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Wednesday, 29 June 1904

Mr MCWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - It does not come well from a prominent labour member to say that the men who have done more for labour than he himself has done, are " black-legs."

Mr McDonald - Rubbish ! That is all that the honorable member knows. I say again that men who stand outside and allow the union to fight their battles are neither more nor less than "black-legs" and "scabs."

Mr McDonald - Hear, hear. That is what I wished to get. Now I am satisfied'.

Mr REID - I hope that the honorable member enjoys' it now that he has got it. I ask the Committee, as I ask the people of Australia, whether I did not give a fair definition of what the honorable member said. There are two classes of workers in Australia, using the term in the ordinary current sense - unionists and non-unionists. Mr. Spence. - No.

Mr REID - And lawyers.

Mr Spence - The lawyers are unionists.

Mr Conroy - There .are also the agitators.

Mr REID - I am absolutely justified by the words I have read. I do not say that all my honorable friends opposite have made the same statement.

Mr Watson - Do we hold the right honorable member responsible for all that is said by the honorable member for Werriwa?

Mr REID - No. I wish to be absolutely frank in this matter.

Mr McDonald - Then the right honorable member should get on. to me, not on to the Prime Minister.

Mr REID - Have I not been getting on to the honorable member? If he wishes for more, I am willing to give it to him; but I think I have said enough to satisfy a person with ordinary instincts. I am much obliged to whoever handed me the report which I have read. When an honorable member uses such an expression as "untrue," one is naturally accustomed to attach some weight to the statement; but I cannot attach any weight to the particular statement of the honorable member for Kennedy, unless Hansard lies.

Mr McDonald - At any rate, there is nothing of the "Yes-No" attitude about it.

Mr REID - There is a great deal of the " Yes-No " attitude about the honorable member. Last Friday he said, "Yes; I mean it," but now, on Wednesday, he says, "No; it is untrue that I said it." That is the biggest instance of the " Yes-No " attitude that I have ever heard of. " I said it on Friday, but on Wednesday I solemnly declare it to be untrue that I did say it." I never reached that height. But the serious point at issue is much greater than any personal matter affecting the honorable member. The Prime Minister very fairly asks, " Are we to hold you responsible for everything said by every supporter of yours?" That is a perfectly fair remark to make. I wish it to be distinctly understood that I referred only to what was said by the honorable member for Kennedy, and I think I made that pretty clear. I described him as the honorable member for Kennedy. There could be no misapprehension. *

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The same statements are frequently made outside.

Mr REID - I think that I am not unfair in saying that they express the feeling of thousands of men in the unions. That may be natural or unnatural ; but it points the contention which we are making. We have been fighting to secure political equality for every man and woman in Australia, and our friends opposite have lent magnificent service, many of them having been honorable pioneers of the movement ; but the moment we have got it we are asked to establish the most odious form of inequality, a form which penalizes a man who does not join a political union by taking from him the opportunity to earn his daily bread. Honorable members who honestly and fairly say that the trades unions are political will allow me to say that the most odious form of tyranny is for an unjust majority to use its enormous power in creating distinctions between the mass of workers who are struggling for honest employment. You touch a man there right at the heart of his humanity. You touch the very basis of human life. If men are to be driven into the gutters as paupers because they do not believe in a trades union, your democracy will stink in the nostrils of humanity.

Mr Poynton - Does the' right honorable member apply those remarks to his own profession ?

Mr REID - If it acted in that way I should.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No one is compelled to join that union.

Mr REID - No. What is more, every man in Australia who has the industry and the intelligence to pass an examination may join it.

Mr Mahon - If he is also willing and able to pay the high fees demanded.

Mr REID - If the honorable member for Grey has at heart the offence or wrong in connexion with the legal profession, if his heart is so tender that it revolts at the inhumanity of keeping a few odd legal waifs and strays outside a close corporation which, at the most, in all Australia can number only about I,000 souls, how should it be shocked at the prospect of keeping hundreds of thousands of the workers of Australia out of these other close corporations !

Mr Poynton - I hold that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Mr REID - If ever there was a duty cast upon men who, unlike my honorable friends, have not taken the jump and the pledge, and joined the Labour Party, who meet somewhere in the vaults of this building, it is to remember that they are representing a Commonwealth in which trades unions are small and insignificant in point of numbers, if not in point of intelligence and weight. They are sitting in a House in which the Government are members of trades unions, while every member of the party behind them is a trade unionist.

Mr Mahon - That is not so.

Mr REID - Except one or two.

Mr Watson - Except a good many.

Mr REID - We have trades unionists o.i the Ministerial benches. We have trades unionists in office, trying to carry into law the provisions of this measure. It devolves upon every man who is not a member of a trade union to have some regard for the claims of the hundreds of thousands of men who are not in the unions.

Mr Watson - -We have such regard.

Mr REID - Of course. The tender regard of honorable gentlemen for those who would never come under their wing is very touching. May I suggest to my honorable friends that, whilst there is some honest merit in persuading a rational being to join a union, whilst that is a praiseworthy act. there is no merit, but a great deal of infamy, in using political power to drive free men into unions which they do not wish to join. My honorable friends are in this position. Either admission to their trades unions has been honestly open to their fellow working men, or it has not been so. If it has not been so, they have been doing a great wrong. They have" been establishing one of those corrupt organizations which were the scandal of industrial affairs in England eighty years ago, and are a scandal in many other countries to-day, and which have the effect of repeating in a more dangerous and mischievous form the iniquities which used to be inflicted upon the workers of the world by means of capital. As I say, the scene is changed. This power, which is now dominant, instead of showing just regard, in its hour of triumph, for the interests of the great masses of the people who are not within the ranks of the unions is trying under cover of this Federal Act, to boycott them. If this proposal were put in plain English in an Act of Parliament, it would be received with universal execration. If, in plain English, we embodied in one little Bill the proposition that if, by a certain date, the workers in a given industry did not join a certain trades union, they would be debarred from employment, would it not be regarded as reviving the most odious tyrannies of the dark ages? Such a measure would indeed be a good Trades Union Act !

Mr Page - That is not provided for in the Bill, and the right honorable gentleman knows it.

Mr REID - That is becoming a fashionable phrase.

Mr Page - Why does not the right honorable gentleman tell the truth, and treat the Bill fairly?

Mr REID - The honorable member need not be offensive.

Mr Page - I am not offensive.

Mr REID - The honorable member is offensive when he uses such an expression as "why don't you tell the truth." If I am erring through ignorance, I should be corrected. It should not be assumed that I am saying that which I know to be incorrect. The honorable member may not have heard my previous remarks, and, therefore, his observation may have been a natural one. My point is that it is admitted that trades unions are political organizations. The honorable member for Kennedy, who knows as much about trades unions as does any man in Australia, and who is a genuine trades unionist -

Mr Hughes - The honorable member for Kennedy knows all about the Queensland unions.

Mr REID - Oh, I see. I am in the hands of my honorable friends, because they do know all about it, and I do not. Therefore, I am not going to question anything that they say with regard to matters of fact. -

Mr Hughes - The honorable member for Kennedy has lived the best past of his life in Queensland.

Mr REID - I know that, but I did think that he was not one of those insular. trades unionists who do not know anything about the trades unions of Australia outside of their own State. I rather think that the honorable member for Kennedy has figured as a representative at trades union conferences, and, therefore, my honorable friend must not throw him over in that way. Ministers are becoming dexterous in shifting the onus. But we are all only, human when we find ourselves in a position of difficulty. For the present, I accept the honorable member for Kennedy as a well-informed authority upon Australian trades unions. It may turn out that he knows nothing about them, and that may be because he is not a Minister. I know nothing of these things; but I accept him for the present as a well-informed authority. He has said that the trades unions are political bodies, and I have said that they were justly so, because they had grave grievances to redress. I have actually applauded the trades unions for acting in the way they have done to redress their grievances. The Labour Party may keep their trades unions and make them as political as they like. They are just as much entitled to exist as are" the Free-trade League or the Protectionist Association. I give them the same latitude that I claim for myself.

Mr Spence - But the associations to which the right honorable gentleman refers are given up - they are dead.

Mr REID - But they are not dead in the sense that the honorable member seems to imply. Have honorable members noticed the beautiful regard for fiscal truth which is evinced in the composition of the present Ministry? We have four Ministers on one side and four on the other. They talk about our sinking the fiscal question, but the Labour Party took substantial guarantees in the composition of the Ministry that that issue should be sunk, because there are four Ministers pulling one way and four pulling the other.

Mr Watson - There is no pulling at all.

Mr REID - That is quite right.

Mr Watson - We are like the right honorable gentleman. If he were here he would not pull on the fiscal question in the slightest degree.

Mr REID - I am not complaining. Whilst I thoroughly admit that every body in the world has a perfect right to do what it likes under the law, I contend that any person who may be outside of one of these bodies has also a perfect right to do what he likes. If, in the exercise of his freedom, he stays outside a union, he should not be subject to a boycott. The trades union boycott is serious enough ; but since the boycott of the trades unions and the abuse involved in the application of epithets, such as " scab " and " blackleg," do not guide fearless working men into the unions in order to escape the stigma of such abuse, we are asked to apply other pressure - since all these means of influencing and of terrorizing men, exerted by the trades unions of Australia, have absolutely failed, this trades union Ministry comes along and asks, not a trades union House of Parliament - we have not reached that stage yet - but the Commonwealth Legislature to do some-, thing very much worse. They ask us to do something infinitely worse. There was never a boycott in the reign of those infamous Irish crimes - they may have had some sort of excuse, owing to the centuries of iniquitous wrongs inflicted on the Irish people, which might well have poisoned their blood in the early days - there was never, in the dark pages of outrage and crime in that unhappy country, anything half so cruel as this attempt to create a Court of Justice in which there shall be two entrances. The glory of all our other Courts is that there is only one entrance for litigants - the entrance of perfect equality so far as the law can make equal a people some of whom are poor and some rich. This is a proposal that there should be two doors in a Court of Justice. The main door is to be open to trades unionists, and if employment can be found only for trades unionists, the side door is never to be opened to non-unionists. What does preference to unionists mean, all other conditions being equal? That until every unionist in a district has secured work, all the non-unionists in that district must starve, or find some other work, or be kept by the State. ' The Minister of External Affairs referred the other day to one of the largest and most powerful unions in Sydney. I think I am correct in calling it the Wharf Labourers' Union. He depicted a sad state of affairs in that union - considering the importance of Sydney as a port.. I was told that the Minister stated that for a long time, owing to some cause or other, the members of that union had not been able to obtain full employment, and that they had earned on the average only some 15s. per week.

Mr Hughes - I said that during the last five months a great number of the members of the union had not averaged more than that.

Mr REID - My honorable friend, who knows all about the union, corroborates what I say. I ask honorable members to regard that as an illustration. Can we wonder at these unfortunate men in the union trying to keep out other men, when they are not able to earn even a living wage for the support of themselves and their families? We have not yet, I hope, come down to such a miserable state of affairs that 15s. per week is considered a full wage for men engaged in working on the wharfs.

Mr Hughes - They have to live on it.

Mr REID - They are under the miserable necessity of living on it somehow ; but we know what that means. It means running into debt to the landlord and to the people who supply their daily wants.

Mr Hughes - Nevertheless, they must live on it.

Mr REID - We accept the facts as presented by my honorable friend. If the state of affairs described exists in the Wharf Labourers' Union in the great shipping port of Sydney, I think I am taking a fair example.

Mr Conroy - The Arbitration Act in New South Wales has not done them much good.

Mr REID - I am not going to inquire into the causes of the unfortunate state of affairs. The thing itself is a miserable fact which must excite the humane feelings of any man. I have not time, in view of facts of that kind, to enter upon a critical disquisition as to whether they were brought about by the operation of the Tariff or of the Arbitration Act, or by the action of employers, or by the withdrawal of English capital. That is a proper inquiry in its proper place. I am only taking the facts as they are presented to us, and I ask. can we wonder that these unfortunate wharf labourers, who are themselves earning only a starvation wage, should throw obstacles in the way of other men coming in to the union and increasing their destitution? It is wrong, of course, and they had to be coerced by the Court, which must administer the Act as fairly as it can. But we can appreciate the human nature of it. and the terrible strain on the men. I am taking that as a picture of misery now under our very eyes, in connexion with one of the best unions in the port of Sydney. I ask honor able members to consider the universal wretchedness which must prevail in these bad times. There was a time when we could do anything, and it would be all right. We have left that time behind us, and have reached a stage when the problem of mere existence is striking at the very heart of the proudest trades unions in the richest centres of industry on this Continent. If that be the condition of affairs in the large centres, we know how hard the lot must be in many places more remote from the public eye. This is a bad state of affairs. But, in the midst of such conditions, are we in the name of the laws of the Commonwealth, going to pick out, in the struggle for existence, the men who belong to the unions, 'and make them the wards of this Australian chancery, and make the other men of labour in Australia the outcasts of a Court of law? Well, do it if you like; but let it not be said when honorable members vote, that the consequences cannot be foreseen. Let it not be said that it is done by accident or owing to want of knowledge of the full consequences of such an iniquitous proposal. Fortunately, our Courts of Justice have kept in touch in some marvellous way with the humanity and progress of mankind, and they still continue to do so, so far as our Empire is concerned. In the midst of the surging, tumultuous powers which rage outside the precincts of the Court, in spite of the terrific convulsions, the awful struggles between capitalists and large bodies of workmen, we have had in our British Courts of justice this noble history, that even in the House of Lords, even in* that historic House of privilege, the rights of the poorest union in England are safe. The House of Lord* has been known to lay down the laws in favour of the unions in a way that the Courts below never had done. It would be something worth having for men of all classes - that somewhere in the Commonwealth the poorest man would be safe. I say that- in these Commonwealth Courts of Justice we want, if we can, to preserve these grand traditions. Was there ever a time when we should be more anxious to preserve them, than when we are establishing a Court which is not to be a Court as all these other Courts are, in which A and B, citizens, banks, finance companies, can bring their civil actions, but a tribunal of an entirely different character? This is to be a Court in which the great captains of industry - whether they represent employers or workmen - are to meet and struggle and fight. We bring humanity into this Court. We make the bread of the most friendless child in the most remote parts of Australia depend upon the dictum of a Justice of the High Court. That is the tremendous power, the awful obligation which we are going to impose upon a Justice of the High Court. He will be beset, on one side, by great industrial unions, and, on the other, by great employers' unions, and in the battle between these mighty forces, where will the masses of the workers of Australia come in ? We may be told that the common rule will be applicable to them. But I claim that the common rule w.hich may be observed in some large factories in a great city may deprive thousands of men throughout Australia of their employment. I do not care for these big cities and great unions so much as I do for the isolated workmen who are scattered over the villages and bush throughout Australia. They have no unions, no counsel, no wealth, and no power. If we must establish an industrial Court, if we must have a temple of Justice devoted to the settlement of the most difficult problems of human existence, all men should at least start fair, and the individual who is not a party to a suit should not be deprived of his work because somebody has won his case before the Court. The honorable and learned member for Angas has asserted a great principle, We hear much about granting a preference to unionists. That is a perfectly legitimate aim for a trades union to keep in view - a perfectly legitimate thing for a free-trade league, so far as the -battles of politics are concerned. But, should we not despise a free-trader or a protectionist, who, when a man applied to "him for employment, inquired, not, " Are vou a good workman ?" or " Have you a good record?" but "Do you belong to a protectionist league or to a free-trade league ?"

Mr Page - Thev ask that in Victoria.

Mr REID - If I had my way I should hound out of the country any man who did that.

Mr Bamford - They ask more pertinent questions than that in Sydney.

Mr REID - Any man who does that - I do not care who or what he is - is an enemy to society.

Mr Hughes - We are all agreed upon that point.

Mr REID - I am sure that the practice is not adopted by employers generally.

Mr Spence - Within the past few weeks men have been dismissed in Victoria because of their political opinions.

Mr REID - Our attitude towards any such outrage would be absolutely the same. The point I wish to emphasize is, that whilst in this democracy we fight as free men, we do not place a ban upon any individual on account of his political opinions. That is the act of some eccentric, illiberal individual. To-day we are asked to do that which we all denounce as infamous, and we are asked to do it by Act of Parliament, not to one man, but to hundreds of thousands of men. My honorable friends opposite can do these things, and go back to their trades unions crowned with laurels. It will be a great achievement for them. The Minister of External Affairs can go back to the wharf labourers of Sydney - I think that he has been honorary secretary of their organization for many years-

Mr Hughes - I have not. I am secretary of the Wharf Labourers' Union, but not " honorary " secretary.

Mr REID - I was unconsciously putting the matter in a more favorable light.

Mr Hughes - I do not think so.

Mr REID - At any rate I stated it in a way that was not offensive.

Mr Hughes - What does the right honorable member mean?

Mr REID - If a man is engaged in political life he can afford to hold honorary positions in connexion with unions of his fellows.

Mr Hughes - I have never received a fractional part of a penny for services rendered to any union with which I have been associated.

Mr REID - It was for that reason that I designated the Minister " honorary secretary " of the Wharf Labourers' Union.

Mr Hughes - I wished to correct the right honorable member because in the case of that union a technical meaning attaches to the term " honorary."

Mr REID - I do not wish to introduce into this debate any but the most fair considerations. I repeat that my honorable friend, who has been secretary of that great union for many years, will be able to go back to the wharf labourers of West Sydney crowned with a laurel wreath.. He will be able to emphasize the advantages conferred by trades unionism. He will be enabled to say, " We comprise only onesixth or one-seventh or even one-eighth of the workers of Australia, but see what we have been able to accomplish. We have made the Commonwealth Arbitration Court a little branch of the trades unions of Australia. The laws of Victoria and New South Wales do not allow a union to collect subscriptions in a Court, but we have passed an Act which enables us to penalize non-unionists up to their eyes, and which permits us to use this Court to recover our dues - even subscriptions and penalties. In short we have subordinated the Commonwealth to our individual purposes." I never knew of a great cause being dragged to a lower level. According to the honorable member for Kennedy, we now find that under the glorious banner of industrial peace the militant trades unions are to be led over the prostrate bodies of the non-unionist workers of Australia. If they_ had gained that advantage in fair fight, I should have nothing to say, but when they wish to make use of this Parliament to further the interests of the unions it is time for some one to attempt to call a halt. I wish now to deal with an argument which has been used during this debate, and which must be considered. The members of trades unions are- possessed of only limited means. Anything which will impose additional burdens upon them is a very proper subject for consideration, because - as has been said - they are not in a position to throw their money away. I have considered that statement, and I have come to the conclusion that the expense of registering a special organization under the Court would be of the most nominal character. Better still, since the expense will have to be incurred by the trades unions in any case, the amendment will not add to their expenditure. Its effect will be simply to alter the account from which the money is paid. The expenditure will have to be borne in any case. The question involved is merely one ot whether it shall be paid out of one pocket or out of another. What appeals to me in this matter is that we should forget that we are in a State, and remember that we are in a Commonwealth. We should recollect that the power of a trades union or of a " part of a union " to institute proceedings in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which may alter the conditions of labour throughout Australia, is in itself a monstrosity. Let us. just consider what we are asked to do. Not even a trades union is required to move in the matter. Any single branch of a union in Bourke, Newcastle, Maitland, or Woollongong, can register as an organization, can bring about an industrial convulsion, and confer upon one individual sitting in Melbourne or Sydney the jurisdiction to dictate the conditions of subsistence and existence over the entire Continent. These are very serious matters. If these unions are at one - as I believe they are - in their desire to have some such measure passed, is there anything in the world that would prevent all the trades unions of Australia from affiliating for the purposes of registering under this Bill ? Take the case of the wharf labourers. Would any difficulty be experienced by the unions of wharf labourers throughout Australia in registering as one body under, this measure ?

Mr Hughes - I think that the amendment does not propose that.

Mr Spence - The amendment would prevent that from being done.

Mr Glynn - The same men could register as an organization.

Mr REID - That is what I understand.' The point I wish to make is this : Let us leave the trades unions absolutely free to achieve everything they can. The central idea of all this class of legislation - whether it be of a State or a Commonwealth character - is that there shall not be two unions fighting in the same industry. The radical aim - as the honorable member for Darling knows well - and I look upon him as the oldest trades unionist in the House - is to secure in any industry in a State one central body. A great deal has been said this afternoon in reference to the Australian Workers' Union and a bogus union. I happened to be professionally employed in that case.

Mr Page - Do not give the show away.

Mr REID - I was employed by the Australian Workers' Union, but I do not know that I ought to be debarred from making any public utterance on the subject on account of that circumstance. I wish to say that I absolutely sympathized with the Australian Workers' Union in every shape and form. The case in question constituted a sheer conspiracy on the part of some pastoralists and some working men of a type in which I do not believe. It was a positive conspiracy to create a bogus union, and their action was not fought with the aid of working men's subscriptions, but with money which came from quite another source. I look with as great detestation as any man can upon the action of men - whether they be employers or workmen - who can be bought over to thwart the honest desire of their fellows to do a very proper, and beneficent thing. I wish to point out, however, that the basis of this sort of legislation must be one union of employes and one union of employers in respect of every industry, in order that the measure may be properly administered. If two workers' unions in the same industry began to light with each other, what chance would they have? If this unity is essential in relation to a State Arbitration Court, how much more vital is it that unions shall be consolidated under a Commonwealth Court? It would, of course, be impracticable to consolidate them so far as all their internal benefits are concerned. The relief of distressed members and like mat- .ters are best dealt with by the local unions familiar with local requirements ; but matters affecting an industry carried on all over Australia would be better under the control of a federated union. A federation of the unions of Australia in each line or industry would make them infinitely stronger bodies under this measure than they would be if they remained separate.

Mr Page - That is what we want.

Mr REID - That is what the honorable and learned member for Angas seeks to secure bv the amendment.

Mr Page - No.

Mr REID - I may be under a misapprehension, but I understand that the purpose of the amendment is that, while trades unions shall preserve their own identity, as they stand, in every possible way, they shall, for the purposes of this legislation, form an industrial organization.

Mr Glynn - That is it.

Mr Page - A federated industrial organization ?

Mr REID - Yes.

Mr Page - What does the honorable and learned member for Angas say to that ?

Mr REID - I think that the amendment would allow of either a federated or partially federated organization.

Mr Glynn - Hear, .hear.

Mr Page - It seems to me that it would break up the whole system.

Mr Glynn - No.

Mr REID - I think not. Let us take the case of a number of unions, relating to the same industry, in New South Wales.

The effect of the amendment would be that, even without amalgamating with like bodies in other States", these unions would be able, for the purposes of this measure, to form an industrial organization and be registered.

Mr Glynn - Hear, hear.

Mr Spence - They would have to form a new organization.

Mr REID - Of course they would ; but might I suggest to my honorable friend that, since we are proposing to create a new Court of Justice for the benefit of the workers generally, trades unionists might well take the little trouble that would be necessary to enable them to march, pace to pace, with us. The existing unions would be able to retain their existing constitutions, so far as their own internal working, which is very often of a local character, was concerned. There would be no trouble, so far as I can see, except the possibility of some o'f the unions refusing to come in.

Mr Hughes - But that would be outside the scope of the amendment.

Mr REID - I have put the question to the honorable and learned member for Angas, and he says that it is not.

Mr Glynn - The same persons would constitute the organization.

Mr Hughes - If it could be shown that the amendment would have the effect submitted by the right honorable member, I do not know that I should oppose it.

Mr REID - I am very glad to have that statement from the honorable and learned member. Perhaps he would like to explain his position.

Mr Hughes - At the present time a trades union, or any other like body, in New South Wales has to conform to the provisions of the New South Wales Conciliation and Arbitration Act in reference to industrial organization. For instance, the Wharf Labourers' "Union is known as the Wharf Labourers' Industrial Union of Employes, and other bodies are called industrial unions. The point made by the honorable and learned member forAngas is that an organization under this Bill would have no connexion with a union, that it would have to be a separate body.

Mr Glynn - The same men could pass a resolution declaring; themselves an "organization."

Mr Spence - No.

Mr Glynn - Yes, they could; and, on doing so, would no longer be bound by the rules.


Mr Hughes - The amendment sets forth that no association shall be registered -

(a)   unless it has been formed and exists solely for the purposes of this Act, or

(b)   whose funds may be applied to purposes other than the purposes of this Act, or

(c)   except in respect of the district within which the place of employment is situate.

The reading which my honorable and learned friend gives to the amendment is such that it would not alter or have any effect on the clause as it stands.

Mr Glynn - Yes, it would separate the finances.

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