youth. Let them talk. Understand why, in such a great country, they are feeling unsatisfied, even marginalised. Let them help with the solution. Support families and community groups. It is our social problem if we are ignoring disaffected groups in our community and punishment isn’t likely to help.

    We must also provide more resources and support for mental health care.

    There should be some level where people who are becoming increasingly agitated are helped rather than ignored.

    No system can stop all tragedies.

    Let’s not forget the mother that killed 8 children in Cairns the day after the Sydney siege. Terrorism prevention is given billions. Domestic violence is given $30 million for an awareness campaign while frontline services are having hundreds of millions cut from their funding.

    One small act of kindness…..

    One person who listens….

    One person who notices…..

    This is what we need. Social inclusion and caring. Not fear and threats and punishment and alienation.

  3. susanai

    John K – me too. My mother was ‘reds under beds’ which is sort of idiotic looking back and really idiotic now. Our PM has really taken up the reins of Dictator. Grubby little man and govt.

  4. Andreas Bimba

    In the economic sphere I would be happy if the Abbott regime was taking us back to the 50’s. Australia manufactured more cars than Japan then, was largely self sufficient and was more technically advanced than nearly all of Asia. The economy was booming and Australian industry was short of workers.

    Abbott and the ALP takes the worst aspects of the present and the past and squander our nations potential.

  5. edward eastwood

    As you seem to be a first time contributor to AIMN and I suspect, a young writer,
    I’ll refrain from putting this in much stronger terms – check your facts!

    This article is full of skewed facts and historical inaccuracies which, when writing on a subject such as the Cold War and the Second Red Scare, do you no credit as a writer.

    Let’s start at the beginning, it was not Edmund Burke who said that; “Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them”, but the Spanish philosopher, Georges Santayana.

    Burke is erroneously credited on Internet sites such as Goodreads and Brainy Quotes. Neither are reliable academic sources.

    You will not find it in Bartlett’s 67 authentic quotes by Burke in “Familiar Quotations: A collection of Passages, Phrases and Proverbs traced to their sources in ancient and modern literature.” (Bartlett,J :pp 330-332:1885, Little, Brown & Company, New York).

    What Santayana actually said was; “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    Edmund Burke said; “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

    Secondly, while there was a Red Scare in the 50s and 60s, people being encouraged to spy and inform on their neighbours or their family, did not occur for the simple reason that it was not illegal to be a member of the Communist Party in Australia – ever!

    You are confusing this with the McCarthy era (1950 – 54) in the US. (see Fried, Richard. “Nightmare in Red:The McCarthy Era in Perspective. Oxford University Press 1990).

    Thirdly, Australia had a very low inflation rate during the 1950s and 60s. It did not begin to rise until the 1970s following Nixon’s abandonment of the Bretton-Woods monetary system.

    The “much larger debt level than we have now” is simply not true due to the application of Keynesian economic theory and its accompanying commitment to full employment (2% or less of the available workforce unemployed) in comparison to today’s figure of 6.1% (official ABS figures although the real figure is now close to 16% or above).

    As a footnote, between the period of 1948 until the early 1990s, the Australian government ran large deficits as a matter of course.

    It’s how the ‘Boomers’ got their free education and as noted above, full employment as well.

    I understand your wanting to link terrorism with the “communist menace”, but check your history and your facts first.

  6. Kate M

    Edward

    With all due respect, perhaps you should check your facts.

    First of all, as you undoubtedly well know, there is doubt around who first said this sentence – and where. Santayana said a variation of that phrase – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – and Edward Burke is also attributed with a similar phrase, as well as the one you mention. I chose to use Edward Burke as he is popularly credited with this statement – although it’s highly likely that neither of these writers never used these exact words. But the sentiment expressed by both was the one that I used. If you want to nickpick – and it seems you do, despite the fact that this is not a scholarly article – then I should not have used quotation marks.

    Secondly – as an Australian historian,I can assure you that I am not confusing Australian history with American history. Fear of Communism was very real in the 1950s in Australia, as was the Reds under the Beds meme. Communism and was a key part of how Menzies got elected, and he then swiftly moved to make Communism illegal. It was in the 50s that Petrov dramatically defected and announced that there was a Russian spy ring operating in Australia. This brought about quite a bit of hysteria. Yes – this carried into the sixties and onwards, but it started int he 50s as I said. Again, this is not a scholarly article designed to cover all aspects of communist sentiment in the 60s.

    Thirdly, there was a dramatic rise in inflation in the 1950s. No, is was not as high as in the 70s and the 80s – but I didn’t say that it was.
    http://www.rba.gov.au/speeches/2003/sp-dg-100403.html

    Fourthly – following on from World World 2, Australia had its highest public debt levels ever;
    http://lowpollutionfuture.treasury.gov.au/documents/1496/PDF/01_Debt.pdf

    SO next time you tell someone to check your facts – perhaps you could do a little bit of fact checking yourself.

  7. Kaye Lee

    Edward,

    In 1951 the Menzies government passed a law banning the Communist Party of Australia. The party challenged the law in the High Court, which ruled that it was constitutionally invalid. Following this defeat, the government sponsored a referendum in an attempt to overcome this constitutional obstacle. The referendum question was opposed, not surprisingly, by the Communist Party. It was also opposed by the Australian Labor Party and even the Young Liberals, on the grounds that it would restrict freedoms of speech and association. The referendum was defeated.

  8. edward eastwood

    @Kay M. Government deficits are not debt. I stand by my argument. No, it certainly is not a scholarly article and full of misinterpretation of the facts. As for allegations of fear; try Manne’s “The Shadow of 1917, McKnight’s “Australia’s Spies and Their Secrets” McKewan’s “Once a Jolly Comrade” Stuart Macintyre’s superb “The Reds” or former secretary of the Victorian branch of the CP and joint national secretary Bernie Taft’s “Crossing the Party Line rather than superficially skimming the net and you’ll find an Australian Red Scare was a nine day wonder

    As for making Communism Ilegal, yes Menzies did try to outlaw the CP and failed as Kaye Lee points out.

    @Kaye Lee; I do not need or want a history lesson from a former secondary school maths teacher – stick to what you know- the “I-went-to -university-with-Tony Abbott-and-I-can-tell-you-first-hand-that-he’s-a-bastard” refrain that most readers on this site can hum in their sleep due to the fact that you’ve re-hashed it so often.

  9. mars08

    Another discussion skillfully derailed….

  10. Matters Not

    I do not need or want a history lesson from a former secondary school maths teacher

    Wow! But I suspect an apology is in the (e)mail. If not then why not?

    It seems to me that this site entertains and encourages contributions from all ‘walks of life’ and does so regardless of ‘formal qualifications’.

    It’s the strength of the ‘place’.

    Just sayin ..

  11. Kate M

    Mars08 – Indeed.

    Ironic given that the purpose of the article was to suggest we stay focused on the important things 🙂

  12. stephentardrew

    Whose side are you lot on. Getting tetchy. Lets return to civil discourse. We have bigger fish to fry. We are, after all, on the same side.

  13. Bilal

    I remember those terrifying downwards arrows coming towards Australia from Red (and Yellow) China each election campaign as the DLP-NCC tried to use fear to split the Labor vote. It seemed to work for years until the Liberals made such a hash of things that Whitlam got elected. Now Daesh is coming to get us. Reds, now Islamists under the bed, are just scare tactics to try and get the bigoted and bemused vote for the Liberals.
    As to the history of terror here in Australia, Time had a brief article: http://time.com/3633230/terrorist-acts-against-australians-martin-place/

  14. Kate M

    Bilal – I seriously wonder if the current LNP aren’t using the campaigns of old to try and generate support today. It’s interesting you mention the Yellow arrows – because that’s been a fear that seems to keep being reignited in one form or another here as well. I wonder sometimes if in fact the tremendous fear a lot of Australians seem to have around boat arrivals is in fact somehow linked back to that – this sense of being invaded from the North. Certainly all the rhetoric around the new Border Force is all around keeping our country safe, preserving our way of life – which demonises asylum seekers and ignores the fact that the majority of them are themselves victims of terrorism. There’s certainly no logic to it.

  15. Kaye Lee

    Please forgive my temerity in trying to correct you Edward. I defer to your superior qualifications. Oh…wait….

  16. Andreas Bimba

    @Edward I also thought your comments were unnecessarily hostile. A strength of AIMN is almost anyone is given a chance to contribute.

  17. corvus boreus

    “I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side…there are some things, of course, whose side I am not on; I am against them altogether.

    Treebeard the Ent.

  18. Peter F

    The Coalition were well served by ‘reds under the bed’, but the irony is that, in the 1961 election the last seat declared, giving a single seat majority to the coalition, was Moreton where Jim Killen won on Communist party preferences.

  19. Kaye Lee

    I am for truth, justice, and the American way….now if only I could get me a bomber jacket with my name on it.

    Abbott is reading from the playbook that saved him and Howard in 2001. Tampa, 9/11….see how I am keeping you safe. Howard committed us to a war with unseemly haste – as did Abbott. Howard used asylum seekers as a political point-scorer – as does Abbott. Any rational thought about the actual threat to our country and the hundreds of billions being spent on national security goes out the window as Abbott tells us that Daesh are coming for you. As Kate points out, this distracts us from the real threats facing our country.

  20. jagman48

    So glad the discussion is back on track. Sorry Edward.

  21. Kate M

    Hi Edward – thanks for the robust discussion on facts! It’s certainly vastly more preferable to name-slinging.

    With regards to your comment that deficits are not debts – of course they aren’t. If you look at the link I provided in my previous comment from Treasury, on page 8 it shows a great graph of gross public debt from 1908 to 2008, which shows the peak of around 120 percent in 1946. It did start to come down after then, but was still very high in the 1950s.

    I’m sorry that you think I have misinterpreted historical facts – but history, as you may know if you are a scholar of it as I am, is open to interpretation. i think it’s a common misconception fostered by the way history is taught in schools, that it is made up ‘facts’. Whilst dates of when things happened, and other ‘factual’ records can be verified, when it comes to motivations and interpretation of responses, these are as difficult to nail down or definitively make a call on when looking at historical events as they are in current day events. I recall my first year of studying history at university, having to adjust to the different way it was taught (from the way it was when I was at school) – and that there were many different ways to view different incidents in history. Of course that only increased my love of history!! And it is interesting to have a debate on how various incidents can be interpreted. You and I obviously have a different interpretation of events in the 1950s – and i suspect there are people who would agree with both of us. But I can assure you that my assessment of events is anything but superficial, and not gained from skimming the internet – as you suggest.

    Cheers

    Kate

  22. Kaye Lee

    “you’ll find an Australian Red Scare was a nine day wonder”

    I’m not so sure about that. We went to Korea and Vietnam ostensibly to fight communist aggression ( and to suck up to the US) and any visit to a conservative social media site today will find derogatory comments about unions implying they are communist-controlled. There is fear about Chinese investment in Australia. “Socialist” has become an insult happily perpetuated by our current PM. Keeping the fear and mistrust alive by whatever method possible has become the MO for conservative governments.

    It is also worthy of note that B A Santamaria was a strong influence on a young Tony Abbott. He was convinced that Australia was under threat from Communism, warning people that communists in Australia were buying up arsenals and guns in preparation for the revolution, and likening the Vietnam War to a crusade.

    In a speech in 1998 Tony Abbott described Santamaria as “a philosophical star by which you could always steer” and “the greatest living Australian”. Abbott has said that what impressed him about Santamaria was “the courage that kept him going as an advocate for unfashionable truths”.

  23. Glenn WK

    Edward,
    when one’s position is weak or poorly constructed, it is sadly an all too common fall back position to shoot the messenger rather than the message. Sort of what Tony and George tried on Gillian. 🙂 I’m just sayin’……..

  24. Kaye Lee

    Unfortunately, it is still all too common in Australia for women who express opinions to be slapped down. What could have been a “robust discussion” was derailed by condescending insult.

    Santamaria had very strong views about the role of women in society. He was vigorously opposed to birth control and abortion and decried what he described as contemporary sexual decadence. He wanted to turn us into a nation of farmers and cottage industries, with women permanently barefoot and pregnant.

  25. Kate M

    Agreed Kaye – re the Korean and Vietnam wars.

    I wasn’t aware of the Santamaria link. Likening the Vietnam War to a crusade is interesting given Abbott’s Catholic background. I hate to think what crusade Abbott is on right now.

  26. Kyran

    Maybe, it’s a cunning plan to reinvigorate the manufacturing sector. The bed making industry is still competitive and if we manufacture more beds, we can employ more security services to look under them. It will help with employment, surely? Albeit, with the efficiency of our current security forces, who didn’t do anything about a deranged individual who wrote to the responsible minister advertising his intentions, they will still be reliant on “tip-off’s” from concerned parents about their troubled children. They will then swing into action and organise TV crews to record their valiant efforts in removing plastic swords. What could go wrong? Thank you Kate. Take care

  27. Kaye Lee

    And right on cue….

    “Tony Abbott’s career echoes that of his political hero, B. A. Santamaria”

    Abbott’s eventual association with the Liberal Party eerily resembles Santamaria’s earlier factional connection with Evatt. It, too, is overly pragmatic – all about accessing the levers of power. The connection, while fuelled wonderfully by raw aggression, does not have a deep mooring in abiding bedrock principles.

    The resulting weathervane aspects of Abbott, with his surprises and U-turns in government, is on a par with the volatility and overexcitement that characterised the bewildering interaction in the 1950s between the Prime Minister’s future hero, Santamaria, and the unruly Evatt.

    http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/tony-abbotts-career-echoes-that-of-his-political-hero-b-a-santamaria-20150706-gi1y12.html

    And from last year….

    “It took a long time, but Bob Santamaria’s finally done it – we’ve got our first ever DLP Prime Minister. There’s no other way to describe someone who rips the guts out of education yet finds money for a school chaplaincy program; for a person who eviscerates payments to single mothers but still has a few bucks left over for family planning. This Budget marks a waypoint on a long march to possess the soul of the Liberal party. It’s intellectually incoherent: cutting services to all listening to a special interest group.”

    http://www.smh.com.au/comment/tony-abbott-has-morphed-into-bob-santamaria-20140519-zrh4g.html

  28. John Armour

    Kate M,

    You are quite correct to say that “deficits are not debts” but I’m puzzled how you got there judging by your subsequent remarks and your endorsement of that (flawed) paper “A history of public debt in Australia”, which says the opposite.

    To disabuse you of your belief that growing debt and deficit levels are a threat to our way of life, you should read this article by Bill Mitchell:

    “If you think you know what ‘debt’ is, read on”

  29. abbienoiraude

    Wow Kaye Lee.
    I remember back in the 1960’s being glued to the black and white TV on a Sunday morning watching that little bald bobbily head wavering and gesticulating with intensity as Santamaria spewed his Catholic based diatribes across the nation. I was fascinated by his audacity and I was only 13. I also listened to a strange man speak on the radio who spewed forth his crazy ideas in the covering of ‘intellectual discourse’ ( It was Ron L. Hubbard). I thought it all so philosophical and intensely grown up.
    NOW you tell me Abbott was a student of Santamaria’s. What a damning recommendation. It would be like believing the ‘thoughts’ of Malcolm Muggeridge should be followed today. (Wasn’t Australian Regional TV appalling for a teenage girl?)

    But I do remember the “Reds under the bed” because I was brought up on it. My parents were sworn anti Communist and as I became educated I realised that they mistook the ideology of who they were fighting against during WW11 to be the hated enemy of Menzies. I remember the day I came home from senior high school and tried to set my mum ‘right’ on the fact we actually fought WITH the Communists during the time she was waiting for my dad to return from that conflict.
    Had to set her right again when Hawke got voted in as PM. She was so distraught that she broke down in tears declaring that he would make Australia a Communist state. I simply told her that since she was now disabled with MS and of aged pension age she would be better cared for by him and his ‘lot’ than her beloved Country Party.
    Poor mum.

    So the Reds Under the Beds lasted to my personal anecdotal experience at least thirty three years.

    As Abbott reinvigorates the past manipulations I hope more of the 55+ voters will see through it and start to match the 18-25 year olds in their support away from such stupidity.

  30. Andreas Bimba

    My parents emigrated from Europe after WW2, mum was Austrian and dad Lithuanian. My dad couldn’t return to Lithuania as it was annexed by the Soviet Union and he was therefore a refugee. I have his original UN High Commissioner of Refugees ID document. Lucky refugees weren’t so despised by the government then.

    The Balts were the first group of non British migrants to be accepted by Australia, perhaps because they were Northern European looking and maybe being catholic helped. Wasn’t Chifley’s Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell catholic? He was probably a ‘DLP’ man at heart as well, being a catholic labour party man?

    My dad hated Whitlam with a passion when he alone amongst democratic world leaders officially recognised the Soviet Union’s incorporation of the previously independent Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. On this issue BA Santamaria was correct and the Labor Party left can go f… themselves.

    BA Santamaria was a compassionate man, scrupulously fair and disliked unrestrained ruthless capitalism as well as communism. In his final years he made peace with some of his left wing adversaries and probably realised most of them were honourable and just wanted a better life for working people as he did.

    His puritanical catholic ideology wouldn’t find much following in the modern era in Australia but he wasn’t of this era.

    I strongly suspect that BA Santamaria like Malcolm Fraser would have been appalled by Tony Abbott and the current Liberal, National and Labor Parties and how our government and economy have degenerated into a plutocracy or corptocracy.

    I am a member of the Australian Greens, a political centrast probably just to the left of Malcolm Fraser, and I have watched Australian politics drift relentlessly to the right and take on many corrupt, cruel and fascist characteristics. Now that the old parties have betrayed the Australian people, I look to the Greens and other progressive or ethical parties and groups to restore a more competent and humane future for Australia.

  31. John Armour

    Hi Andreas,

    The Greens are, by default, the locus of the Left’s conscience and Labor’s leadership is probably quite relaxed about that given the way preferences flow at election time.

    When it comes to management of the economy however, there’s no real difference between the Greens and the Labor-Coalition axis of stupidity: like the others, the Greens also subscribe to the flawed neo-liberal goal of balanced budgets.

    That means the Greens could never propose a truly progressive policy like a Jobs Guarantee because they would have no counter to the old argument “where’s the money coming from?”

  32. John Armour

    Kate M,

    If you were just a commenter here rather than an author I wouldn’t bother pursuing this, but in your article, the focus of which was to warn against mythical threats, like “reds under the bed”, you have by listing “growing debt and deficit levels” as one of the “threats to our way of life”, joined the ranks of those you warn us against.

    You have given credibility to one of the greatest myths, the “debt and deficit myth”, the myth that delivered government to Tony Abbott.

    It is therefore no trivial matter.

    I really think should edit your article and delete that line.

  33. paul walter

    I thought Turnbull’ implicit reprove of terrorism as night terrors yesterday becomes a groundbreaker in more ways than one. It could, although not necessarily will, turn out to be a significant comment and on multiple levels.

  34. Andreas Bimba

    @John Armour I totally agree that the ‘fighting the debt or deficit’ mantra is a neo-liberal tactic that has deceived a large part of the electorate. The Modern Monetary Theory economists are doing great work by pointing out the wisdom of harnessing the wasted economic potential of the unemployed and underemployed to increase useful economic activity. Running moderate government deficits to achieve this aim is both socially and economically beneficial.

    The ‘fighting the debt or deficit’ policy along with the total free trade/globalisation/deregulation/neo-liberalism economic agenda, has INCREASED wealth disparity, increased financial and corporate fraud and made life a lot tougher for students, first home buyers, the unemployed, the sick, workers, the middle class, small businesses and entire industry sectors like manufacturing and tourism.

    I don’t believe the Greens endorse most of the neo-liberal economic agenda unlike Labor and the Coalition but concede that the Greens should adopt the MMT full employment policy and that more effort should be devoted to bringing this about.

  35. John Armour

    I haven’t given up on the Greens, Andreas.

    Change will come from within and then the leadership will follow.

    I wish you the best.

  36. Harquebus

    The Greens are just as naive as Labor and the Coalition. No understanding of the relationship between energy, productivity, population, resources and the economy. I will be voting Green at or near the top of my ballot solely because of their stance on protecting our liberties. Even though they have failed miserably, at least they try.

    I will also be considering this mob.
    http://www.votesustainable.org.au/

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