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Tuesday, 28 November 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - When the Senate adjourned on Friday afternoon I was dealing with the report of the Engineer-in-Chief for Western Australia, and commenting upon his statement that the country to be traversed by the proposed railway for about 1,100 miles is uninhabited, uncultivated, and waterless. Referring again to the speech made by the Minister of Defence in moving the second reading, I find that I was wrong in one particular. He distinctly stated that the line is to go by Tarcoola, and he also spoke of the soil, the water possibilities, and so forth. At page 167 1 of Hansard,Senator Pearce is reported to have said -

While I think that we should consider in the light of these reports the character of the country to be served by the railway, I shall show that there is sufficient to justify the construction of the line even if there were no country worthy of development at all in the space intervening between the two terminal points. A railway can be justified in crossing a desert provided you have at each end sufficient reasons why two populated centres should be linked up. It is an undoubted fact that one of the great American overland lines crosses 400 miles of absolutely sterile desert which is of no use, and apparently will never be of any use to anybody.

Since I spoke on Friday I have received a typewritten letter from Mr. G. W. Murray, of Yalata, West Coast, who seems to have personal knowledge of .the country lying between Port Augusta and the Western Australian boundary. This gentleman says -

Having some considerable personal knowledge of the country lying between Port Augusta and the Western Australian boundary, I would like to point out how the conditions of that country affect the consideration of the route selected for the preliminary survey, and generally understood to be the route which it is proposed eventually to follow. Fifty miles beyond Tarcoola the desert commences, and extends right up to and beyond the border. There is no feed, and a rainfall of about 4 inches only. Therefore, no one will take up the country for stock, and there arc no mineral indications of any value. It hil* been urged in favour of the route that it would help to develop the mineralized district of Tarcoola itself. But if that object is of a substantial character it would be better t» attain it by a special line to Tarcoola i run- Port Augusta or from Murat Bay - 130 miles distant. The water difficulty by the proposed route will be enormous. Out of six bores put down by the Government on Nullarbor Plains, not one has yielded water suitable for human consumption, or for locomotive purposes, and only two produce a supply which is passable for stock. On the other hand, a line which bore more southerly from Port Augusta through the Gawler Ranges would traverse a lot of good farming and pastoral country around Chandada. It could then take the place of the Port Lincoln Une from Chandada to west of Fowler's Bay, say, 250 miles. A great and permanent advantage of the route I propose is that it would be sixty miles shorter than the surveyed line. That is an important matter when we consider the initial cost of construction of sixty miles of railway. Not only has the interest on that cost to be borne for ever, but every passenger and ton of goods for all time has to pay for sixty miles of unnecessary haulage. When conveying troops the time thereby lost, quite apart from the mere cost, might be serious. By the official route sixty miles of loose drifting sandhills have to be crossed, involving permanent cost in keeping the line clear for traffic. I have been over the coastal country from Chandada to Belladonna. Of this, 250 miles is good farming country, and the rest good grazing land. Again, I have several times travelled inland over the country which the official route traverses, and I have seen nothing worth occupying. It was stated before a Commission which inquired into the matter that within South Australian Territory the official route would serve country that would carry three million sheep. From my personal knowledge of it, I am convinced, as a practical man, that within the next half century it will never carry 30,000. Sir John Forrest, recognised as an expert on such matters, has never hesitated in his place in Parliament or on public platforms to advocate the claims of the coastal as against those of what for convenience I call the official route. Before the Commonwealth is finally committed to such a vast undertaking I would urge that a survey of the coastal and shorter route from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie should be made, and should be accompanied by a detailed report of the value and prospects of that country as compared with those of the official line. Apart from the saving of distance, Eucla would furnish a permanent base from which coal and construction materials could be supplied to the coastal line. Every ton of coal for the official line must be hauled over the railway either from the Kalgoorlie or the Port Augusta end. There is a considerable extent of the country west of Fowler's Bay fit for farming, but if it is_ to be profitably occupied for agriculture, a railway to serve it must eventually be provided. The whole of the Commonwealth is undoubtedly interested in getting absolutely the best route.

He winds up with what I take to be a sporting offer which the Government ought not to refuse. He says -

To support my statements, I will drive any official deputed by the Federal Government to inspect the route and report, free of cost, from Tarcoola to the Western Australian border.

Here is a gentleman who seems to know what he is talking about.

Senator Lynch - Where does he hang out?

Senator SAYERS - He seems to have an intimate acquaintance with the country.

Senator de Largie - He may be a myth.

Senator SAYERS - No. I am referring to Mr. George W. Murray, of Yalata, on the west coast. He gives his name and address in full, so that it will be easy for Senator de Largie to ascertain whether he is a myth or not. At any rate, he is prepared to take any official appointed by the Federal Government, at his own expense, from Tarcoola to the border of Western Australia.

Senator de Largie - Do you not think that that in itself is rather suspicious?

Senator SAYERS - I do not.

Senator de Largie - If he has not an axe to grind, why should he be willing to go to such expense?

Senator SAYERS - Surely every person in the" community who has to contribute to the cost of this work is interested, more or less. When this gentleman says that he is prepared, at his own cost, to take any official whom the Government may nominate, and drive him over the track to judge his statement, I should say that he is speaking with knowledge.

Senator Pearce - The answer to the statement is that officials have already been over the route, and made reports, which are to be found amongst the parliamentary papers.

Senator SAYERS - I have perused the reports. I notice that in speaking of the country, an officer writes, "It is mostly uninhabited, uncultivated and waterless." That thoroughly bears out Mr. Murray's statement.

Senator Lynch - The water is all right.

Senator SAYERS - Mr. Murray says that the water is not all right, and the engineer in charge for Western Australia says the same thing. We are met with statements from the Government side that the water is all right, and that everything in the garden is lovely ; but no proof is furnished. This official document distinctly states that the country is not what the Government say it is, and the gentleman whose letter I received by post to-day makes a sporting offer. Surely the Minister in charge of the Bill does not think that because an official has been over the ground and condemned it, or otherwise, we should not have further information before we are asked to approve of an expenditure of between ,£4,000,000 and £5,000.000. We are virtually asked to authorize the construction of a railway without being furnished with any proper information. Senator Givens properly interjected the other night that the estimate of cost is based on gress-work, and that interjection came from an honorable senator who sits on the Government side.

Senator Blakey - This is not a Government measure, though.

Senator SAYERS - According to an estimate which was given by Mr. O'Connor, the railway is to cost ^4,400, 000.

Senator de Largie - You must admit that that is a very old estimate.

Senator SAYERS - The honorable senator will remember that in the beginning of my speech I said that I intended to point out the discrepancies which have cropped up.

Senator de Largie - The estimate was made at a time, too, when very little was known about the country to be traversed.

Senator SAYERS - To my mind, there seems to be little known about the country even now.

Senator de Largie - The sandy soils of Western Australia have shown how wheat can be produced.

Senator SAYERS -Mr. O'Connorstates that the revenue would be derived from the carriage of 400 passengers each way per week, or 800 in all. I am quite aware that at that time there were fully as many passengers going to and fro by water as there are to-day. But on the. point of cost, the comparison which he instituted would hardly apply to-day, because I understand that the fare by water is more than it was ten years ago. How many of the passengers who travel by the deep-sea boats are likely to get off at Fremantle and not only pay the railway fare, but also pay for their meals while travelling by train to Adelaide or Melbourne, when they have already paid for their carriage by water to that place? Who, I ask the Minister, would care to pay, according to this estimate, an additional sum of £8 in order to complete the journey by train?

Senator Blakey - Many of the passengers do now.

Senator SAYERS - Many do, and many do not. I admit that, if a man had to be in Melbourne by a certain date, he would leave the boat at Fremantle, but otherwise he would not take that course, especially in the summer months, to cross the desert in a train. Even the Minister in charge of the Bill has admitted that for a certain distance the railway is likely to be covered up at any time with sand. On our visit of inspection from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta, we saw a strip of country similar to that which he recently described to the Senate. There were stone houses which the Government had erected, and which were buried in sand. Our attention was called to the places by the Engineer-in-Chief for South Australia, and also by the Minister of Railways.

Senator Henderson - Did you see the houses ?

Senator SAYERS - In one place we saw the top of a chimney, and naturally we concluded that below there was a house. We were told that if we were to come later we might see most of the houses which were then buried in sand. It was stated that, in the course of a month or so, the wind would sweep away the sand, but that it would accumulate again. The houses were in such a state that no person would think of living in them, unless he wished to be buried alive. That was conclusive evidence that it was not the kind of country through which to take a railway at the expense of the Commonwealth. Although troops in transit to the west would be liable to be blocked at any time by the shifting of the sand, yet we are asked by the Minister to build a railway across such country.

Senator Blakey - Would not the same argument apply to the snows of America?

Senator SAYERS - Yes, but unfortunately they cannot get out of the snows. In this case we can avoid the sand hills by taking the line by another route. We are told that it can be constructed at a certain cost. I propose to quote the views of all the engineers who have had anything to do with the proposal. On the 27th July, 1903, the following report was addressed to Sir William Lyne, Minister of Home Affairs -

Having been requested to furnish our final report on the above subject, upon the basis of such data as are now available, we have the honour to do so, but we wish respectfully to point out that it must necessarily be less complete than we could wish, through our not having received all the information asked for in our first report, dated 12th March last.

(1)   The particulars still lacking are those referring to (1) the Gawler Range route; (2) results of bores and test wells which we recommended should be deepened or started on the Nullabor Plain, and in the sand-hills country.

With regard to (1) we understand that the Gawler Range route is regarded unfavorably by the South Australian Government ; while the Tarcoola route is preferred, owing to the prospect of probable future development of the district, and as best serving the traffic which will result. For these reasons we have put on one side the further consideration of the Gawler Range route, although it might prove to be sixty miles shorter, and presumably proportionately less costly.

The report was signed by five Government engineers, namely, by Henry Deane, Chairman, New South Wales; W. Pagan, Queensland ; A. B. Moncrieff, South Australia; M. E. Kernot, Victoria; and C. S. R. Palmer, Western Australia. They complained that they had not sufficient information on which to base an estimate.

Yet they drew up a report which was presented to Parliament. There are other reports connected with the matter which I was unable to obtain. I was informed by the officer in charge of papers that they are not now in print, and we have to deal with such facts as are placed at our disposal.

Senator Henderson - All the reports connected with the matter have been printed.

Senator SAYERS - The honorable senator can go upstairs, and he will find that my statement is correct.

Senator Henderson - The honorable senator should keep to recent history.

Senator SAYERS - I do not start to build a house from the roof downwards, but from the foundation upwards.

Senator Henderson - I am afraid the honorable senator is building on sand now.

Senator SAYERS - There will be plenty of sand on the route of this railway.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator does not build a house at all. He lives in a cave.

Senator SAYERS - I make the following quotation from this report -

In order that this report may be as lucid, complete and reliable as possible on the questions submitted to us by the letter of instruction -

I should like to see that letter, but I suppose it will not be available - we think it is necessary for us to review the whole subject in the light of additional information received from various sources and experience derived from our visit to Western Australia.

They do not say that they traversed the route, but they paid a visit to Western Australia, and got outside information -

1.   The points submitted for consideration and report are as follows : -

(1)   The probable expenditure in construction ;

(2)   The probable annual revenue after construction, and for ten years after ;

(3)   The probable annual expenditure in working the line, and its maintenance ;

(4)   The route recommended ;

(5)   The gauge proposed ;

(6)   The probable time which would be occupied in its construction ;

(7)   The probable present and prospective effect of such railway if constructed ;

(8)   The advisability of constructing the proposed railway ;

(9)   Any other matters in connexion with the scheme which the Conference considers should be brought under notice.

As answers to the questions submitted to us depend primarily upon the route to be adopted this is the first point for decision. In view of the circumstances explained above, we select the route vid Tarcoola -

The next question is the gauge, and here we find that they recommend the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge. The question of the gauge to be adopted for this line is one of the burning questions of the day, especially in Victoria and South Australia. I see by to-day's newspaper that the Premier of South Aus tralia is taking no action whatever.

Senator Pearce - It is incorrect to say that that came from a Minister.

Senator SAYERS - I saw a wire to this effect in one of to-day's newspapers.

Senator Pearce - No such wire has been received.

Senator SAYERS - I cannot be responsible for what appears in a newspaper. Honorable senators opposite have often been very anxious to bring the Age or Argus into this chamber, and to ask questions on the strength of what has appeared in them, when it has suited their case to do so. I have never adopted that course.

Senator St Ledger - They were going to put me into a dungeon on the strength of a statement that appeared in the Age.

Senator SAYERS - Yes, I believe that Senator St. Ledger was very near being imprisoned because of a statement which appeared in a newspaper. I accept the statement of the Minister of Defence that no such telegram has been sent by the Premier of South Australia, and I shall not dilate upon that matter any further. I must say, however, that there does not appear to be any very great amount of enthusiasm in regard to this line in Western Australia or South Australia. Looking to the press again, I see no evidence of any excitement on the subject. We have no public meetings being called in those States to ask the Commonwealth Government to push on withthis railway. I am given to understand that the South Australian Government say that if this line is built on the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge, they will look to the Commonwealth Government to meet the cost of altering the existing gauge of their lines. I should like to ask the Minister of Defence whether that statement is correct? I saw that in a newspaper also.

Senator Mcgregor - I have never heard of it.

Senator Pearce - The newspapers are romancing.

Senator SAYERS - Perhaps the honorable senator, believing that the newspapers romance, never reads them. I have to do so because I must get my information from some source.

Senator Pearce - I read the newspapers. I am very fond of fiction.

Senator SAYERS - When this railway was first mooted, there was a great' deal of enthusiasm displayed, in both Western Australia and South Australia. The State Governments of the day were willing to grant large areas of land along the route if they could only get the railway built. A promise to that effect was made by the Government of Western Australia.

Senator Lynch - There never was any such promise made.

Senator SAYERS - Then some of the documents placed before us are not reliable. I believe that the records of the State Parliament will prove what I say. We had a Minister admitting that such a promise was made, but stating that it was of no effect now.

Senator Pearce - I did not admit it.

Senator SAYERS - I do not say that the honorable senator did. Will the honorable senator say that it was not proposed by the State Governments of Western Australia and South Australia to hand over to the Commonwealth a certain area of land along the route in the event of the railway being made?

Senator Pearce - I have no official knowledge of it, though I have seen a statement to that effect.

Senator SAYERS - I think that a record of the matter must be obtainable from a Commonwealth Department. And before the Bill goes through Committee I shall see whether I cannot get positive proof of such a promise. The EngineersinChief further reported -

We carefully revised our estimate of cost, making use for the purpose of information and experience gained during our visit to Western Australia and data furnished to us by officers of that State and of South Australia.

All this data was received from officers of the two States that are vitally interested in the construction of the railway. It is wonderful what information the Government' will accept when it suits their purpose, and what information they will refuse if it does not suit their purpose. The information on which this report is based was all accepted in Sir William Lyne's time. The Engineers-in-Chief also gave an estimate of the revenue to be derived from the railway, which they estimate to cost£159,000 more than a previous engineering estimate. On this information, the whole of the people of the Commonwealth are to be asked to construct a line that we know nothing whatever about, since no plans and specifications have been laid before us. They estimate that the railway will cost ^4,559,028 ros. 3d. They went so close as to include the 3d., the previous estimate of the cost was .£4,400,000. We are told that the revenue on the opening of the line will be £205,860. No pence are mentioned this time. The working expenses are estimated at ,£1 14,400, interest at 3 J per cent. £[159,566, leaving a deficiency of £68,106 on the working for the year. Then they looked to the future which, if the railway had been constructed when the report was made would be about this time, and they say that ten years after the opening of the line the revenue will be £[411,720. By some legerdemain or sleight-of-hand which is not explained, they reckon upon the revenue more than doubling itself in the ten years. They cannot give us any data upon which to arrive at this estimate. We cannot ask them to do so, because they know no more about it than does the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and that is nothing. They estimate that in ten years from the opening of the line the working expenses will be £210,000. Interest on original capital, plus 15 per cent, for improvements at si per cent., is put down at £[183,501, and these figures give a net profit at the close of ten years' working of £18,219. This is offered as a reason for the construction of the railway. Would any man in his senses put his own money into a speculation of that kind? We are asked to make the people of the Commonwealth pay, roughly speaking, £[5,000,000 for this railway. That is asking them to do too much, when, at the same time, they have to bear the expense of developing their respective States. If honorable members will consult the map of Australia they will find that we have nearly 2,000 miles of coastline without any means of defence. Yet we are asked to build this railway to protect Western Australia. If I believed that it would protect Western Australia I should not hesitate to vote for it, but before they ask the people of the whole of the Commonwealth to tax themselves to build this railway, the people of South Australia and Western Australia ought to try what they can do in the matter themselves. At the present time Queensland is spending £10,000,000 on the extension of railways. She is not coming to the Commonwealth Government, cap-in-hand, to suggest that these railways are being constructed for military purposes and for the defence of Australia. The people of that State are putting their hands into their own pockets, and financing their own railway proposals. They do not come to this Parliament and say, " These are works of national importance." I quote the following figures showing the indebtedness of the various States in respect of moneys borrowed for the construction of railways : - New South Wales, £[48,925,348; Victoria, £43>i42>329; Queensland, £[24,336.372 ; South Australia, £[13,879,523 ; Western Australia, £11,377,262; and Tasmania, £[4,048,416. There is also £[1,000,000 for railways in the Northern Territory which the Commonwealth have taken over. I ask honorable senators to say whether it is fair or reasonable to ask a State that, at the expense of its own people, has built a greater mileage of railways per head of population than any other country in the world, to permit her people to be taxed for the construction of a railway, no part of which will be within many hundreds of miles of her borders?

Senator de Largie - Yes, it is reasonable.

Senator SAYERS - Senator de Largie can make his speech afterwards, and when he is speaking I shall not interrupt him. The different States have altogether spent £147,000,000 in the construction of railways. The population of Western Australia and South Australia combined is about the same as the population of Queensland. Yet Queensland has already constructed a greater mileage of railways than the two States mentioned, and is now spending a further £10,000,000 on railway extension. Western Australia has spent only £[11,000,000 on railway construction, whilst Queensland has spent £[24,000,000.

Senator Chataway - No; £[29,000,000.

Senator SAYERS - I have taken the latest figures I could get.

Senator Lynch - After all the talk, does Queensland really object to this railway ?

Senator SAYERS - Queensland does not object to Western Australia and South Australia building as many railways as they please, but Queensland does object to pay those States for making a railway within their own territory.

Senator de Largie - The representatives of Queensland in another place did not cast a single vote against this railway. The honorable senator is misrepresenting Queensland.

Senator SAYERS - If I am, the people of Queensland will say so. It is not for Senator de Largie to tell me that I am misrepresenting them.

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator will not represent them after the next election.

Senator SAYERS - I do not think that Senator de Largie can keep me out; . I challenge him to do his best. The honorable senator may sneer, but he does not need to go any further than the election for the division of Boothby, in South Australia, which took place a few weeks ago, to discover how the tide has turned. According to Knibbs, volume 4, page 712, South Australia and Western Australia combined possess about the same population as Queensland, and have spent about the same amount of money in railway construction. Queensland is developing her resources at the expense of her own people. Upon the hustings I pledged myself to oppose the construction of the proposed line from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, and if I did not respect my pledge, I should be a renegade to the trust which has been reposed in me.

Senator Lynch - Did the honorable senator sign the pledge?

Senator SAYERS - No. The people did not ask me to do that. They are content to accept my word. In an appendix to the report of the Engineers-in-Chief of the States is to be found an estimate of the cost of the labour and material that will be required in the construction of the proposed line. The clearing of the 1,100 miles of country which the line will traverse is set down at£6 per mile. From what I have heard, that is a very fair estimate. Fencing is set down at£1,100. I do not think a fence can be constructed for that sum. The cost of the earthworks is estimated at £280 per mile, which, in my opinion, is a very low estimate. Bridges and culverts are set down at . £150 per mile, and rails at . £7 per ton. Since this estimate was framed the cost of rails has increased a very great deal. I do not suppose that the Minister in charge of the Bill will ask us to believe for one moment that they can be purchased at the same price to-day.

Senator PearCE - The estimates have been revised.

Senator SAYERS - How many times are they revised, and by whom?

Senator Pearce - The route had not been surveyed when the estimate which the honorable senator has quoted was made.

Senator SAYERS - Then what was the good of the Government incurring the expense of securing the services of five EngineersinChief.

Senator Pearce - To show the necessity for a survey.

Senator SAYERS - Only a flying survey has been made. The Minister does not suggest that the cost of surveying 1,100 miles of railway is only £20,000. The thing is ridiculous, as the Minister knows. In the very nature of things the survey which has been made could be only a flying one.

Senator Pearce - I can assure the honorable senator that there will be no further survey.

Senator SAYERS - If a proper survey has been made, I would like the Minister to tell us where the books of reference are to be found to-day.

Senator Pearce - There was a vote of £5,000 upon last year's Estimates for the preparation of plans, and those plans are now ready.

Senator SAYERS - Surely we ought to see them.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator may see them any day if he chooses to visit the Department of Home Affairs.

Senator SAYERS - I have no time to do that. The plans should be laid before Parliament. I come now to the report submitted by the Engineers-in-Chief upon, the trial surveys, which were presented to Parliament and ordered to be printed on the 13th October, 1909. The Memorandum of Instructions to these officers would occupy too much time if I were to read it.

Senator Henderson - The honorable senator will not get the full effects of it if he does read it.

Senator SAYERS - Very well. The honorable senator may have the benefit of those instructions -

Memorandum of Instructions to the State EngineersinChief for Railways, assembled at Melbourne this tenth day of February, 1908, at the request of the Commonwealth Government, in connexion with the trial surveys for the purpose of the transcontinental railway line from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, to Port Augusta, South Australia.


Since your report of the 27th July,1903, on the proposed transcontinental railway from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, to Port Augusta,

South Australia, the authority of the Commonwealth for an expenditure of £20,000 on the survey in connexion with the railway above referred to has been given by Act No. 4 of 1907, which provides that- " Upon the formal consent of the South Australian Parliament to the survey being received, the Minister may cause a survey to be made of a route for a railway to connect Kalgoorlie, in the State of Western Australia, with Port Augusta, in the State of South Australia."

I ask the Minister if any land has been transferred by Western Australia or South Australia to the Commonwealth for the purpose of enabling it to build the proposed line? My information is that no land has been so transferred. Consequently, we are being asked to sanction the construction of a line when the Commonwealth has not an inch of land upon which to build it. I take it that the Minister's silence means that neither Western Australia nor South Australia has transferred any land to the Commonwealth. There are two more reports from Mr. Deane to which I might refer, but I have no desire to " stone- wall " this measure. I find that New South Wales has 3,643 miles of railways, Victoria 3,480, South Australia 1,912, Northern Territory 145, Queensland 3,661, Western Australia 2,144, and Tasmania, 469, so that 3,661 miles of railway have been built in Queensland at the expense of the people of that State. Consequently, they are justified in saying that if the proposed transcontinental line is of as much importance to Western Australia and South Australia as the Minister would make it appear to be, the people of those States should construct it at their own expense. The citizens of Queensland are prepared to pay their fair share of legitimate taxation. But the construction of this line, and of the other proposed transcontinental railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek will mulct her people in an expenditure of anything from .£1,000,000 to £1,500,000. We are informed that this railway is to be built over a vast tract of country where there is no timber. Queensland has had to build railways into timber country for the purposes of railway construction. But from what source is timber to be obtained for the building of the line between South Australia and Western Australia? It will have to be bought at high prices. All the sleepers and every foot of the rest of the timber will have to be railed from some port on the coast to the route of the railway. I trust that the Senate will see its way, before sanctioning the construction of the line, to obtain guarantees from the South Australian and Western Australian Governments as to how the .taxpayers of the Commonwealth may be recouped in future years. I believe that the Western Australian Government at one time offered to build its share of the line. But South Australia is doing nothing. She is sitting back, expecting to benefit from the expenditure of the other States. I remember the time when every South Australian representative was up in arms in support of the railway. But, for some reason or other which I do not understand, they say nothing now. They know that their State is going to get the best of it. They make no offer, and the Federal Government professes that it in-, tends to carry the work through, no matter at what cost to the Commonwealth. I hope that the representatives of other States will do their best to see that their interests are protected, and that money is not squandered on the line.

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