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Friday, 16 July 1920

Mr STEWART (Wimmera) .- I have been impressed during the debate with the intense interest shown in the fortunes and welfare of the primary producer; never before within this chamber since its walls were erected has so much concern for him been declared. While listening to the speeches of Opposition members I have been forced to wonder occasionally whether, as I interjected yesterday, the motion of censure is not really aimed at the Country party rather than at the Government. Opposition members profess an extreme desire to secure the support of the 'Country party, but I doubt that they really wish for that support, because if they were in earnest they would have shown more intelligence in seeking it than they have displayed.

One of the many reasons given in the motion for censuring the Government is its failure to prevent an inordinate rise in the cost of living. All of us consider the cost of living too high, and deplore the fact that it is so ; but, in my opinion, there are many contributory causes, of which I propose to mention several. The first of these causes is profiteering, which is of two kinds, that of the commercial world, among the supporters of the Ministerial party, and that of some of the supporters of the Opposition. That profiteering is rampant in the commercial world is evidenced by the dividend returns of some of our public companies. The profiteering among some of the supporters of the Opposition - I do not say among all of them - is the profiteering that occurs when, after an individual has been awarded, say, 12s. for a fair day's work of eight hours, he deliberately gives only 8s. worth of work.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is an indictment against the working men of this country.

Mr STEWART - It is an indictment against some of them, and I stand for it ; I do not say it of all of them. The honorable member knows that the charge is true in many instances. I am referring to the go-slow practices, of which Opposition members are well aware. I give some of them credit for deploring the system, but not one of them can deny that it exists, or that it is one of the many factors of the high cost of living. Still, as I have no desire to do injustice to any section of the community, I say that these practices have been followed by some, and not by all, of the supporters of the Labour party.

A remedy for high prices that might well be supported by honorable members generally, and particularly by Opposition members, is the extension of cooperation. A contributory cause of the high cost of living is our foolish and wasteful methods of distribution. The organized farmers of Australia, and particularly those of Victoria, are showing their belief in co-operation, and throughout this State co-operative enterprises are being backed with their money, and assisted by the Victorian Parliament, for which I give it credit.

Mr Hill - With a view to eliminating the middleman.

Mr STEWART - The unnecessary middlemen. I do not say that all middlemen are unnecessary, but we have too many of them, and that is a cause of the high cost of living. We are endeavouring to establish co-operative manure companies, freezing works, flour mills, and butter factories; and if the leaders of the Labour movement were to preach cooperation to their people, they would do something towards solving the problem of the reduction of the cost of living. There is nothing to prevent the labouring classes of the cities from forming co-operative distributing societies, and purchasing direct from the co-operative secondary industries, as, for example, the cooperative freezing works. We are quite willing to meet them half-way.

Mr Ryan - Should not the cooperation be between the producer and the consumer - a complete co-operation? The honorable member is talking of partial co-operation.

Mr STEWART - The honorable member speaks of complete co-operation, though he has never, so far as I know, made any endeavour to secure even partial co-operation.

Mr Ryan - That is evidence of your want of knowledge of what I have done.

Mr STEWART - My suggestionis that the working people in the cities should start on the lines on which we have started.

Mr Charlton - Does not the honorable member know that the working people had co-operation long before he dreamt of it?

Mr STEWART - Then it has not been very successful.

Mr Charlton - If the honorable member goes to my district, he will find that it has been successful.

Mr Mahony - There is in my district the biggest co-operative concern in Australia.

Mr STEWART - I am pleased to learn that there is co-operation amongst some of the working people in other States, but I have not seen evidence of it in Melbourne.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I must ask honorable members to allow the honorable member to make his speech without interrupting.He has been subjected to interruption from both sides of the chamber. I hope that this will cease.

Mr STEWART - The second ground tin which we are asked to censure the Government is "its failure to keep its pledges with returned soldiers and their dependants." I frankly admit that I believe the Government have done a good deal for our returned men; that in many cases they have made an honest effort in the circumstances to do their best. I do not propose to indulge in any destructive criticism in this connexion, becauseI recognise that the Government have had a tremendously difficult task; but there is one phase of repatriation work to which it is to be regretted they have not before now given attention. I refer to land settlement in the various States. The Government have practically said to the States, " Go ahead with the settlement of the returned men of the Australian Imperial Forces, and we will provide the money." The Commonwealth committed a serious blunder in failing to arrive at an understanding with the States, that in the main returned soldiers should be settled on Crown lands instead of successful farmers being bought out in order that they might take their place.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - That was impossible.

Mr STEWART - As a practical farmer, I say, unhesitatingly, that it was not impossible.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member misunderstands me. It was impossible at the time to make any arrangement such as he suggests.

Mr STEWART - I disagree with the Acting Treasurer. I believe it would have been possible.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I have stated what is a fact, whether the honorable member agrees with it or not.

Mr STEWART - I have now more particularly in mind the Crown lands of this State in which I reside. Had the

Prime Minister called into conference the various State Premiers ; had he put before them the concrete proposal that, where possible, our soldiers should be settled on Crown lands ; that every returned man who was willing, able, and competent to work a block should be given, free of charge, an area of Crown lands, I am convinced that even if this had involved some financial sacrifice on. the part of the Government it would have, proved more satisfactory than the present arrangement. Surely the men who went overseas are entitled to a gift of 320 acres or 640 acres of scrub lands in the country they fought to defend.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The States would not agree to do anything of thekind.

Mr STEWART - The great Dominion of Canada made to every Canadian soldier who fought in the South African war a free grant of 320 acres.No conditions were imposed. I am not advocating that our men should be given Crown lauds, and allowed to do what they please with them. What I do say is that the Government should say to them, " Here are Crown lands. If you apply for a block we will grant it to you free of charge, subject to the conditions that you make your home upon it and clear and cultivate it. We will advance the money necessary to help you to clear it." Such advances could be made repayable in easy instalments just as is being done now.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The States from the first have insisted upon keeping the mode of settlement entirely in their own hands.

Mr Hill - What are the States going to do when the Commonwealth has no further money for them?

Mr STEWART - That is the point. Surely the Acting Treasurer does not suggest that the Commonwealth Government, which is practically financing the States in the settlement of our returned men on the land, could not have made any bargain such as I have just outlined. Surely somethingcould have been done, and must yet be done, in that direction. The Acting Treasurer knows that the present system of repatriation is costing the country so much that an alteration must necessarily be made. The Government will not be able to carry on the policy pursued up to date.

Mr Watkins - Many a soldier cannot get a block.

Mr STEWART - That is so. We have in Australia to-day millions of acres of Crown lands which are producing nothing; they are running vermin, and are really a menace to the country. Yet we have in our capital cities thousands of returned men who are anxious to go on the land, but cannot secure a block.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - It is only fair to say that in this State the wheat lands of the Northern Mallee are the only Crown lands suitable for soldier settlement. The remaining Crown lands have been " picked over " for seventy or eighty years, and do not offer reasonable opportunities for successful soldier settlement.

Mr STEWART - If the honorable member says that there are no Crown lands in ' Victoria suitable for soldiersettlement, I will answer him.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I specifically said that, with the exception of wheat lands in the Northern Mallee, we had no suitable Crown lands.

Mr STEWART - We are asked, also, to censure the Government " for its failure to take steps to deal with the causes of industrial unrest."

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Before the honorable member leaves the question of repatriation, I should like to say that I entirely agree with him.

Mr STEWART - I merely say that . I believe it would be possible to settle many of our returned men on Crown lands, areas being granted to them free of charge. One of the "great causes of industrial unrest is the profiteering that has been carried on by the commercial interests of this country. Honorable members sitting behind the Government may disagree with me, but they cannot deny that the exorbitant profits that are being made in some businesses and by certain corporations and combines are more responsible for industrial unrest than any other , cause.

Mr Bell - I agree with the honorable member; but what is the remedy?

Mr STEWART - I am pleased to know that at least one member of the Nationalist party accepts my view.He asks me to supply a remedy. I, like him, however, am- groping for a remedy. I know that every honorable member of the Opposition professes to be able to supply one, but, as I have not the wisdom they claim to possess, I am unable to answer the question put to me by the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell). An extension of the profit-sharing system is the road on which we should start with the object of ridding ourselves of industrial unrest, while the establishment of cooperative industries would also be of material assistance. The Country party tried to make a start with co-operative enterprises for our returned men when the War Gratuity Bill was before us, but we were blocked by the Government and their supporters. Our proposals for co-operative enterprises on the part of returned soldiers were so whittled down by the Government, on the score of economy, that they were practically rendered useless.

Mr Ryan - On what basis would the honorable member have this profitsharing?

Mr STEWART - I am not to be drawn into a discussion of details, which would involve a very lengthy speech. I am trying merely to give broad general outlines, in the hope that we may find a remedy for these evils. I have no desire to condemn the Government for what has happened. My sole object is to do something that will help to place the people of this country in a better position than they occupy to-day.

Mr Mahony - Profit-sharing would only intensify the evil.

Mr STEWART - The honorable member may sneer at my suggested remedy, but I ask him and his party to supplya better one.

Mr Mahony - The first step is to shift the Government.

Mr STEWART - My concern is not so much in relation to the first as to the second step to be token.

The Opposition claim in this motion that the Government should also be censured " for its failure to secure an adequate return to the Australian people for their wool and other primary products sold overseas." I agree that the present Government has not secured for our primary products that were sold overseas the prices that should have been obtained for them.

Mr Atkinson - The honorable member is wise after the event.

Mr STEWART - I was a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly before I entered this House, and can quote from the State Hansard to show that the statements I am now making are not a mere display of wisdom after the event. A great deal has been said about the Wheat Pool, and the sales of wheat. I am not going into the history of every sale of wheat, nor shall I re-hash the arguments that have already been put before the House. I desire, however, to refer to the dissatisfaction that has been caused by the Government's control of the various Wheat Pools. Whenever an honorable member of the Corner party, or any friend of the farmer, attempts in this House to criticise the Wheat Pool, he is met with the parrot-like cry, " What would the farmers have done without the Pool ? " I freely admit that I do not know what would have happened had the Pool noi been formed.

Mr Lister - The farmer would not have been able to finance himself.

Mr STEWART - A 'Nationalist prophet speaks! Being neither a prophet nor a Nationalist, I cannot say what would have happened. I ask, however, what would Australia have done without the wheat that the farmer produced? What would the various State Governments, which made advances to the wheatgrowers in the drought of 1914, have done without our wheat? What would the revenues of the various States have done without the receipts from the carriage of wheat? What would the big companies in the capital cities of Australia have done without the Pool? What would the shipping agents and the other middlemen, who admitted that they were helpless and could not have carried on, have done without the millions that they made out of the Pool? What would the various business men in our country towns have done without it? Look what the wheat scrip' speculator would have missed had it not been for the Pool. When these critics of the farmers talk about the benefits the farmer has derived from the Pool, they speak as if the farming community was the only section of the people that had benefited by it. They talk of the tens of millions that the farmers have received from the Pool, as if the farmers had the money .'till in their pockets. As a struggling wheat-grower the only pleasure I had out of the money I got" from the Pool was the pleasure of handing it over to somebody else. I am not claiming that wo did not derive a benefit from the Pool, but I do claim that we were not the only section of the community to do so. A great blunder was made, at the initiation of the pooling system, in connexion with the financing of it. I am listening for the wise after-the-event cry, but it has not come yet. In order to forestall it, let me say that it was, I think, four years ago that we went to the present Government.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - You did not come to us four years ago.

Mr STEWART - It may have been three years ago that we went to the Federal Government with a proposal for financing the Pool somewhat on the lines of the motion moved by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse). Our scheme was that the Federal Government should advance money to the wheatgrowers on a fair basis - I forget what sum we named, if we named any, but we desired only a 4s. or 4s. 9d. basis - and issue Commonwealth notes, or negotiable wheat bonds, we were not particular which, for the wheat that was delivered into the Pool, and that, as the wheat was exported or sold, and the money received, the notes should be withdrawn from circulation. We argued that if it was sound finance to issue £100 . in Commonwealth notes on the security of £40 worth of gold, it was surely equally sound finance to issue £100 in Commonwealth notes on the security of £100 worth of wheat. Our proposal was turned down, and I have often wondered why. I believe the real reason was that the financial interests of Australia did not want it. A great deal has been said about the assistance given by the Associated Banks to the Wheat Pool, but whatever assistance they gave they have been -well paid for. They secured interest on that portion of the money that the farmers received, while for the portion of their wheat for which the farmers were not paid the farmers held scrip with which they had to go to the various branches of the Associated Banks in the country to obtain an overdraft, so that the banks got interest both ways.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Do not forget that the interest was a concession on the ruling rate.

Mr STEWART - Yes, I believe it was 5 per cent. Had the Government adopted the scheme of finance which we put before them, there would have been no necessity to push the sale ofour Australian wheat. As I said in the Victorian Parliament two or three years ago I strongly object to Australian wheat being hawked around the world as if it were dirt - in an effort to sell it here, there, and everywhere.

Mr Laird Smith - In other words, the honorable member wanted a loan to the farmers, free of interest.

Mr STEWART - The exact rate of interest and questions of that kind could have been well threshed put. The farmers were quite prepared to meet the Government fairly on a matter of detail like that of interest.' Instead of adopting the scheme of finance which I have described, the Nationalist Government adopted a system by which they advanced to the struggling wheat-growers a proportion, not nearly sufficient to cover the cost of production, and gave them wheat scrip for the balance.

Mr Fleming - How could you guarantee the indestructibility of wheat in the same way as yon can guarantee the indestructibility of gold?

Mr STEWART - It is well known that if wheat is not properly looked after it is not indestructible, but if reasonable care is shown in handling it, it is practically indestructible, as is proved by the fact that I have now on my farm wheat three years old, which is as good as on the day I grew it. Had the wheat been handled in the way they, are handling it now, we would not have had nearly the amount of losses that were caused. The way in which the Victorian Wheat Pool have handled the last two seasons' wheat is a credit to them, and I give the officials concerned and the Victorian Government every credit for it. The system of giving scrip for that portion of their wheat for which the farmers could not receive payment in cash automatically weeded out that section of the wheat-growers who were financially weak. Those unfortunate men, the very section of the wheat-growers that any honest Government ought to try to protect, were plundered by the wheat scrip speculators and the other profiteers of this country. Honest, hard-working men have come to me with their wheat scrip in one hand, and in the other a lawyer's letter threatening legal proceedings, and have asked me what they could do. They had to go upon the market and sell their scrip for what they could get for it in order to save themselves from being dragged like criminals before the Courts for the non-payment of their debts. That was the part of the Pool system that I objected to. The wealthy wheat-grower came out fairly well. He could let his scrip liein the bank, and let the bank collect his dividends for him. The wheat scrip speculators did fairly well, and all the profits they made were made out of the unfortunate section of the wheatgrowers who could not carry on.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The wheat scrip was entirely issued by the States, and controlled by the States, and not by the Commonwealth.

Mr STEWART - The honorable member is again trying to lead me off into details. Surely he knows that if the Commonwealth Government had financed the States, there would have been no need for wheat scrip.

The members of the Country party have been trying to obtain a pronouncement from the present Government of their intentions for the coming season. The other day I asked a civil question of the Prime Minister on the subject, and he took the opportunity in reply to make an attack upon myself and my colleague, the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill). That is characteristic of the Prime Minister. He was not very particular, in making the attack, as to what he said. That is characteristic of him also. He accused my colleague and myself of having denounced the Pool, lock, stock, and barrel. He knew that statement was false.

Mr SPEAKER - Order !

Mr STEWART - I withdraw the remark, but I regret that the Prime Minister is not here. I do not like to attack any honorable member when he is absent, but he should be here. I challenge him, and I challenge any member of the Government, to mention one instance, or produce the report of any speech that ever I have made, or that' the honorable member for Echuca has made, attacking the principle of the Pool. I have never upon any occasion opposed the principle of the pooling system. I am proving that conclusively by fighting for its continuance.

Mr Ryan - Who said you opposed it?

Mr STEWART - The Prime Minister said so.

Mr Brennan - That does not matter - nobody takes any notice of him;

Mr STEWART - But there are some people in this country foolish enough to believe the Prime Minister. Asthe Commonwealth Government have given a guarantee of 5s. a bushel for this year's wheat, I think the wheat-growers are entitled to know what they are going to do about it. It is an extraordinary state of affairs that the question of the financing of the Pool, in which the interests of thousands of wheat-growers throughout the Commonwealth are involved, should depend upon the desires or wishes of one particular individual. The Prime Minister said, " I will not give, you any Pool, because I have been criticised." That is a nice state of affairs. It looks as if this is in reality a one-man Government. .

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - You know that the State Premiers are dealing with the question this very day.

Mr STEWART - The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), who is a valiant and faithful servant of the Ministry, says that the State Premiers are dealing with the question. I am not denying it, but I ask why the question was not settled long ago.

There are other matters upon which I wish to speak. If honorable members opposite depended upon the arguments advanced by them during this debate to secure my vote for their censure motion, I think I should be found voting with the Government. If the members of the Country party depended upon the arguments advanced by the party opposite to convince them that they should support the motion, I do not think many of them would vote for it. But, as it happens, there are other matters which I object to, and other reasons why I should support the motion. Honorable members opposite showed a deplorable lack of judgment and of knowledge of political tactics in the way they directed their attack upon the Government. I support the censure motion, not for the reasons which have been advanced by honorable members opposite, but chiefly for reasons which they have not given.

Mr Gabb - So long as the honorable member supports the motion, his reasons do not matter.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The chief reason is to put the Government out of office.

Mr STEWART - If I thought that displacing the Government would mean putting honorable members opposite in power, I might reconsider my decision.

But what the primary producers have objected to more than, anything else is the Government interference with the export of their products. The fixing of the price of meat is a matter which has not yet been forgotten. Every move that was madeby the present Government and their predecessors to interfere with the export of our primary products was always to the disadvantage and loss of the primary producer. Only a year or two ago the rabbit skin market showed strong indications of proving a profitable one to the Government. They made a profit of approximately £250,000 out of it, and boasted of the fact as illustrating the financial genius of Ministers.

The Tariff proposals submitted to this House constitute another reason why I shall vote against the Government. However, that is a matter which I shall not debate at the present juncture, becauseI am well aware that the fate of the Government does not depend upon my vote.

Mr Mahony - The honorable member has given the game away.

Mr STEWART - The Prime Minister in his speech twitted honorable members opposite with their diminished numbers. He might very well have been silent upon that subject in view of the electoral system under which he ousted a number of Labour senators at the last election. Not only did that undemocratic system defeat them, but it also blocked many of 'the candidates who were put forward by the Country party. That electoral system is an absolute disgrace to the country, and the Government will hear more about it in the future. Had Ministers been honest, they would have brought forward a system of proportional representation for the Senate.

But my greatest objection to the Government is based upon a reason which was not even mentioned by theLeader of the Opposition. I refer to the allimportant subject of finance. If there is one subject more than another which ought to have occupied a prominent place in this debate, it is the financial position of this country, and the way in which the Government are handling the finances of the Commonwealth. Only the other day it was announced - and it has been announced almost daily since - that we can get no more money from the Old Country in connexion with our various State loans. To my mind it will be a good day for Australia when we can get no more money from that source. Australia, as a nation, should finance itself. If the Government of this country cannot secure sufficient money within our own. territory to carry out developmental works, there must be something radically wrong with this great and rich Commonwealth. Every penny thatwe borrow should be borrowed internally. ' The farmers of Australia are quite prepared to bear their share of any financial burden that may be imposed, and they have always proved that. The present Government know very well that the financial position of this country is a deplorable one. They are continually dwelling on the fact that money is scarce. But what are they doing to stop the drift?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Does the honorable member mind looking at the businesspaper for this morning? There he will see that the expenditure of millions of pounds is being asked for by members of the Country party.

Mr STEWART - If the members of that party are asking for something that the country cannot afford, the honorable gentleman will be justified in putting his foot down and in refusing it.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - There are fifteen questions on the business-paper for this morning in which the expenditure of money is being sought by members of the Corner party.

Mr STEWART - I am dealing now with the finances of this country.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) -Soam I.

Mr STEWART - Presently I shall sit down, and the Minister for the Navy may then rise in his place and say what he has to say. I shall be pleased to hear a lecture from him on the finances of this country if he will only tell us the truth. But he has not the courage to tell us the truth.

Mr SPEAKER - I must ask the honorable member to withdraw that statement.

Mr STEWART - I withdraw and apologize. I rose chiefly to refer to the charges which have been levelled against the party of which I' have the honour to be a member. During the course of this debate we have been accused of many things. Last night the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) accused us of being a sectional party, and said that for that reason we were unfitted to govern this country. I deny the charge of sectionalism. We are not sectional in our ideals - quite the reverse. If there is one section of the community more than another which' has a right to a fair say in the government of this country it is that section which is composed of primary producers. Who has a better right to a share in the government of the Commonwealth than the men and women who have gone into the bush and fought drought, fire, and flood, and made this country what it is to-day? Honorable members opposite have repeatedly urged that the ideals of our party are opposed to the interests of the working man. I deny that. There is not a member of the Country party who is out to down the working man or to be unfair to him in any way. I believe that when I say that: I am expressing the sentiments of every member of the party to which I belong.

Mr Tudor - I do not think that you are.

Mr STEWART - There is not a working man in Australia who has anything to fear from the Country party. There is not one straight-going commercial man in this country who has anything to fear from the Farmers party. In saying that I am not referring to the profiteer, but to the straight-going commercial man who is satisfied to make a fair profit. He has no reason to fear the primary producers. I am well aware that the advent of the Country party into this House is unpopular with both sides of the chamber. But I believe that the people of Australia are full up to the very neck of the two-party political system.

Mr Tudor - That is why they put Troup in his place last Saturday.

Mr STEWART - I give honorable members opposite full credit for their victory at Ballarat. I congratulate them upon it. We failed to secure the return of our candidate, but we have not always failed, and we shall not always fail in lie future. The two-party system in politics of Labour versus anti-Labour has been the curse of this country, and. I believe that the people of Australia welcome the advent of a third party. But I know that honorable members upon both sides of this Chamber do not welcome it. I am well aware that there are some honorable members who feel rather uncomfortable since the advent of the Country party. The ideals for which we are fighting have been approved by a large number of the people of this country, and that number will increase as the years go by. ' Our party is here to stay, in spite of the sneers that emanate from both sides of the chamber. We are out for sound finance and clean government. We intend to do our level best in the interests of this country. If there be one section of the community more than another which has a stake .in Australia, it is that which comprises the men and women who are upon the land. The very roots of our movement are embedded in the soil of this country. We have more to gain by the prosperity of the Commonwealth, and more to lose as the result of bad government and maladministration, than has any other section of the community. For that reason I deny the charge which has been levelled against us by honorable members opposite. The tactics which they have adopted in regard to the Country party have been very foolish. Upon the other hand, I congratulate the Government upon their tactics. So far, they have put up only one of their number to reply to the charge of mismanagement and general incapacity on the part of the Government. They put up their best man because they realized that the task which he had to perform was quite beyond the capacity of the rank and file of that party.

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