Jeff Kennett

The Honourable
Jeff Kennett
43rd Premier of Victoria
Elections: 1985, 1988, 1992, 1996, 1999
In office
6 October 1992  20 October 1999
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor Richard McGarvie
Sir James Gobbo
Deputy Pat McNamara
Preceded by Joan Kirner
Succeeded by Steve Bracks
Leader of the Opposition of Victoria
In office
19 October 1999  26 October 1999
Preceded by Steve Bracks
Succeeded by Denis Napthine
In office
23 April 1991  6 October 1992
Preceded by Alan Brown
Succeeded by Joan Kirner
In office
5 November 1982  23 May 1989
Preceded by Lindsay Thompson
Succeeded by Alan Brown
Member of the Victorian Parliament
for Burwood
In office
20 March 1976  2 November 1999
Preceded by Constituency re-established
Succeeded by Bob Stensholt
Personal details
Born Jeffrey Gibb Kennett
(1948-03-02) 2 March 1948
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Political party Liberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s) Felicity Kellar (m. 1972)
Profession Media commentator, former politician

Jeffrey Gibb Kennett AC (born 2 March 1948) is a former Australian politician who was the 43rd Premier of Victoria between 1992 and 1999 and a current media commentator. He was the President of Hawthorn Football Club from 2005 - 2011. He is the founding Chairman of beyondblue, a national organisation "working to reduce the impact of depression and anxiety in the community".[1]

Early life

Kennett was born in Melbourne on 2 March 1948, and educated at Scotch College.[2] Kennett was an unexceptional student academically, but did well in Scotch's Cadet Corps Unit. His failure to rise above the middle band academically almost led him to quit school in Fourth Form (Year 10 – 1963), but he was persuaded to stay on. His Fifth and Sixth Forms were an improvement, but he was still described in school reports as "[a] confident and at times helpful boy. Sometimes irritates. Sometimes works hard" (1964), and "[a] keen, pleasant, though sometimes erratic boy" (1965).[3]

After leaving school, Kennett was persuaded by his father Ken to attend the Australian National University in Canberra, but lost interest and left after one year of an economics degree. He returned to Melbourne and found work in the advertising department of the retail giant Myer – kindling an interest for advertising that would one day earn him his living.[4]

Kennett's life in the regular workforce was cut short when, in 1968, he was conscripted into the Australian Army.[5] Kennett was singled out as 'officer material' early in his career, and graduated third in his class from the Officer Training Unit, Scheyville (OTU) Scheyville, near Windsor, New South Wales, outside Sydney. He was posted to Malaysia and Singapore as Second Lieutenant, commander of 1st Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR).[6] This military career (and his earlier experience in the Scotch College Cadet Corps) has been noted by many biographers as an essential formative influence on the adult Kennett's character. His sense and regard for hierarchical loyalty, punctuality, and general intolerance of dissent or disobedience may be traced to this period.[7]

Kennett returned to civilian life in 1970, reentering a divided Australian society, split by the Vietnam War, of which Kennett was a firm supporter. Having returned to Myer, Kennett became impatient with his work, and so with Ian Fegan and Eran Nicols, he formed his own advertising company (KNF) in June 1971.[8] Thereafter, in December 1972, Kennett married Felicity Kellar, an old friend whom he had first met on a Number 7 tram on the long trips to school. Their first son, Ed, was born in 1974, followed by a daughter Amy, and two more sons, Angus and Ross.

Political career

Interested in local politics since the early 1970s, Kennett was elected as a Liberal Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Burwood in 1976.[9] His preselection for the seat reportedly irritated then Premier Dick Hamer, who disliked Kennett's campaigning style, and had endorsed the sitting member, Haddon Storey.[9] Entering Hamer's government, Kennett was soon appointed Minister for Housing, Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in 1981. He retained this post when Hamer was replaced as Liberal leader and Premier by Lindsay Thompson in June of that year.[9] Following the defeat of the longstanding Liberal government in 1982, Kennett was the leading candidate to replace Lindsay Thompson, and on 26 October, he was elected Leader of the Liberal Party, despite being the youngest member of the outgoing Cabinet. He was an aggressive Leader of the Opposition, and was criticised for his "bull-in-a-china-shop" style and his anti-government rhetoric.[10]

Under his leadership, the Liberals were heavily defeated by Labor in Victorian state election, 1985. Soon afterward, he faced a challenge to his leadership of the party from Ian Smith. Kennett survived easily, but increasingly, he was seen as an erratic and unapproachable leader. He faced two more challenges to his leadership in 1986 and 1987 respectively.[11] In 1987, in one notable incident Kennett referred to the Federal Liberal leader John Howard using colourful language in a mobile telephone conversation with Howard rival Andrew Peacock.[12] The car-phone conversation damaged both Howard and Kennett politically, but aided Peacock in his push to return as Federal Liberal leader (1989).[13]

Toward the end of its second term the Cain government had endured some loss in support and the Liberals were expected to win the 1988 election. The Liberals rebounded strongly, actually winning a majority of the two-party vote. However, much of that margin was wasted on landslide majorities in their heartland, leaving Kennett four seats short of becoming premier. Kennett was again criticised within his own party, and in 1989 he was deposed in favour of a little-known rural MLA, Alan Brown.

Kennett's performance during his first stint as Liberal leader is a matter of debate. Economou sees his 1985 and 1988 election campaigns as weak,[11] while Parkinson believes he was a significant asset in pushing the Labor government of John Cain in several key seats.[14]

First term as premier

Kennett publicly pledged never to attempt a return to the Liberal leadership, but when Brown proved unable to challenge the government effectively, he allowed his supporters to call a spill in 1991. Brown realized he didn't have enough support to keep his post and resigned, allowing Kennett to retake the leadership unopposed.

Given that Victoria's finances were in billions of dollars of debt, Kennett was seen from the beginning of his second leadership period as 'Premier-in-waiting'. Cain had resigned a year earlier in favour of Deputy Premier Joan Kirner, who was unable to regain the upper hand despite being personally more popular than Kennett. The Liberals' advantage was strengthened by an important decision taken during Brown's brief tenure as leader--negotiating a Coalition agreement with the National Party of Australia. The Liberals and Nationals have historically had a strained relationship in Victoria; they had sat separately for most of the second half of the 20th century.

The Coalition went into the October 1992 state election as unbackable favourites, having been ahead in opinion polling by large margins for almost two years. They stoked the voters' anger with a series of "Guilty Party" ads, targeting many Ministers in the Kirner Government and providing examples of concerns in their portfolios. In the second-largest defeat that a sitting government has ever suffered in Victoria, the Coalition scored a 19-seat swing, attaining a 34-seat majority in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberals actually won 52 seats, enough for a majority in their own right. However, the Coalition was retained.


In office, Kennett immediately instituted a budget-cutting and privatisation program in an effort to improve the State's economy. Having assumed office, the need for such action was self-justified when Kennett and his new Treasurer, Alan Stockdale discovered that the outgoing government had left them with $2.2 billion budget deficit, a net public sector debt of $33 billion and budget sector debt of $16 billion. To resolve this debt, some 50,000 public servants were retrenched between 1992 and 1995.

State school closures

In the first three years of office, funding for public schools and the Department of Education was substantially reduced. 350 government schools were closed, and 7,000 teaching jobs eliminated.[15]

Public transport

Other controversial moves included the sacking of 16,000 public transport workers in a major technological upgrade of the system, and the initiation of a major scheme for privatisation of state-owned services, including the electricity (SECV) and gas (Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria) utilities, the ambulance service, as well as several prisons and other minor services. The sale of the Totalisator Agency Board raised $609 million. Between 1995 and 1998, $29 billion of state assets in gas and electricity alone were sold to private enterprise (for statistics, see Parkinson, Jeff, 1999).[16] In the wake of these changes, investment and population growth slowly resumed, though unemployment was to remain above the national average for the duration of Kennett's premiership. While the benefits to the State budget figures were indisputable, the social and longer-term economic cost of the Kennett reforms have been questioned by many commentators, academics and those who suffered economically through the period of reform.[17][18][19][20] This campaign of privatisations and cutbacks led to governmental acts of privatisation or budget-cutting becoming popularly known as being "Jeffed".[21][22]

The largest public protest in Melbourne since the Vietnam War occurred on 10 November 1992, with an estimated 100,000 people marching in opposition to the retrenchment of many workers and the large State budget cutbacks. Kennett was undeterred by this protest, and famously commented that though there were 100,000 outside his office at Parliament that day, there were 4.5 million who stayed at home or at work.[23][24]

It was difficult to assess the merits or otherwise of Kennett's 'Revolution' in his first term at the time. However, as time has passed, Kennett's policies have been widely criticised and used by ideological opponents as examples of poor governmental decision making.[17][18][19][20]

High-profile capital works projects

The Kennett government also embarked on a series of high-profile capital works projects, such as the restoration of Parliament House (never completed), construction of a new $250 million Melbourne Museum and IMAX theatre, and a new $130 million Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (still known colloquially as 'Jeff's Shed'). Other projects, made possible in monetary terms by the early cutbacks and budget restructuring, included a $160 million expansion of the National Gallery of Victoria; $100 million for refurbishment of the State Library of Victoria; $65 million for a new Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC); and $130 million for the construction of a new civic square on the site of the old Gas and Fuel Buildings, to be known as Federation Square.

The relocation of the Formula 1 Grand Prix from Adelaide in 1993 was a particular coup for Kennett, who had worked hard with his friend Ron Walker, the Chairman of the Melbourne Major Events Company, helped deliver Melbourne the hosting rights for the event from Adelaide in 1993.[25]

The most controversial project of the Kennett era was the $1.85 billion Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex, a gambling and entertainment centre on Melbourne's Southbank. Initial plans for a casino had been made under the Labor government, however the tendering process and construction occurred under Kennett. Allegations of financial inconsistencies in the tendering process (which eventually saw longtime Kennett supporters Ron Walker and Lloyd Williams successful) were to dog the Kennett government for many years, despite the verdict of an enquiry which found no wrongdoing on its behalf.

A $2 billion project to redevelop Melbourne's derelict Docklands area to include a new football stadium was also undertaken, in addition to the large CityLink project, a project resurrected from the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan, aimed at linking Melbourne's freeways, easing traffic problems in the inner city, and reducing commuting times from the outer suburbs to the CBD.

Second term as premier

Kennett's personal popularity was mostly average to high through his first term, though that of the government as a whole went through peaks and troughs. Without a by-election in the previous four years, the 1996 state election shaped up as the first test of the 'Kennett Revolution' with the electorate. The Coalition was expected to win a second term at the 30 March election, albeit with a somewhat reduced majority. At the federal election held four weeks earlier, while Labor was heavily defeated, it actually picked up a swing in Victoria. However, to the surprise of most commentators, Kennett was reelected with a 32-seat majority, a loss of only two.

Kennett was influential in Melbourne bidding for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Three cities initially expressed interest in hosting the event; Melbourne, Wellington and Singapore. Singapore dropped out before its bid was officially selected by the Commonwealth Games Federation, leaving only two candidate cities. In the weeks prior to the announcement of the 2006 host, Wellington withdrew its bid, citing the costs involved with matching the bid plan presented by Melbourne, which became the default host without members of the Federation going to vote.[26]

Several negative trends (for the Liberals) were obscured somewhat by the euphoria of victory. The government's sharp cuts to government services were particularly resented in country Victoria, where the Liberals and their coalition partners, National Party held almost all the seats. The loss of the Mildura seat to an independent Russell Savage was an indication of this disaffection, and when in February 1997 independent Susan Davies was elected to the seat of Gippsland West, this trend seemed set to continue.

However, the verdict of many was that the 'Kennett Revolution' was far from over – indeed it was seemingly set in stone with the opening of the Crown Casino in May 1997. Kennett's profile continued to grow as he became a major commentator on national issues, including urging the new government of John Howard to introduce tax reform, and actively opposing the rise of the One Nation Party of Pauline Hanson. In this last case, Kennett did not shy away from criticising the media, but also the decision of the Howard government to not actively oppose Hanson's agenda.[27]

The government lost ground over the next few years, with high-profile disagreements with the Director of Public Prosecutions Bernard Bongiorno, and Auditor-General Ches Baragwanath fuelling criticism of Kennett's governmental style. Kennett's perceived antipathy to Baragwanath led to 1997 legislation to restructure the office of the Auditor-General and set up Audit Victoria. While Kennett promised the independence of the office would be maintained, many saw his government's actions as an attempt to curb the Auditor-General's power to criticise government policy.[28] Widespread community debate and substantial public dissent from Liberal MPs and Party members ensued, with MLA Roger Pescott resigning from Parliament at the height of the debate; citing his disagreement with this Bill and Kennett's style in general. The Liberal Party lost the by-election in Mitcham.

Further scandals involving the handling of contracts for the state emergency services response system damaged the credibility of Kennett in 1997–1998, while rural dissent continued to grow.

Personal difficulties also began to affect Kennett and his family. The strains of public life led to a trial separation between Felicity and Jeff in early 1998 (patched up by the end of the year), while earlier in Kennett's first term, public scrutiny had led to the forced sale of the KNF Advertising Company, despite all Kennett's involvement having been transferred to his wife's name. There were rumours in 1998 that Kennett might retire from politics; these were mostly centred around Phil Gude, a longtime minister (as Industry and Employment Minister, 1992–1996, and Minister for Education, 1996–1999). These eventually came to nothing.

In July 1998, Liberal MP Peter McLellan, Member for Frankston East, resigned from the party in protest over alleged corrupt Liberal Party Senate preselection, changes to WorkCover and the auditor-general’s office. Again, Kennett failed to pick up the warning signs of declining support for his style of leadership.

Labor leader John Brumby took care to capitalise on each of Kennett's mistakes over this period, though his absences in rural electorates were misunderstood by many Labor MPs, and led to his replacement by Steve Bracks in early 1999. Bracks, who came from Ballarat, was popular in rural areas and was seen as a fresh alternative to Brumby, who nevertheless remained a key figure in the shadow Cabinet.

1999 election loss

Despite Bracks' appeal, Kennett entered the 1999 election campaign with a seemingly unassailable lead, and most commentators and opinion polls agreed that the Coalition would win a third term.

However, in a shock result, the Coalition suffered a 13-seat swing to Labor. While there was only a modest swing in eastern Melbourne, which has historically decided elections in Victoria, the Coalition suffered significant losses in regional centres such as Ballarat and Bendigo. ABC elections analyst Antony Green later said that when he first saw the results coming in, it looked so unusual that he thought "something was wrong with the computer."[29]

Initial counting showed Labor on 41 seats and the Coalition on 43; a supplementary election had to be held in Frankston East following the death of sitting independent Peter McLellan. The balance of power rested with three independents--Russell Savage, Susan Davies and newly elected Craig Ingram. Negotiations began between the Coalition and the three independents. While Kennett acceded to all but two of their demands, his perceived poor treatment of Savage and Davies in the previous parliament meant that they would not even consider supporting a Coalition minority government headed by Kennett. On 18 October, two days after Labor won the supplementary election in Frankston East, the independents announced they would support a Labor minority government. The agreement entailed Labor signing a Charter of Good Government, pledging to restore services to rural areas, and promising parliamentary reforms.

Kennett's supporters urged the Coalition to force a vote of 'no confidence' on the floor of the parliament in a last-ditch effort to force Savage, Davies and Ingram to support Kennett. However, with the Liberals divided on Kennett's future role, Kennett resigned as premier, Liberal leader and parliamentarian, saying he wished to have no further involvement in politics. Labor won the ensuing by-election in Burwood.

Rumoured returns to politics

After the Liberals' second defeat in 2002 election, rumours began that Kennett was planning a comeback to politics. The issue came to a head in May 2006 after the sudden resignation of Kennett's successor, Robert Doyle, when Kennett announced he would contemplate standing in a by-election for Doyle's old seat of Malvern and offering himself as party leader. His stance was supported by Prime Minister John Howard, who rated him as the party's best hope to win the November 2006 state election. But within 24 hours Kennett announced he would not return to Parliament rather than running against Ted Baillieu, whom Kennett had been grooming for the top post since 1999.[30][31] John Howard was reported to have been "embarrassed" by having publicly supported Kennett before his decision not to re-enter politics.[32]

In 2008, it was rumoured that Kennett was intending to stand for Lord Mayor of Melbourne. Despite endorsing future Lord Mayor John So in the 2001 mayoral elections, Kennett was quoted as saying "I think the city is ready for a change". Kennett claimed he had been approached by "a range of interests" to run for the position, but in the end did not do so.[33] Former Liberal leader Robert Doyle ultimately won the election.

Life after politics

In 2000 Kennett became the inaugural chairman of beyondblue (the National Depression Initiative), a body that was largely formed by the efforts of the Victorian State Government. On 24 June 2008, he announced that he would be stepping down from his role at beyondblue at the end of 2010.[34] This did not happen.[35]

Kennett has previously served on the boards of Australian Seniors Finance,[36] a reverse mortgage company, and SelecTV, which was a satellite television group.

Mr Kennett said in an interview he rarely thinks anymore about the media or "bloody history", though he does still regret the "disastrous" introduction of the Metcard ticketing system for trains and trams.[37]

Kennett angered gay rights groups in July 2008 when he supported the Bonnie Doon Football Club in their sacking of trainer Ken Campagnolo for being bisexual; and compared homosexuality to pedophilia.[38] Anti-discrimination campaigner Gary Burns pursued an action in the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal against Kennett for making the following statement:

"The club felt that once this had been pointed out and you had this gentleman there who was obviously close to young men – massaging young men – it ran an unnecessary risk, and that's why it decided it was best that he not perform those duties again. So the club was trying to do the right thing," [39]

The case was dropped due to Gary Burns' lack of funds to pursue the case.[39]

Hawthorn FC President

On 14 December 2005 Kennett was made President of Hawthorn Football Club, taking over from Ian Dicker.[40]

In 2006 he negotiated with the Tasmanian Government a major sponsorship deal that allowed Hawthorn to play four AFL games a year at York Park. The deal included naming rights on the club jumper and was worth over $3 million per annum.

Kennet was instrumental in Hawthorn's 2007 5-year business plan titled "five2fifty", the core idea being that in the next five years the club will target to win 2 premierships and have fifty thousand members. As part of the plan, the football club wants to be seen as the most professional club in the AFL, and places great emphasis on the welfare of the people associated with the club.[41]

Following Hawthorn's 2008 AFL Grand Final victory over Geelong, Kennett claimed that the Cats "lacked the mentality to defeat Hawthorn", this being in reference to the Cats' inability to counter-attack the running game of the Hawks in the aforementioned Grand Final.[42] Kennett's comments led to the subsequent eleven-match losing streak for Hawthorn against Geelong becoming known as the "Kennett curse".

He stepped down at the end of his second three-year term in 2011, he also changed the club's constitution so that presidents could only serve two 3 year terms.


In the Australia Day Honours of 2005, Kennett received Australia's then highest civilian honour, when he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC). The honour was for "service to the Victorian Parliament and the introduction of initiatives for economic and social benefit, to business and commerce, and to the community in the development of the arts, sport and mental health awareness strategies."[43]

In May 2000, he was also awarded an honorary doctorate – DBus (Honoris Causa) – by the University of Ballarat.[44]

Media work

For a brief period during 2002, Kennett was a radio presenter for Melbourne station 3AK, continuing an interest in mass communication which was also a feature of his premiership.

Since 2010, Kennett has been a regular contributor to Neil Mitchell's 3AW radio program every Thursday, as a social commentator.[45]

On 28 March 2013 it was announced that Kennett had joined the Seven television network as national political commentator which will involve him appearing on breakfast show Sunrise every Tuesday and on Seven news as required.[46]


  1. "beyondblue".
  2. Nick Economou, 'Jeff Kennett: The Larrikin Metropolitan', in Paul Strangio and Brian Costar (eds), The Victorian Premiers: 1856–2006, Annandale: Federation Press, 2006, p.365.
  3. Tony Parkinson, Jeff: The Rise and Fall of a Political Phenomenon, Ringwood: Penguin, 2000, p.19.
  4. Parkinson, Jef, pp.22–23.
  5. Parkinson, Jef, p.24.
  6. Parkinson, Jeff, pp.25, 29.
  7. Economou, 'Jeff Kennett', pp.365–366.
  8. Parkinson, Jeff, p.36.
  9. 1 2 3 Economou, 'Jeff Kennett', p.366.
  10. Economou, 'Jeff Kennett', pp.367 & Cartoon 10 between pp.146–147.
  11. 1 2 Economou, 'Jeff Kennett', p.368.
  12. (1995–2006)
  13. Kennett-Peacock Car Phone Conversation. Retrieved 5 May 2006.
  14. Parkinson, Jeff, pp.69–71.
  15. Article Title ; STRUGGLE FOR A NEW PUBLIC DEMOCRACY School, Community and the State, by Tony Knight. Northland Secondary College era 1992 - 1996.
  17. 1 2 "Carbon price v privatisation - which is worse in the Latrobe?". 3 July 2012.
  18. 1 2
  19. 1 2 "Billion Nightmare". The Age. Melbourne.
  20. 1 2 "On track for more of the same". The Age. Melbourne.
  23. "The Mayne Report - The first days of Jeff Kennett".
  24. "Former Labor leader Steve Bracks says the Jeff Kennett era was a dangerous time". Herald Sun. 5 October 2012.
  25. Grand prix got Victoria on the move again: Kennett, By Jason Dowling, 20 March 2010, The Age
  26. Official Newsletter Volume 2, No 1 May 1999, Commonwealth Games Australia
  27. George Megalogenis, The Longest Decade, Carlton North: Scribe, 2006, pp.212–213.
  28. John Waugh, 'The Kennett Government and the Constitution: No Change?', in Brian Costar & Nicholas Edonomou, The Kennett Revolution: Victorian Politics in the 1990s, Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1999, pp.59, 61.
  29. Comment by Antony Green at pollbludger (, 8 May 2006, accessed 2 February 2010.
  30. Harrison, Dan (5 May 2006). "Kennett calls it quits". Melbourne: The Age.
  31. Silkstone, Dan (6 May 2006). "Jeff admits: I asked Ted the wrong question". Melbourne: The Age.
  32. Austin and Tomazin, Paul and Farrah (6 May 2006). "Kennett backdown infuriates Howard". Melbourne: The Age.
  33. Ferguson, John (24 July 2008). "Mayor race: Eddie McGuire says no, but Jeff Kennett might say yes". Herald Sun.
  34. "Kennett to step down from beyondblue". 23 June 2008.
  35. Pollard, Doug (29 September 2011). "Time to walk away from beyondblue Mr Kennett".
  36. Australian Seniors Finance (2006). The people behind the company. Retrieved 5 May 2006.
  37. Money, Lawrence (February 2009). "Sensitive new-age Jeff". Royal Auto. RACV. 77 (1): 16–19.
  38. Jeff kennett gay storm Herald Sun
  39. 1 2 Gay activist drops case against Kennett Sydney Morning Herald 8 September 2009
  40. Official AFL Website of the Hawthorn Football Club (2006). Hawthorn FC Board: Jeff Kennett – President. Retrieved 6 March 2006.
  41. "Members' rally to record number". 1 April 2008. Retrieved 1 October 2008.
  42. "Geelong lacks drive: Jeff Kennett - Herald Sun".
  43. It's an Honour – Companion of the Order of Australia
  44. Template:Cigte web
  45. "Jeff Kennett - Radio News 19 April 2010. Retrieved 28 March 2013".
  46. Quinn, Karl (28 March 2013). "Former premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett joins Seven news line-up" via The Age.

External links


Further reading

Victorian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
New electorate
Member for Burwood
Succeeded by
Bob Stensholt
Political offices
Preceded by
Joan Kirner. Australian Labor Party 1990 - 1992
Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
Steve Bracks. Australian Labor Party 1999 - 2006
Party political offices
Preceded by
Lindsay Thompson
Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia in Victoria
Succeeded by
Alan Brown
Preceded by
Alan Brown
Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia in Victoria
Succeeded by
Denis Napthine
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Ian Dicker
President of the Hawthorn Football Club
Succeeded by
Andrew Newbold

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