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Tony Abbott gaffes

Based on this list of gaffes since August 2010, Tony Abbott is no more fit to be Prime Minister or to represent Australia on the world stage now than he was three years ago. Between August 2010 and August 2013 Abbott insulted, offended or annoyed to varying degrees Africans, Irish, Indonesians, Chinese, Finns, Papua New Guineans & Luxembourgers. Abbott was elected as PM on 7 September 2013. He is the only world leader who, as a parliamentarian, attended court to vouch for the character of a priest found guilty of indecently assaulting a 15 year old boy. 1 Abbott’s creepiness is evident in a pre-election video to Big Brother housemates in which he appeared with two of his daughters, asking for votes because his ‘daughters are hot’. 2 Questions have been asked about expenses Abbott claims for days he swims, runs, cycles and volunteers. 3 Taxpayers paid $336 in taxi fares for him to attend church on Good Friday 4 and $23,560 to charter a plane for two days in 2012 to visit Bendigo and Horsham. 5 In 2009 Abbott used $9,400 of taxpayers’ money to promote his book which he repaid in 2010 after being caught out. Compare with Peter Slipper, who has faced court over alleged misuse of Cabcharge vouchers worth $964. 6 Compiled by choosing@ch150ch Please tweet information/links to other gaffes to @ch150ch Sources for gaffes are at the end of the document. (Volume 2, from September 2013, is available at )
Aug 20107 It’s the launch of Abbott’s paid parental leave policy in the lead up to the 2010 election. Mums and toddlers are present. While commenting on the to-ing and froing between him and then PM Gillard about the number of televised debates, Abbott uses wording associated with campaigns against rape to criticise Julia Gillard. "Are you suggesting to me that when it comes from Julia, 'No' doesn't mean 'No'." Abbott repeated this phrase a number of times. He later rejected suggestions that some women might find his comments offensive. Aug 20108 Abbott offended thousands of people with disabilities by suggesting that discussions in parliament about accessibility were a waste of time. Abbott makes himself the butt of jokes after saying he would personally take the decision for asylum seeker boats to be turned around. “Mr Abbott said the phone call from sea would come to him - on the boat phone - and it would be his choice whether or not to turn a boat back if it was safe to do so.” The Daily Tele’s headline – alluding to jokes about bat phones - was “Holy asylum seekers! Tony Abbott to take charge of boat people hotline”.

Aug 20109


Last updated 1 October 2013. Arranged by month, may not be chronological within each month.


Sept 201010

Abbott misread Andrew Wilkie during the post-election negotiations about which party the independents would support to form government. Wilkie rejected a billion dollar offer from Abbott to build a hospital, labelling it as over the top and irresponsible. Abbott turned down an offer by then PM Gillard to visit troops in Afghanistan with her on his way to UK. He said that he wanted to arrive fresh in the UK for meetings with the UK Conservative government which drew criticism from many, including the mother of a soldier who died in Afghanistan. She said of Abbott “It’s all about him”. Abbott went to Afghanistan later in October. Despite him asking the ADF not to do so, photos of him firing machine guns were released. Neil Mitchell labelled him a dill, adding: “He looks like a schoolboy playing with guns… This is not a game. This is war and Australians have died. Guns are dangerous and our soldiers carry them to protect themselves. Tony Abbott didn't need a gun.”

Oct 201011

Dec 201012

At a press conference, Tony Abbott refers to the National Broadband Network (NBN) as “essentially a video entertainment system.” At the time of the QLD flood crisis, Abbott rejected then PM Gillard’s proposal for a flood levy, a decision seen by some Liberals as ''hamfisted and half-cocked''. To make it worse, on the day that cyclone Yasi bore down on North QLD, Abbott emailed Liberal party members to ask them for campaign contributions to fight ALP’s proposed flood levy. Mark Riley interview with the bizarre sight of Abbott speechless and with his head nodding for an extended period of time after being asked about his ‘shit happens’ remark in Afghanistan. Abbott, having called for a ‘people’s revolt’, was reluctant to address assembled crowds displaying signs saying “Ditch the Witch” and the like, for fear of being judged by keeping such company. But he did address them and has been judged accordingly. Abbott claimed he didn’t see the worst of the signs but he was standing alongside them in some pics. While in Whyalla, Abbott claims it will be wiped off the map by the introduction of carbon tax; and that it risks becoming a ghost town and an economic wasteland. Reports of tensions in the Liberal party, caused by Abbott making announcements that embarrassed and undermined Joe Hockey in the lead up to the budget and ending up with a slanging match between them. NZ Prime Minister Key visited Australia and Abbott breaks convention by inserting domestic politics into his welcoming speech; he congratulated Key for ''dramatically watering down'' the emissions trading scheme the NZ government inherited.

Feb 201113

Feb 201114

Mar 201115

April 201116

May 201117

June 201118


June 201119

Ireland’s ambassador to Australia and leading members of the Irish community complained after Abbott told a not very funny Irish joke during a speech. Prof Ronan McDonald, Chair in Modern Irish Studies at the University of New South Wales said “The ‘stupid Irish’ joke might get a laugh in a Bradford comedy club circa 1973, but seems astoundingly ill-judged coming from an aspiring world leader in 2011”. Abbott apologised to the ambassador. Abbott wins the Sans Science comment of the month award for his ignorant comments (he said much the same thing on different occasions) in relation to how CO2 emissions are calculated: “It’s actually pretty hard to do this because carbon dioxide is invisible and it’s weightless and you can’t smell it.” President Obama visits Canberra. Abbott makes a speech in parliament and cannot resist taking a swipe at the government rather than remain apolitical as per convention on such occasions. “Some Liberal MPs were… unhappy. 'We were squirming in our seats,' one said.” Abbott jokes on radio ‘Well, that was one boat that did get stopped, wasn't it” about the Costa Concordia. Somewhat insensitive, as 11 people were dead and 21 people missing. He later apologises but qualifies it by saying ALP should recognise banter. Abbott apologises for saying in question time that then PM Gillard has a target on her forehead. Abbott claims in a press release that in 100 days “the world’s biggest carbon tax will commence.” According to a January 2013 OECD report: “The highest overall effective tax rates tend to be in European countries… The lowest effective tax rates on carbon are found in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas (Chile, Canada, Mexico and the United States).” Abbott’s claim is perhaps more accurately characterised as a lie, rather than a gaffe. I’m including it because it’s such a clear example of the rubbish he talks.

July 201120

Nov 201121

Jan 201222

Mar 201223

Mar 201224

Mar 201225

Abbott is criticised for comments made following the death of Margaret Whitlam, aged 92 years old. ‘He said she was a ''woman of style and substance'' and ''a marvellous consort to a very significant Labor leader and an epochal Australian prime minister…There was a lot wrong with the Whitlam government but nevertheless, it was a very significant episode in our history…”.‘ His comments were perceived as ‘inappropriately scoring a political point, of being vindictive, and an affront to basic decency’.

May 201226

When in WA, Abbott agrees with WA premier that WA gets too little of the GST pie. In response to outcry that ensues from elsewhere in the country, in particular Tasmania, he has to backtrack


May 201227

Tony Abbott distinguishes himself by running out of parliament to avoid his vote being counted, after Craig Thomson – he of the so-called ‘tainted vote’ - indicated he would be voting with the Coalition. Abbott says effect of carbon pricing will be a python squeeze rather than a cobra strike on the economy. This was of course utter nonsense as has become obvious over time, adding to the perception that what he says can’t be believed. Abbott makes a speech in China which is widely criticised. A Herald Sun article by Steve Price is headlined ‘Abbott’s visit like a bull in a china shop’. It takes weeks of ‘clarification’ to calm it down. Leigh Sales interview during which Abbott denied reading statement from BHP chief executive Marius Kloppers despite commenting on BHP, and falsely claiming that carbon tax was the reason BHP was reducing investments. Lisa Wilkinson interview where Abbott says then PM Gillard still has questions to answer on the AWU/Slater & Gordon issue from about 1995. He can’t articulate any questions, didn’t watch the marathon presser where Julia Gillard took questions for almost an hour and didn’t read its transcript. Then PM Gillard was in New York attending UN meetings. On 2GB radio Abbott says “our Prime Minister should not be swanning around in New York talking to Africans, she should be in Jakarta, right now, trying to sort out the border protection disaster”. He named Indonesian President Yudhoyono as one of the people she should be talking with. Both the Indonesian President and his Foreign Minister were attending the same UN meeting in New York as Julia Gillard. Abbott’s comments were offensive to African nations as well as plain stupid. Abbott says what he offers the Australian people is “a return to economic growth” ignoring the fact that Australia has had 21 consecutive years of economic growth. Australia wins a seat on UN’s Security Council. Before the ballot Tony Abbott says "If Australia can't come first or second in a three-horse race involving Finland and Luxembourg, there's something wrong with us…Let's face it, it shouldn't be too hard to win a race against Finland and Luxembourg." Hardly appropriate words for someone seeking to represent Australia in international forums with world leaders. In question time during a speech about Peter Slipper, Abbott says that the ALP government should be dying of shame, echoing Alan Jones’ widely condemned comment of the previous month that then PM Gillard’s father died of shame. Maybe not said purposely but if not, where is Abbott’s presence of mind, acuity, that he used the phrase at all? Abbott demonstrates his inability to understand a WA electricity bill, claiming carbon price led to more than doubling of cost of electricity. It was obvious from a bar chart on the bill that the person’s power usage had doubled.

June 201228

July 201229

Aug 201230

Aug 201231

Sept 201232

Sept 201233

Oct 201234

Oct 201235

Oct 201236


Oct 201237

Visiting a family home in Indonesia, Abbott puts his foot, complete with shoe, on the table near a bowl of food. So rude it’s hard to know where to start: BODY LANGUAGE AND BEHAVIOR -Many western modes of behavior and body language are taboo in Indonesia. Be very aware of how you act in the presence of Indonesians in all situations. Some general rules to follow –  Never show the sole of your foot or point your toe at someone  Keep both feet on the floor when sitting, don't cross your legs38 Lisa Wilkinson interview where she challenges Abbott on his strident claims that he can bring power prices down. Soon becomes clear that he’s repeating slogans about getting rid of carbon tax which would have minimal effect, and has no idea how to bring down power prices in any significant way. Abbott is understood to imply ‘authentic’ Aboriginal people are those who live in the bush rather than elsewhere: "I think it would be terrific if, as well as having an urban Aboriginal in our parliament, we had an Aboriginal person from central Australia, an authentic representative of the ancient cultures of central Australia in the parliament". A reporter who was there said that he has been misrepresented which then begs the question - why did Abbott not express himself more clearly. Abbott endorses, defends, backs Mal Brough while admitting he has not read Justice Rares’ scathing findings about Brough. At an Australia Day Awards and Citizenship Ceremony in Adelaide, reading from a prepared speech, Abbott completely disregards and disrespects Indigenous people, by saying “The first lot of Australians were chosen by the finest judges in England, not always for good reasons…”. Abbott was at a press conference at Salvation Army premises in Brisbane, praising the good work of organisations like the Salvation Army. In response to media questions he took the opportunity to put the boot in to asylum seekers, vilifying them, even though they are one of the groups the Salvos assist. Being apolitical and unlikely to comment, one can only assume that the Salvos did not appreciate being associated with such sentiments. Abbott talks about Coalition policy and GETS IT WRONG! (Sorry for shouting.) At 55 seconds, he says “I couldn’t put a strict time frame on abolishing the health insurance rebate”. The policy is to restore it. The official transcript of the presser was doctored so there is no record of his mistake. Does he know his own policies? Abbott claims the GFC finished 4 years ago, as US and Europe struggle to recover, and Cyprus experiences a banking crisis Hamish McDonald interview, Channel Ten late news. Abbott says he does not do deals, seemingly forgetting the 17 days of negotiation with independents following the 2010 election.

Nov 201239

Nov 201240

Dec 201241

Jan 201342

Feb 201343

Feb 201344

Mar 201345

Mar 201346


Mar 201347

Tony Abbott was heckled at Forced Adoption apology for using terms some find offensive, such as ‘birth mothers’ and ‘relinquish’. If he had read first few pages of Senate Report he would have known that. Interviewed by Sabra Lane the next day he didn’t acknowledge he was at fault in any way. His words: “…it was quite an emotional group in Parliament House yesterday”. As he did almost a year ago, Abbott tells WA one thing about its allocation of GST and tells Tasmania another. Maybe this time he’s overreached as there’s an article in the Daily Tele calling him out on lying. “But that doesn't mean that he should get away with telling porkies on the campaign trail” and “he tells people what they want to hear”.

Mar 201348

April 201349

When asked about proposed changes to superannuation, Abbott said “ shows that this is a Government which is prepared to tax the people to fund its own spending”. Maybe Abbott has not understood to this point that governments collect taxes to fund their spending. Why else would there be taxes? At the joint press conference with Malcolm Turnbull announcing Coalition broadband policy, Abbott said “… at 25 megs, you can simultaneously be downloading four HD TV programmes. So you can have four people in four different parts of the standard house watching the sport, a movie, whatever you might be doing. So we are absolutely confident that 25 megs is going to be enough, more than enough, for the average household.” His comments were met with ridicule as exampled by these tweets on same day. @z3n_: Abbott said you can download 4 HD movies on the Coalitions broadband policy at same time…Moron never said it would take 200+ hrs @zackster: Just told my colleagues in the office about @TonyAbbottMHR and 4 HDTV movies over 25mps... everyone burst out laughing #fraudband

April 201350

April 201351

Abbott’s statements about returning asylum seeker boats to Indonesia have drawn strong criticism from Indonesian authorities, again indicating that Abbott is not equipped to deal with international affairs. ‘Mahfudz Siddiq, the head of Indonesia's parliamentary commission for foreign affairs, said Mr Abbott's comments demonstrated that the opposition leader "doesn't understand the problem…This kind of opinion disrespects the talks we have already had which have been very productive. With wrong perception, even Indonesia could pull out from these cooperative agreements regarding people smuggling," Mahfudz told AAP.’

April 201352

An asylum seeker boat carrying 66 Tamils arrived at Geraldton, WA. Two weeks later Abbott was in Perth with local MP Michael Keenan. He unveiled a billboard asking the question ‘How many illegal boats have arrived since Labor took over?’ Below was the answer – 639 illegal boats. -6-

This sparked widespread condemnation. The billboard was ‘vandalised’ overnight – 639 was changed to zero and a sentence added that it was no crime to seek asylum. It also inspired numerous spoof billboards eg ‘How many times do you need to tell racists there is nothing illegal about seeking asylum?’ ‘How many lies has Abbott told in the last year?’ and tweets such as ‘If Abbott can’t control billboards, how can he control borders.’ The billboard was taken down within 24 hours. May 201353 Alan Jones of 2GB is supporting farmers by campaigning against coal seam gas. On his program, Abbott indicated that if he was PM he would intervene to help farmers. This brought a complaint from the industry that Abbott was supporting Jones rather than energy development. Opposition resources spokesman Ian McFarlane clarified that this was a state issue. Two years ago, Abbott made similar comments defending farmers against energy developers which (a) ignored federal/state split of responsibilities and (b) required later ‘clarification’. May 201354 Abbott says in relation to his paid parental leave policy "We do not educate women to higher degree level to deny them a career…If we want women of that calibre to have families, and we should, well we have to give them a fair dinkum chance to do so. That is what this scheme of paid parental leave is all about." Abbott’s comments, described by some as patronising and insensitive, raise questions yet again about his views on women, especially those who may not be well-paid and/or well-educated. They trigger a new hashtag #womenofcalibre. His poor choice of words meant that the ensuing debate focused on Abbott’s attitudes rather than the merits or otherwise of the policy. May 201355 Abbott, while announcing the Coalition’s industrial relations policy, said that he understood and respected unionists. He also said “I ask the people of Australia, the workers of Australia, the unionists of Australia to look at my record as a Minister in this area.” Why did Abbott draw attention to what he did ten years ago? Within 24 hours a 2010 article written by then-Assistant Secretary of the ACTU was linked to via social media. The article summarised decisions taken by Abbott between 2001 and 2003 when he was Minister for Workplace Relations which were distinctly anti-worker and anti-union. May 201356 A gaffe or not a gaffe? On the eve of budget day Abbott, accompanied by Joe Hockey and Jamie Briggs, addressed the media to draw attention to what he described as a significant book - The Little Book of Big Labor Waste. I felt embarrassed for him as he held up what looked like a children’s book with BIG writ large on the cover. Was this the best Abbott could do on the day before the government brought down a budget for a trillion dollar economy? -7-

Despite what seemed to be a well-attended Canberra press conference at which the book was spruiked, there has been little media coverage of it and it appears that Abbott and co are no longer waving the book around. May 201357 Abbott wrote a letter to the government confirming Coalition support for reforms to taxpayer funding of political campaigns. As the bills were about to be introduced into parliament, his backbenchers objected and Abbott withdrew his support. Abbott first claimed that he had never committed to the reforms and had not seen the legislation. ALP then released a letter dated the previous week in which Abbott wrote that he was satisfied with the agreement reached between the two major parties. Only a few senior Liberals were aware of the agreement. Then, when “news of the ‘secretly’ negotiated agreement was announced at the beginning of the week, Abbott's office has misled and obfuscated”. Abbott’s initial response was to lie until caught out. “The fact that the alternative prime minister openly pretended to be uninvolved, and then simply reneged on a signed agreement, raises genuine questions of trust and reliability." June 201358 Abbott addresses a small forum in Nowra in support of the local Liberal candidate and takes questions from the floor. When asked a question about local roads and rail, he responds “Well, in the case of the Federal Government we are going to have this organisation, Infrastructure Australia, which will do its best to rationally and as scientifically as you can look at various infrastructure projects and rank the best on public cost benefit - then all levels of governments will be able to fund what they choose to be the one that makes most sense”. He fails to say that Infrastructure Australia was introduced in 2008 by the ALP government and already does exactly that. This may not be a gaffe but a Coalition tactic. In a letter to voters a local candidate claims that under a Coalition government, age pensions will increase. He was in fact referring to twice yearly increases which would occur whichever government is in power.59 June 201360 Abbott at a doorstop interview: “I have applauded the Prime Minister's overseas trips. For instance, I thought it was good that she went to New York for five days to try to lobby for Australia's bid to become a temporary member of the Security Council.” An outright lie – see gaffes made in September 2012. Why did he bother to lie, it was unnecessary? And it was noticed. During June 2013’s question time, as it became obvious then PM Gillard was about to bring up Abbott’s September 2012 gaffe, Warren Truss jumped up with an excuse for a point of order, to no avail. June 201361 Abbott says that Malcolm Turnbull “virtually invented the Internet in this country.” Maybe it was intended to be a joke but was not interpreted that way, perhaps -8-

because it echoes what Abbott said in April 2013 at the launch of #Fraudband; that Turnbull was “one of Australia’s internet pioneers, as one of the founders of OzeMail”. July 201362 At a doorstop, Abbott told a persistent female journalist to ‘calm down’. Bridie Jabour was asking Abbott about expenses of $9,400 he had to pay back as they related to the promotion of his book. The incident set off the hashtag #calmdownbridie and more debate about his attitude to women. At a presser, Abbot described an emissions trading scheme as a “so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one” for which he was derided. It was also taken to be a clever dog whistle to climate change denialists. His comment was remarkably similar to a phrase used by Mark Schapiro in 2010: “the carbon market is based on the lack of delivery of an invisible substance to no one”. Following K Rudd’s announcement of an agreement with Papua New Guinea about asylum seekers, Abbott said that the Rudd government seemed to have "subcontracted out to PNG the management of our aid program at least in that country...Now it seems we are basically just handing over cash to the PNG government. Australian aid should never be a free gift to a foreign government." The High Commissioner of Papua New Guinea based in Canberra issued a statement in which it "warned Australian politicians to observe international protocols and courtesies when discussing relations with other friendly sovereign nations and not impugn the dignity of our leaders who are attempting to assist Australia in this very complex regional and international issue of Asylum Seekers". This was taken to be a response to Abbott’s comments which implied PNG leaders would spend aid money without any accountability or prudence. Aug 201365 Busy month for gaffes, so only the main ones. This, from The Australian, left me speechless. ‘In promoting Indigenous affairs to one of his top priorities, Mr Abbott said there was no longer institutional racism in Australia and he believed most Australians saw Aborigines and Aboriginal culture as an “adornment” to the nation.’ Abbott attended the Garma Festival where he announced his new Indigenous advisory body. According to Louise Taylor (Aboriginal woman and barrister/lawyer) ‘Tony Abbott's plan for Indigenous Australians is fatally flawed’. His speech was described (by Elly Michelle Clough) as a ‘foul potpourri of racism, paternalism and sexism’ which ‘has been completely ignored by the mainstream media, with the notable exception on Louise Taylor in The Guardian’. Abbott said “Here in the Territory, we’ve had a lost generation ... kids didn’t go to school, adults didn’t go to work. The ordinary law of the land didn’t apply. Women cowering in their houses, or in their huts, in fear of what some drunken relative might do." About this statement, it ‘is redolent with paternal colonialism. It demeans Indigenous women and it demonises Indigenous men.’ Definitely worth reading the articles I’ve linked to and from which quotes are taken. -9-

July 201363

July 201364

Aug 201366

“No one,” Tony Abbott told a Melbourne gathering of Liberal Party faithful, “however smart, however well-educated, however experienced … is the suppository of all wisdom”. Ok, so everyone gets a word wrong now and again. This quickly went global, with Abbott the butt of numerous jokes, many listed under #suppository But turns out it wasn’t even original. First said by US politician Bill Schuette from Michigan.

Aug 201367

The following day on the campaign trail, Abbott was asked by a reporter what Liberal candidate, Fiona Scott, had in common with former Liberal MP Jackie Kelly. With his daughter next to him, Abbott replied: “They're young, feisty and, I think I can probably say, have a bit of sex appeal and they're just very connected with the local area." No mention was made of Scott’s achievements or competencies. She is a university-educated small business owner. Abbott’s ‘sex appeal’ comment was widely condemned and seen as one more in a pattern of sexist comments over many years, although he and colleagues sought to shrug it off as a ‘daggy dad moment’. Like ‘suppository’, it went global.

Aug 201368

One more day, one more gaffe. When asked on radio about the issue of gay marriage, Abbott reiterated his view that marriage is between a man and a woman and spoke of the importance of tradition in the debate. "My idea is to build on the strength of our society and I support, by and large, evolutionary change," he said. "I'm not someone who wants to see radical change based on the fashion of the moment." Later in the day Abbott said that he was "not suggesting" gay marriage was a passing fad. If not, then (a) why did he not express himself more clearly and (b) what did he mean, if not that the widespread support of same sex marriage was the ‘fashion of the moment’? Abbott announces a new policy while in full election campaign mode to a group of journalists– that of buying boats from Indonesian fishermen to stop the people smuggling trade. It is met with so much ridicule that after the day of the announcement, Abbott doesn’t mention it and he gets few questions about it. Reminiscent of the pre-budget and equally embarrassing “The Little Book of Big Labor Waste” (see May 2013 above) which was announced with great fanfare, but little follow up. However it did not go unnoticed in Indonesia where it was described as insulting to Indonesians and shows ‘poor knowledge about the situation in Indonesia’.

Aug 201369

Aug 201370

Abbott announced that he would ‘offer retrospective compensation to Australian victims of terrorism abroad, similar to that of compensation to domestic crime victims.’ In response to a question from a journalist, Abbott said “If you are walking down the street at 2am in Kings Cross in Sydney and you get king hit, maybe you shouldn't be - 10 -

there”. Abbott’s comments were described as offensive and irresponsible by the father of Thomas Kelly, an 18-year-old who was killed after being king hit in Kings Cross in 2012. Aug 201371 Abbott causes controversy while posing for a photo with school girls in netball gear. He encouraged them to "make body contact" while adding that a bit of body contact never hurt anyone and that he wished he was younger. This was three days after Abbott visited a factory that fits out fire engines amongst other vehicles and said to a female apprentice, “you’d be the most popular girl in the place I suppose wouldn't you?” perceived again as an inappropriate and cringe worthy comment to a young woman that’s out of place in this day and age. Sep 201372 Finally Abbott appears on Insiders. It is a few days before Australia is to take its turn as chair of the UN Security Council and at a time when there is the prospect of the US launching a military strike on Syria. Asked about that conflict, Abbott responded “It is not goodies versus baddies, it is baddies versus baddies”. Abbott’s comments go global with more questions raised as to whether he is capable of operating on the world stage without causing embarrassment to Australia.

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1 Full transcript of Abbott’s evidence and more details of the alleged offences
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In case tweet deleted, also at
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Listen from 9 minutes in Senate report: _ctte/completed_inquiries/201013/comm_contrib_former_forced_adoption/report/index.htm Sabra Lane interview:
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I received such a letter and contacted candidate to check what was meant as no such policy announcement.
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