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John Passant

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Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)



Where are our words, today?

Where are our words, today?

Have you been the morning, mourning?
Taken flight in night, and song?
Gathering, garnering the too long day
To away with all?
And so to fall, to fall
For their catch cry, the call
The sweet absurd,
Caught in the ballad
of their birds
Without our words
There is no way
Where are our words, today?

(c) John Passant 8 February 2016


Memo to the Australian Tax Office: You offshoring jobs is the same as business offshoring profits


The Turnbull government is outsourcing or planning to outsource public service jobs offshore.  Noel Towell in an article in The Canberra Times in January titled ‘Manila calling: Public Service’s Philippines frolic revealed‘ said that ‘the Commonwealth [was] openly canvassing the idea of following the lead of the NSW government and sending some of its work to India.

In the same report Towell details via an Australian Tax Office spokeswoman what the ATO has been up to. He says:

‘The spokeswoman told Fairfax that the present arrangement, where Accenture is helping to develop new IT capabilities for the office, was temporary and had been in place for several months.

“Earlier this financial year the ATO commenced a short-term arrangement with Accenture to use their Philippines Delivery Centre to increase our IT capability in application development for new policy implementation,” she said.

“This additional capability is being used at peak times to temporarily support the ATO’s workforce and existing onshore arrangement with Accenture.

“The offshore development is being conducted in a secure facility that has been inspected by ATO staff and conforms to government physical and data security requirements.

“There is no taxpayer data going offshore and only anonymised development data being is being used via secure channels.

“The arrangement is expected to continue to December 2016.” ‘

So technically the ATO isn’t outsourcing jobs to the Philippines. It is allowing Accenture to do that. My guess is the contract price is less for the ATO than if Accenture had used Australian workers. The Tax Office will save money by doing this.

Of course, cutting costs has been a big driver in other ‘initiatives’ of the ATO. It has got rid of 3000 workers with another 1700 gone by the end of next year. That is about 20% of the ATO workforce, and much of it is experienced middle level workers. Despite glib assurances from ATO management that dumping one fifth of their workforce will make no difference to revenue collections, it seems logical to me to conclude that the loss of a layer of experienced and competent workers might not only slow down decision making (and hence slow down revenue collection) it has also result in less than optimal revenue outcomes.

The figures, with some major caveats, tend to back this up. Revenue collections have fallen since the sackings (sorry, voluntary redundancies) began. Now of course there are a whole range of external factors such as the end of the mining boom which help explain this. And the figures might be too early to judge in relation to the direct impact of the staff cuts. So how can we know?

Instead of having the silver tongued, ex-partner in an accountancy tax avoidance advising firm, leadership sprouting banalities, ATO staff should be able to talk to the public about the impact of the swingeing cuts on them. The Senate Economics Committee could consider calling staff still in the Office to testify about the cuts and revenue collections. I am sure too that it is not beyond the wit of journalists, union officials and tax officers to organise a bit of whistleblowing about the impact of the staff cuts on revenue, based on the experience of those at the coalface.

The recently released Corporate Tax Transparency Report shows that 38% of big business public companies paid no income tax. Many more had effective tax rates well below the statutory rate of 30%. Now I know there are a whole range of reasons for this, including poor trading conditions, the existence of special exemptions and deductions, various credits (e.g. for research and development and for foreign tax paid) but surely there must be a suspicion that the tax avoidance component of the tax shortfall in 2013-14 will only worsen in 2014-205 and later years as the ATO staff cuts kick in.

Maybe the staff cuts and adverse impact on revenue collection are part of the strategy of the ATO leadership to make the organisation more ‘business friendly.’

There is a symbiosis here between the staff cuts and tax avoidance that goes beyond the suspicion that big business doesn’t pay its fair share of tax and won’t into the future given the ATO’s staff numbers. The logic of the cuts, driven by a former tax partner in KPMG, a big tax advising firm to big business, and now the Commissioner of Taxation, is to create a leaner ATO. Yet this is the same logic of big business in avoiding tax. Business sees tax as a cost of business and, like all costs, competition drives them to find ways to reduce their tax bill and hence improve their profits. This leaves more over for reinvestment or to pay to shareholders. If the particular company is the only one in its industry using the particular lurk or scheme, then it also gains a competitive advantage over its competitors.

As Google Chair Eric Schmidt said about his company’s tax avoidance activities around the globe, activities which have seen it funnel almost $10 billion into Bermuda, saving $2 billion in taxes:

“I am very proud of the structure that we set up. We did it based on the incentives that the governments offered us to operate.”

The company isn’t about to turn down big savings in taxes, he said.

“It’s called capitalism,” he said. “We are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this.”

Saving money, the driver for cutting the ATO staff by 20%, is also the driver of big business tax avoidance. Business tax avoidance is systemic. It requires a systemic response, not Tax Office staff cuts.

The Canberra Times whitewashes Invasion Day

This is the link to my article in Independent Australia about The Canberra Times and its whitewashing of Invasion Day. It starts off:

John Passant asks why the whitewash of the Invasion Day protest in Canberra by The Canberra Times.

UP TO 500 people attended the Invasion Day Protest in Garema Place in Canberra on 26 January to highlight the genocide then and now against Aboriginal people. There was not one mention, not one photo of the protest in The Canberra Times.

To read the whole article click here. Why didn’t The Canberra Times report on the Invasion Day protest?

Free the refugees – Churches in Australia start the war of defence

On Wednesday the High Court supported the offshore concentration camp at Nauru. I wrote about it on Wednesday arguing that the decision posed questions for the refugee movement. I argued for the campaign to begin to think about ways forward to stop this barbarous activity of locking up refugees and asylum seekers offshore, and onshore too.  I argued we should consider civil disobedience and gave some examples, such as occupying the centre of town, and blocking forced deportations.

Overnight some of the churches have shown another way. For example Peter Catt, the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, has offered sanctuary to the 269 refugees facing deportation to Nauru as a consequence of the decision. If (and it is a big if) they can make it to St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane the Dean and parishioners will protect them. The left and refugee movement too could try to mobilise defence leagues of refugee activists and supporters to join with the church in stopping Peter Dutton’s Black Shirts from trying to remove them.

Ten churches have so far joined the campaign. Father Chris Bedding tweeted: ‘We will put our building and our bodies on the line to protect asylum seekers.’

Father Rod Bower at the Gosford Anglican Church is another priest who has offered sanctuary. Here are his thoughts.



One task for we refuge activists must surely be to ask other churches to do the same. Another task might be to get the refugees to the churches for their protection.

It looks as if the direct action message is spreading. According to Patrick Hatch in The Age on the Let Them Stay rally in Melbourne:

‘The protesters marched along Swanston Street and up Bourke Street, chanting “free free the refugees, let them stay, let them stay” and staged a sit-in outside the Liberal Party’s headquarters, at the corner of Exhibition Street.

‘About two thousand continued past Parliament House to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s office at the corner of Spring and Lonsdale, where they blocked the intersection and set up an microphones and a PA system on the office’s steps.’

Good work. We need more of it.

Harbouring refugees is a crime in Australia, punishable by up to ten years in jail. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton warned a radio station that not even churches were above the law.

Let’s see. Any government that sends police or border force against Christians in their churches whose only crime is defending vulnerable people risks losing lots of support and exposing the reactionary, repressive and dictatorial nature of this government and the bipartisan political support for mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and elsewhere.

And if no one is above the law, Mr Dutton, then why haven’t these church leaders offering sanctuary been arrested yet? Surely they are conspiring to break the law. Or maybe their planning is an attempt to harbour refugees.

Dutton even went so far as to say there was a lot of hype and scare campaigning going on about Nauru. Yes, all that hype and scaremongering from doctors, nurses, and the Human Rights Commission. All say that the detention centres are brutal abuse factories and do incredible harm to those locked up in them, including children. Of course, that is the whole point. That is what they are designed specifically to do.

The churches offering sanctuary is a good first step in the fight to stop the deportation of the 270 refugees back to Nauru. Let’s explore ways we can get these people to the Churches that care, and to defend those churches from state attacks. Let’s see if we can bring in more churches. I am asking my local churches to support refugees and offer sanctuary.

If some churches can take the lead, what about some unions? Where are the unions who could ask their members not to have anything to do with the deportations and to ban any action that might lead to deportation. Public servants and airline crew come immediately to mind. More importantly now is the time for unionists to demand their unions take action to prevent the deportations.

Thanks to the churches for offering to undertake civil disobedience to defend refugees. That can be a guide for the rest of us. Let’s look for more ways to bring in more people to take direct action to stop the deportations and free all the refugees.

The High Court supports Australia’s offshore concentration camps

In a 6-1 decision, the High Court has ruled in favour of the concentration camp on Nauru. The Australian government can legally arrest innocent people, hold them without trial, ship them off overseas to euphemistically named detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island and then wash their hands of those brutalised in this way and brutalised in the camps.

The decision poses a stark question for the refugee movement. What is the way forward now?


There are 37 babies born here in Australia who will be deported to Nauru. 54 children. 267 refugees all up who will be sent back to the rape factory, the sexual and physical abuse factory that is Nauru. How can we resist this?

My own view is that to win this fight to free the refugees will require the movement, which about 30% of Australians agree with, to move from passive protests to mobilisations that do change minds and which challenges the rule of the oppressor directly. That means civil disobedience.

It means shutting down the centres of the major towns with thousands occupying. It means thousands turning up to stop the deportations to the concentration camps. It means unions banning anything to do with the concentration camps. It means building a radical edge to the movement to do that and to bring the thousands and then tens of thousands in to build that militant campaign of workers and protesters.

There are protests on Thursday across Australia to let them stay. Let’s begin the conversation then for more action.

Hey unions – how about fighting for big wage increases as compensation if the GST goes up from 10% to15%?

Scott Morrison this week likened a possible GST increase to turning back the boats. Tough, but needed, and he is, he said modestly, just the man to do it. Of course an alternative view might be that the bastard who brutalised refugees is moving on to brutalising poor people and workers, made confident in this by the very support he has received in locking up asylum seekers and refugees on the Manus Island and Nauru concentration camps.

Increasing the rate of the GST from 10% to $15% will raise an extra $32.5 billion, according to New South Wales premier Mike Baird in the same article. That money will come from me and you. Ah but each and every defender of GST ‘reform’ says that we will be compensated with income tax cuts for workers and increased payments to welfare recipients.

That sits at odds with the distribution demands  of those making the case for the GST increase. Thus Mike Baird argues not just for social welfare increases and tax cuts for workers but for increased State government spending on health and education to come out of the $32.5 billion magic pudding.   On top of that business and politicians want to cut company tax rates from 30% to 25%, costing about $7 billion.

So the obvious question is – if the GST is going to raise an extra $32.5 billion, and  if some of that is diverted away from increased benefits to welfare recipients and tax cuts, to more spending on health and education and company tax cuts, doesn’t that mean that poor people and workers will not in fact be fully compensated for the 50% increase in the GST?

Not only that but bracket creep will eat up the tax cut in a few years, leaving workers in the same position as they were before the increase in the GST in terms of their effective tax rates, but with an increased GST on top. Those on welfare will have their entitlements restricted and tightened as part of a general crack down on government spending.

There are 2.5 million Australians, including 660,000 kids, living below the poverty line. Will these changes make them any better off? No.

Talk of GST compensation is a three card trick.  We should not fall for it.

Since the income tax cuts to compensate for increasing the GST will not deliver real and lasting compensation for workers, and since workers are the one group in society with the power to fix that, the task of militants in our trade unions should be to argue for and organise around winning wages increases to compensate for any increased GST. Over to you militant unions and class conscious workers. Just the threat of GST wage increase strikes might cause some ruling class members to hesitate about increasing the GST. And it might help unions win back some working class support.

Like all posts on this blog, comments close after seven days. To have your say, hit the comment link under the heading.

Lenin’s anvil is worn

Lenin’s anvil is worn

Lenin’s anvil is worn
The hammering has torn
The new day, and shorn away,
Hope built upon
A vision, from yesterday

Trotsky’s pen is dead
Stalin silenced,
Picked head
Where thoughts remain
Unlicensed, unread

We are the wrong
To right the long injustice
Of the past
For the future
And for us

No one can see
You or me
Are cursed free
While their freedom reins
To calm our chains

Our birthing pains began
A long hard labour
Stillborn, remains,
Do not mourn
Return the favour

Each child is ours
To love, to house
And to try, again
Our oath, my friends
This is our cry

We will rise
And rise, and rise
And only then
The anvil will renew
And the pen re-write

Our plight is not
Servitude, or poverty
It is the quest
To be free
One day, one day

(c) John Passant 31 January 2016

Like all posts on this blog, comments close after seven days. To have your say, hit the comment link under the heading.

The Australian of the year and veterans

David Morrison, the former head of the Australian Army, is this year’s Australian of the year. 

He came to our attention in 2013 for his campaign against the abuse of women in the Army. Monica Attard gives as summary of this on the ABC News site. She wrote:

‘More than 160 officers and soldiers, including a group that called itself the ‘Jedi Council’, would eventually be punished for taking part in a network that had used the military’s email system and the internet to the disseminate pornographic material. The emails included explicit images of Defence women taken without their consent.’

In a famous video in 2013 to his soldiers, prompted by the abuse and denigration by some senior soldiers of women in the Army, he  argued that the Army had to be inclusive and to uphold its own, and Australia’s values. He famously said ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.’ He finished off by saying ‘if you’re not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters.’

For a conservative government Morrison is an inspired choice for Australian of the year. His background makes him someone conservatives and liberals can flock to. His strong stand against sexism in the Army makes him an icon in the eyes of some feminists. He also has a brain and can think for himself (within the normal boundaries of bourgeois thought).

His acceptance speech no doubt reinforced his liberal credentials without undermining (or so he must have thought) his Liberal support, given his 40 years of Army service. He started of by acknowledging the first people of the country, and recognised Australia Day was a day of emotional conflict for some indigenous Australians.

Morrison identified 3 areas he would focus on – domestic violence, diversity and the gender pay gap, and the Republic. He is the very model of a modern major-general.

It wasn’t long before the conservatives responded. Some veterans and veterans’ groups called for his resignation as Australian of the year because he hadn’t championed them in his acceptance speech. In fact, according to Andrew Greene at the ABC, some soldiers rejected his inclusiveness.

‘The Defence Force Welfare Association said it had been inundated with correspondence from members who were angry at General Morrison’s approach.

‘”There seems to be a general view that perhaps he’s gone too far in his quest for diversity and respect amongst ADF members who perhaps hold different views on lifestyles and religion and those sorts of issues,” DFWA president David Jamison said.

‘”He’s perhaps causing division rather than unity within the ADF and the veteran community.”‘

This looks not so much an expression of concern about ignoring veterans but more a complaint about his liberal views on some issues. The organiser of an online petition calling for his resignation used his failure to champion veterans as the reason behind his resignation call.

Within 24 hours others had leapt to his defence. Morrison then issued a statement saying he had always supported veterans and would continue to do so in his role as Australian of the year.

We on the left should be sympathetic to and supportive of war veterans. They are used and then abandoned by our ruling class and deserve better funding to address their PTSD, homelessness, poverty etc etc.

Of course not sending them to war would solve most of that which is why a vibrant and strong anti-war movement is important.

However, based on what our leaders knew was a lie, war criminal John Howard et al did send soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan. Many came home broken.

I think as socialists we should argue for more money for their support, and of course for the support of all people suffering mental illness, domestic violence, homelessness, poverty etc. Aborigines, victims of domestic violence, gays and lesbians, especially young gays and lesbians, refugees locked up in Australia’s concentration camps, for example, all have high levels of stress and anxiety, with PTSD and suicide rates well above average. Fund adequate services for them all. Make big business pay a fair share of tax to pay for these services. In relation to refugees, close down the mental illness camps. In relation to war, stop.

As socialists, we also need to try to understand the nature of the Australian Army. It is a killing machine for the Australian ruling class. That class’s insurance pact with the US means our troops have been involved in all the major wars of US imperialism since the end of the Second World War.

To turn human beings into unthinking killers for capitalism takes years of dehumanising training. A stint in Afghanistan or Iraq turns that already brutal training into into a brutal reality. Many of those who leave the Army after tours of duty are very damaged by the killing they have witnessed or undertaken, or the attacks upon them by those resisting the invaders. Some are actually also physically damaged.

When they return to Australia veterans receive with inadequate support, especially the many veterans suffering mental distress. Despite all the crocodile tears from war criminals like Howard, they have done little to support veterans.

There should be adequate funding for all veterans to return to civilian life as fully functioning individuals, not as physical and mental wrecks. However this challenges the logic of ruling class austerity. That class uses and abuses soldiers and then spits out veterans in part because it gets a steady supply of replacements, some at least joining because the alternative is unemployment. (This is known as economic conscription.)

Just as there should be adequate funding for veterans’ services, there should also be adequate funding for vulnerable people in a whole range of situations. Yet it is the vulnerable, the poor and workers who are under attack from this government. They and we all have common cause against the parties of neoliberalism and austerity, and a first step to helping veterans is to unite and fight for better services for all at risk sections of society.

Having said that, we also need to build the anti-war movement to both make the case against war in general and against specific wars. It took years of struggle in the 60s to turn the anti-Vietnam War campaign from one having little support to one with majority support. We did not stop a war obsessed US imperialism from escalating its invasion. However we did change the political debate and forced the Liberals to withdraw the troops from Vietnam. The protests also helped shift the political atmosphere to the left and win Labor the 1972 election.

However, that took years and in the meantime the US killing machine, ably supported by our Australian ruling class and its soldiers, killed millions of Vietnamese and others. In 2003 hundreds of thousands of Australians protested against the Iraqi War. Howard ignored us. He could not have ignored a more radical movement which had civil disobedience and strikes as part of its aims and practices.

Ultimately the only way to end war and its rotten consequences for all the combatants and the peoples of the countries the West has invaded is to end the system that creates war – capitalism.

Like all posts on this blog, comments close after seven days. To have your say, hit the comment link under the heading.

Marx and rent – taxing resource rents in Australia

In this paper I use Marx’s analysis of rent to try to understand the complexities associated with the attempts to tax resource rents in Australia. My aim is to dissect ground rent (what the landlord expropriates in capitalist society by virtue of being the owner of land) into its constituent parts– absolute rent for the use of the land and what Marx calls Differential Rent I and Differential Rent II, rents which arise from different qualities in land and different levels of capital investment in land. I also discuss monopoly rent.

Economic rent in the mining industry in Australia arises in some circumstances because of the barrier to capital that is land and land ownership and the monopoly of ownership that the States and Territories have of minerals and resources. In other circumstances rent arises because of demand which pushes the price (or did before the mining boom in Australia ended in mid-2012) above its price of production and hence gives a greater than average rate of return compared to other industries. Barriers to entry (Marx’s alien forces) prevent new investment that would equalise that above average profit back towards the average.

The various rent taxes of the Commonwealth and States and Territories then are attempts by the State to claw back some of the rent (surplus or above normal surplus value) flowing to mining capital. They do this either through levies independent of the production of surplus value, in the case of State and Territory royalties, or as income taxes imposed by the Commonwealth on profits arising after surplus value has been created in the process of production. The Commonwealth could take on the role of minerals landlord and demand rent from mining companies by imposing royalties on them across Australia.

To read this draft work in progress on SSRN click here.


Noel Pearson and the myth of the radical centre


On Australia Day Noel Pearson told us of the need for a ‘radical centre’ in Australian politics.   This ‘sensible’ centre would balance between the mad right and the loony left and come up with ‘solutions’ to problems that the nutcases to the left or right couldn’t because they are trapped in the language and practice of ideology. Well, that is my summation of what Pearson said.  You can read an edited extract of his speech in the well know centrist newspaper (sarcasm alert) The Australian.

There is nothing new about what Pearson is arguing. In fact he has been sprouting the need for a radical centre for a decade or so. It seems his attempts at setting up just such an enterprise have floundered on the shoals of reality. If the radical centre is where all the sensible people with their sensible solutions are why has Pearson made absolutely no progress in the last ten years in setting up this political Shangri-La?

One of the answers is that the distinction between left and right in Australia is blurred. The Australian Labor Party is in the process of moving from being a CAPITALIST workers’ party to a capitalist party. To call it left-wing is a long stretch. To give one current example: Anthony Albanese, the darling of Labor members for the leadership and one time Minister in various neoliberal Labor governments, faces a challenge in his seat from Greens candidate and former member of the International Socialist Organisation Jim Casey. Rather than addressing the issues, Albanese has red baited Jim. Jim’s response is classic:

“I make no apologies for my socialist ideals. It is a bit sad [Albanese] is running away from this; he’s happy to DJ songs by Billy Bragg for his mates but when it comes to a political context he’s channelling Joe McCarthy,” Casey said.

The dichotomy between left and right that Pearson argues for doesn’t actually exist. There may be some differences over the detail of policy and the speed of austerity but on the major issues of shifting wealth from labour to capital, of moderating real wages and cutting welfare, Labor and the Liberals agree.

It is not just Pearson who has been arguing for the need for a centrist party, balancing between a non-existent radical Labor left and Liberal right. This appeal to the centre has a long history. This third way was the election strategy of Bill Clinton in 1992 and Tony Blair in 1997. Ah, but they won elections and were re-elected I can hear you say. True, but that was in the specific context of people looking for alternatives to the status quo and believing, wrongly, that Clinton and Blair offered an alternative to austerity, war and class war. They didn’t. Clinton and Blair gave us Bush and Cameron. Frankly Mitchel Pearce’s dog could have won those elections.

And let’s look now at the long term consequences of this appeal to the centre in the UK and the US. Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders is winning more and more support in his campaign, against Hillary Clinton, to become the Democrat Party Presidential nominee. He is even ahead in some recent polls in the forthcoming Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.

In the UK Jeremy Corbyn, an avowed and practising socialist, is the leader of the Labour Party Opposition. He is giving the Blairites, the radical centrists in the party, nightmares. He is winning more and more support for radical left wing policies and left wing solutions. Such is the level of support that he may well become, contrary to the nonsense from the establishment and its echo chambers in the Labour Party, the next Prime Minister of Britain.

By the way Corbyn’s policies align with the desires of most voters in Britain who on most issues are well to the left of their politicians. The same is true in Australia and the US. His policies were in fact the policies previous Labour governments carried out 50 or 60 years ago.

In Australia, the radical centre was the Democrats. They collapsed after they did a deal in 1998 and 1999 passing a modified GST, one of those ‘sensible’ solutions that involves attacking the poor and working class. Their supporters abandoned them.

Pearson’s policies – support for the milksop that is constitutional recognition, support for Tony Abbott, support for the intervention for example – are essentially conservative. The radical centre is rhetoric that gives cover to conservatism.

In Australia there is no and will be no radical centre. There is no demand from ordinary Australians for a group of politicians who will compromise to make capitalism run adequately, in other words politicians who sell out. We don’t need a radical centre in Australia today. We need a radical left.

Like all posts on this blog, comments close after seven days. To have your say, hit the comment link under the heading.