Because one pointless controversy isn’t enough.

Tonight I saw one of those typical chase-the-dole-bludger-and-force-him-to-let-you-find-him-a-job stories on TT/ACA/whatever. The journo was reading out quotes from “viewers” to the poor guy as he ran down a mall. Bitching about how unfair it was that he got to live on the dole while the rest of us suckers/highly moral people work hard to make ends meet.

This isn’t new, of course, but it struck me that no-one ever makes the obvious connection between two very popular tabloid “stories”. Everyone, it seems, wants to force dole-bludgers to work, even though they don’t want to, and everyone, it seems, wants to make it easier to sack lazy employees who don’t want to work. In other words, it’s all well and good to be outraged that people are living off society’s dime, and not contributing to society, but what about the business owner who ends up paying them not to work very hard?

It’s a pretty human desire to want to punish people who do the wrong thing, who openly flout the rules. But as much as people might want it, public policy shouldn’t primarily be about that. As I argued in the thread-that-shall-not-be-named, it’s possible to dislike a person’s private choices, without wanting to see punishment meted out by the state.

I wouldn’t have a great deal of respect for a friend who refused to work for no good reason, and who didn’t contribute anything else to society: making art, volunteering for charities, whatever. But even if I knew someone like that, I can’t think of a single policy change that wouldn’t create even bigger problems for society than paying out a small amount of money, all of which eventually goes back into the economy. Certainly, I don’t see how shaming him on national television helps his employment prospects.

While it’s reasonable to take concepts such as incentive into account, it’s also important to take into account the effects of various policies on all members of society. Newstart payments don’t just allow the unemployed to survive, they also ensure that the unemployed don’t have to resort to crime to feed and clothe themselves. They also allow all of us to share the burden of supporting those who refuse to work, rather than somehow finding them jobs and forcing one employer to shoulder all the burden.

It’s important to note, as people involved in social work often do, that the long-term unemployed (as opposed to those who are unemployed for short periods) are rarely that way simply because they stubbornly refuse to work, preferring to receive a free bonus of a below-poverty-line income. Self-esteem, mental health issues, lack of social and job skills – there are many reasons. It is important to remind people of all of these things, and hopefully also to work at solving them. But it’s also important, I think, to ask those who refuse to acknowledge these truths why the poor businessmen should be forced to do what they refuse to.

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Posted in government, media
34 comments on “Because one pointless controversy isn’t enough.
  1. philiptravers says:

    As a long term unemployed ,I would simply assault any journalist doing just as you describe.I am not encouraging assault I am claiming that is what I will do.I really dont care what people think,I do not engage in criminality.But when it comes to journalists like that,on camera or not,they will be sport to me.I have kept journalists in employment,maybe no one journalist in particular,but fair is fair.There is nothing in the justification of journalistic doings that seems to be a superior human type..they retain the lowest of accepted statuses.I do not care what people in social work think.There for the grace of a university education and a paid job go they,as they deliver the guarding the money, welfare.The Salvos have to fill in time on Earth,and others like that are not entirely fair dinkum.To me many in welfare work are really there to sense a feeling of being chosen.Employment in Australia often means accepting money from people you wouldnt want in your own residence,and vice-versa.Employment in Australia is about sharing being house proud and it hasnt much going for it..So like that ex-President of the ALP Mundine anyone who feels they have worked for what they have got… want equality with those that havent.And the only way to get that is to force them into the same mindless conformism.Mundine would secretly applaud putting the wind up an unemployed person like you have written about,so so be it.It is the Rugby work ethic.In a hierarchical society there is equality downwards ,not upwards.If business people as potential employers take their cues from TV they are not running businesses,and want a camera up their backsides to.

  2. mbahnisch says:

    Self-esteem, mental health issues, lack of social and job skills – there are many reasons.

    And those things compound because they often deteriorate at an alarming rate with the experience of unemployment.

  3. CK says:

    Well, Anna, I can only say that having spent 18 months on the North Coast of NSW – an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country – and being paid to happily dip my toes in the water despite me being hugely qualified – I can only concur.

    As for Work For The Dole, what a joke.

    Anyway, back in Perth now, joyously working, and having nothing to do with teh gummint is so doubleplusgood.

  4. mbahnisch says:

    I was on the dole after I finished my arts degree – wasn’t much demand for a BA graduate in the height of the 90s recession – and for a bit before and after now and then. In the end Paul Keating saved me with “Working Nation” – I got one of those 6 month training jobs and it was so awful that I got motivated to go and do postgrad study! But I remember the shift from having to front up at the dole office every two weeks and go for case management sessions at the CES to actually working. The latter is much much nicer – even for a crummy training wage. And the truly soul destroying aspects of being on the dole were only in their incipient stages then. Very few people would choose to be on the dole if they could avoid it.

  5. It is tabloidist of the reporter to make such stories, but the target can only blame themself. Reporters become expert at picking their interviewees/targets, a bit of provocation conducted in a tactical manner, combined with selective editing, and voila!.. a “story”.

    This is real Mike Munro style “journalism”. I have never (touch wood) been victim to it. Nor have I ever experienced unemployment. Though I have had contact with lots of long term unemployed, most desperate to get back to work, unfortunately there are enough who are work-shy, or who see the dole as an alternative to working, to provide fodder for such journalism.

  6. dj says:

    Oh yes Mark, I remember those times well. I had just left school at around the same time and withdrew from the first course that I entered at Uni. The queues were out of the DSS building and a hundred or more metres down the road. With no really experience, the only job i managed to get was working at the Royal Show, a job I got through the CES, which paid me $3.50 per hour! Dodgy as. Fortunately, I managed to enter another course, so I was only on the dole for a bit over 6 months but it convinced me that those who reckon it is an easy life and that we should spend inordinate amounts of time hectoring those unfortunate enough to be reliant on government payments are just out of their brains.

  7. mbahnisch says:

    Yep, I’m sure my mate who finished a degree in English literature with honours and got sent by the CES to do a service station attendants’ course would agree with you, dj!

  8. kimberella says:

    Bitching about how unfair it was that he got to live on the dole while the rest of us suckers/highly moral people work hard to make ends meet.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that part of the emotional appeal of this tabloid stuff is a kind of “downwards envy” which I think must show that a lot of jobs in Australia simply suck – hence people dream of not working for a living, and have some sort of weird jealousy of people who are perceived not to. It’s the reverse psychology of the work ethic in a way.

  9. Graham Bell says:

    Anna Winter:

    It is no exaggeration to call this sort of rubbish Nazi-style propaganda. Substitute “dole-bludgers” or “unmarried mothers” or any other class of people in a socity for “Jews” and you can demonize them just as successfully.

    Now, where are all the real stories?

    The ones about over-fussy employers who bludge on the community by neglecting to provide any training themselves but who are allowed to demand extraordinarily high qualifications for menial work. The ones about employers who blatantly discriminate against potential employees on the basis of their age [even though senile dementia and crippling arthritis do not affect everyone over 45], on the basis of their place of residence [the notorious ‘postcoding”], on the basis of their military service [no proof yet found that my fellow war veterans would want to kill Asian or Middle-Eastern customers], on the basis of having non-mainstream qualifications [where potential employers are too lazy or too stupid to ask for a demonstration of the skills being offered]. Where, too, are all the stories about fake job ads? And how about the ecological impact of all the paper wasted on CVs and job applications that go straight into the bin unread?

    The reason these stories never see the light of day is that the newspaper editors and producers of shock-horror shows current affairs are too busy crawling to their bosses, they are too lazy to get real stories and they are too gutless to put out anything that might make a few shareholders feel momentarily uncomfortable.

  10. Paul Burns says:

    The timing of the ACA, TDT etc story, which I did not see, except for ads, because I prefer to watch the ABC, was very peculiar. Yesterday or the day before Centrelink was exposed for ruthleesly pursuing Unemployment benefit recipients, carers, and disabled pensioners for relatively minor overpayments, mostly through Centrelinks own administrative errorsa, right up to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or the High Courtt at millions of dollars.Rudd has transferred the public servant who oversaw the pursuit of benefit recipients etc., to another dapartment.
    I don’t know if Centrelink clients are being harrassed w3ith the same zeal at the above level, or lower now that the ALP is in power but I hope not. Labor should scrap work for the dole, scrap welfare to work and sack, repeat, sack all those bastards who made poor peoples’ lives a misery under Howard. This is one Government department that needs a complete clean-out, and they should be treated with the same indecency as they treated their clients.

  11. Klaus K says:

    I think the downwards envy concept is an interesting one, and although it may be a stretch, there are similarities with anti-semitism as Graham Bell suggests. Medieval anti-semitism became prominent in areas of western Europe and Scandinavia that were (relatively) late coming to Xtianity: for some post-pagan societies, Jews represented a ‘privileged’ group because they were not expected to convert in the way that the mainstream pagans were. The loss and melancholy engendered by conversion (often a ‘top down’ process where leaders adopted Xtianity for political reasons) were displaced onto groups that ‘did not have to convert’. The bad faith of this was that Jews were already marginalised and mistreated, and continued to be so, whereas the new Xtians gained greatly from their conversions.

    The parallel here is that the long-term unemployed are marginalised and disenfranchised by their position, but there is a certain melancholic longing, that haunts even the most diligent workers, to ‘not have to work’, and thus there can be a kind of envy of the unemployed. It is, as Kim suggests, the reverse side of the work ethic to envy or resent the unemployed, and it is also about the inability to mourn the loss of freedom engendered being a worker. I imagine it is less common amongst those who have actually been in the position of being unemployed for long periods of time to feel this way, but it may also play to the feeling of ‘I got out of it, so why can’t you?’ This kind of envy is also in bad faith, and it relies on romantic myths and constructs of ‘the poor’, conveniently ignoring the sheer boredom, the humiliation and the marginalisation experienced by the unemployed.

  12. Andrew says:

    I think you’re right Kimberella – these stort of stories resonate with the average ‘battler’ who watches rubbish like TT/ACA because of downwards envy. Afterall – who wouldn’t wouldn’t want to be sitting on the beach being supported by the dole rather than working as a service station attendant (hey Mark ;)).

    Most people would rather be in work – and thankfully, due to sound economic management our unemployment rate is at record lows – so not a big problem these days!

    However – there will always be a minority of people who abuse the system and so therefore whatever system we have needs to have checks/balances to prevent abuse. Work-for-the-dole was a great initiative.

  13. philiptravers says:

    I feel no humiliation,contempt maybe,marginalised by what.? The work ethic is a phoney as it can get,and Rudd wont make much difference,simply because he is a bludger,in a moral sense,the whole ALP has been like this for years.Just take the mainstay worker hero Prime Minister Hawke,As Queenslanders you would not of been brought up on this swill.But a simple matter of map-reading of where the ACTU is down in Melbourne and where the nearest Brewery is gives the real history of that particular empire.Its still got the hangover where it has just moved North.A read of Don Chipp and his concern about six o clock closing of pubs then really shows what a terrible plight was happening with the problems of workers needing to unwind and have a drink,but were forgetting about family and health.Chipp really stuck his neck out on this,but the boozers kept boozing.Now that grog cannot be aired on free to air,the buggars are after the unemployed at every oppurtunity.The workplace is still frightening ,and as terrible control by breathalyser continues, people should just dob themselves in if they have drunk or taken drugs,if the bosses arent penalisingly bad,and seek work in less dangerous areas that day.Work that is boring will be always with us,and shit have I done some of that,unpaid to pay rent.I have no problem with boring work because I do not hide that from myself psychologically.But arent I allowed to just simply state,that Journalists going after people like that presented deserve a particular fate.And forget about humanising that which cannot stand work.If they are stuck in the city,then if we had a concerned citizenry,then off to some other part of the country,and do something boring,where the farmers know its boring..they cannot hide the fact.And walk off ,an apologise for finishing,and if the farmers are honest they will say,well comeback if you want to.Do you get honest employers like that,for interesting status derived jobs!?No!?Incentives,instead.Workers should have the immediate right to get the dole,rather than use up savings.Not working,bludging on minimal income could save someones health,and still be able to commit themselves to some voluntary work.We just shouldnt let TV run our lives,and anyone who does is not fit to run a business.Bludging is a public service with unwilling clients..which could also include employers as they are now, as willing clients without running to government for assistance.Cut down our costs please.Free up cars and trucks as means of transport government and non government.I could bein Stanthorpe area today as fruit related work or mushrooms,instead the governments will bludge us all to death and the TV will be our funeral Clerics.Sponsor a bludger today for their honesty,and they can take your earnings to the bank,so you dont have to use a ATM or a Armored Car.

  14. “Similarities with Jews”? “Downward Envy”? etc etc. This is reading too much into it.

    Perhaps it is plain and simple dislike of bludgers. A not uncommon trait amongst Australians.

    Unemployed are given hell by the system? Perhaps, but it ain’t all one way, take a job in Centrelink, or work in a job placement agency which deals with third band unemployed. The “clients” at times behave abominably, subjecting staff to abuse, bullying, intimidation and suchforth.

  15. pablo says:

    When you understand that a work applicant must be prepared to travel up to one-and-a-half hours to a job – three hours round trip – you can see that in a coming carbon tax or capped society, the option not to work may have to be re-examined. Any humiliation suffered by those who limit their greenhouse contribution could be offset by new ventures in neighbourhood self-help environmentalism. The sky, sorry atmosphere, is the limit.

  16. THR says:

    I don’t know about similarities with Jews, but ‘downward envy’ does have a bit of Nietzschean ressentiment about it.

    Those who receive Centrelink benefits are subject to an ongoing process of being monitored, and badgered into all sorts of inappropriate forms of employment, the main beneficiaries of which are the employment agencies who profit handsomely from the exercise.

    The bigger problem is the one Anna raised in her final paragraph, namely, ‘incentive’ and the underlying causes of long-term unemployment. There’s an entire school of economic and political thought doing the rounds these days making the facile argument that by either removing ‘incentives’ (i.e. welfare payments) or by adding to employer’s incentives (i.e. abolishing the minimum wage) we reach of point of economic and industrial harmony, solving the problem of unemployment. It’s all bullshit of course, but these things can’t be refuted often enough.

  17. Paul Burns says:

    Wotk-for-the- Dole is despicable. It is slavery. If people on unemployment benefits need to enter a programme like that to qualiofy for benefits then they should be paid award wages. Otherwise it is soulless capitalist exploitation. And because of Workchoices that’s what the ALP has just been voted in to remove -every piece of that disgusting Howard legacy.

  18. David says:

    As well as cleaning out Centrelink, I hope the government does something about the spivs in the Job Network.

    A couple of years ago, I was unemployed for about four months. My Job Network service provider wanted me to undertake some form of retraining. As a man in his mid fifties with a degree in computer science and a lot of experience, I suggested to the young lady who was the public face of the particular spiv I was tied to that I needed a job, not retraining.

    Once I had found a job (through my own efforts), I kept getting letters from these people for a few months. They wanted some sort of verification of employment, so they could claim their fee for getting me off the dole.

  19. mbahnisch says:

    That’s very common, David.

  20. FDB says:

    Sure is Mark.

    My response was “you did nothing for me beyond making me feel a dismal failure, and if you don’t stop hassling me I’ll write to Centrelink and tell them so.”

  21. FDB says:

    It didn’t work, by the way.

  22. mbahnisch says:

    Yeah, a friend of mine was hassled for years – they were allegedly trying to offer him “post-placement” services but they just wanted the signature on the form so they could claim 4 grand or whatever for doing nothing to help him get a job.

  23. Klaus K says:

    “I don’t know about similarities with Jews, but ‘downward envy’ does have a bit of Nietzschean ressentiment about it.”

    Yeah, this is a concept in the same vein, especially given Nietzsche’s critique of Xtianity.

    SATP, rather than ‘reading too much into it’, my comparison was more about the social/psychological dynamics that might be in common – ie misplaced/displaced feelings of resentment about having to work. Being overly anxious about ‘bludgers’ is fed by the melancholy of the worker. At a conscious level there is no contradiction with your argument, SATP.

  24. FDB says:

    4 WHAT????

    Of course, I’m grateful in a perverse kind of way that they made me so fucking miserable – I took the first job I thought I wouldn’t hate utterly, and it turned out to be kinda fun and useful experience – but I doubt that on paper at least this is part of their brief.

    It was admitted to me by my case manager (as close as I can remember to their exact words) that “they knew lots of their clients felt demeaned by the way their programme was delivered, but it was too hard with their resources to help everyone individually in the most appropriate way”.

    I don’t reckon 4 grand is excessive if they were actually doing this, but it wouldn’t be profitable any more.

  25. Klaus K says:

    “The “clients” at times behave abominably, subjecting staff to abuse, bullying, intimidation and suchforth.”

    I think this is a feature of being marginalised, alienated and so forth. What leverage do you have when you’re in such an abject position? To expect middle class politeness and ‘good behaviour’ from those who are systematically excluded may be a bit much. Which is not to say it’s not a difficult and frustrating job being at the front line of providing these services.

  26. Futt Bucker says:

    I just want to say I am quite enjoying this thread/topic and appreciate everyone’s thoughts. I’m long term unemployed and have been through it all (job networks to WFTD). I’ve said before on here that the Job Network system was an obvious scam from the moment it was introduced. If you haven’t been through it or heard the stories it would seriously make your head spin. Work for the Dole isn’t much different and is just like someone pointed out slave labour. It’s all punitive and designed to make your life so unbearable as to make you jump into any form of employment (Job Network’s specialise in 15 hr per week covered in soot and ash gigs for minimum wage). It’s all so laughably corrupt (if it didn’t make people hate their lives) and I too hope the entire Centrelink (Welfare To Work/Go For Growth) system is overhauled by Rudd and Labor but seriously doubt it. It does the job it was intended to do.

  27. joe2 says:

    “I enjoyed my work. I was strong,” she said. “Now I can’t stand the pain. The Government pays $4000 to young girls to stay home and have babies and they push me to work when I’m not well. It’s not fair.”

    Gummotrotsky gave the link to the disturbing story of Ms Harris but how about her comments? A little sideways envy perhaps. What gets me is how catty people, who are all in difficult situations, fight amongst themselves.
    Maybe the role of TT/ACA is to keep the riff-raff at each others kneck.

  28. dj says:

    Yes, Teh Endless Outrage(tm) is a neat tool for maintaining social atomisation.

  29. anthony says:

    “Maybe the role of TT/ACA is to keep the riff-raff at each others kneck.”

    You can only help your brothers, joe2, by stamping on a dozen others.

  30. anthony says:

    and besides, after I feel a bit guilty after watching the segment on the tubbies, a bit of bludger bashing makes me feel AOK

  31. philiptravers says:

    We have a Police statistician,in Australia, who found some connection between unemployed and criminality,and called himself an ex-hippie before he got his job.So I suppose the reluctance of many Australians to do jury duty is extended to the unemployed by the legal system,that is, the rate of or number of people unemployed chosen for jury duty.If you vote ,you are already then on a list.As someone unemployed, essentially,I doubt very much that the longer term unemployed do not want to get out of jury duty.And I wonder about that statistician and his work,because if being unemployed is related easily to being unemployed,what about the crook lawyers,white collar crime,and the bloody cost when professionals take on professionals in a court setting where criminality is deemed the starting point.If you dont think it is a downward thrust,what about assessing the non-bludging Alan Bonds the Insurance company lark,the asbestosis spin,and even Einfield in N.S.W. Attacks on the unemployed in any form is a form of vilification,not acted upon by the predatory parasitic failed principles of those who claim they have engaged in work.Incentive spruikers would rob their mothers of their last dollars,because unless you know what you mean and have evidence that is going to work for every individual you are engaging in ones own sense of being superior.How not to be is a simple choice.

  32. feral sparrowhawk says:

    David, it gets worse than that. I once got sent to a Job Network provider. I was rather surprised, as I was already working part time, and consequently claiming just a fraction of the dole. Once there they advised me that I would never get work in one of the areas I was pursuing, and instead that I should follow other paths.

    A few months later I did indeed get full time work in the exact area they told me would never get me anywhere. And a few months after that I got a letter from Centrelink asking me to confirm that I now had work and filled with various questions about the services the Job Network provider had given, leading to my successful employment.

    Nowhere on the form was there any opportunity to say that the provider had *not* contributed to my getting work, let alone that they had hindered it. I refused to respond to the letter, only to get a follow-up, vaguely threatening piece of mail from Centrelink about why I hadn’t responded. I sent them a withering reply and never heard from them again.

  33. Rain says:

    I think a better termis ‘horizontal hostility’, kind of Divide & Conquer strategy.

    As for journos chasing dole-bludgers – methinx its because they are easy targets to set up for mass public *contempt*. Such gutter journalism is for the proles isn’t it? Like the book 1984, with the Gammas and Deltas own brands of newspapers which publicised icons of contempt for them to feel better about their own social status. There is *somebody* lower on the totem pole, that I can ‘look down’ on, so I can look better in comparison.

    There are fraudulent human beings in all social strata. The govt runs fraud and audit intelligence operations on doctors defrauding Medicare to the tune of hundreds of thousands — but they aren’t publicly villified “bludgers”, because well.. that would be making the whole profession of doctors look bad, wouldn’t it?

    Easier to pick on the dole-bludgers, who in reality dont take that much out of the communal pie anyway. There aren’t that many of them either — its not like half the country is queuing up for it — and what little pittance of support they are paid is not worth even worrying about by us working tax-payers.

    Much more of my taxes are wasted in harrassing the poor buggers, or towards Job Networks which are much bigger bludgers, getting paid a hell of a lot more for no outcome for their clients, the govt or for me the long-suffering tax-payer. As a tax-payer I wanna know where that tax money gets gurgled down the toilet. At least the dole-bludger is forced to spend their pittance on living, and I don’t begrudge them that at all.

    Corporations do much more fiddling of tax-payers $$$, along with dodgy accountants, dodgy employers, dodgies, here, there and everywhere, all taking far more of my taxes for SFA, and no journos ever chase them down.

    As for Centrelink, they hit others than dolies too. My son is disabled, and when he was a kid living at home I received a small non-means tested ‘Carer’s Allowance’.

    When he went onto full disability adult pension, they hit me with a back-dated 5 year “debt” for several thousand dollars…they took my family allowances for my younger kids away, took 9 months of legal battles, delays and stupid excuses, time off my work etc. It was illegal, and they knew it. They even wanted to garnishee my wages to “recover” the debt, and I refused to sign the form allowing them to do so, certainly not without legal advice.

    At one point, I went to see a public solicitor (in a long line of lawyers) with all my paperwork. Her office was wall-to-wall case files, and she apologised for being late as she had just been given another 12 cases of intellectually disabled and chronically mentally ill people being breached off their disability pensions.

    Eventually, in desperate frustration at getting nowhere with my Appeal, I e-mailed my whole story to my local federal (Labor) MP, the entire Opposition front-bench, and cc’d in every Current-Affairs type TV show network I could find.

    Within 2 hours, call from some senior Centrelink prat, with “lets make a deal” attitude. Wow, took about a half-hour, Case *closed*. Would have been nice to get an apology for their administrative screw-ups which caused the whole drama in the first place – but that may have been pushing my luck?

    That was several years ago, and I later found a Senate Committee Enquiry report into Centrelink. Was about 1999/2000 or 2001 I think. It was buried on the aph.gov site.

    Thousands of people a year, had been illegally breached by Centrelink. Of those who Appealed 98% of Appeals to the AAT were found in the recipients favour, but with an average 18-month waiting time for the Appeal to be heard, in which all Centrelink payments were often stopped pending the Appeal. I can only guess that quite a few must have been starved into submission before they got to Appeal.

    All sorts, including Uni students on Youth Allowance. If your parents couldn’t pay your way through Uni, you obviously shouldn’t be there anyway. Working-class kids only need the 3-Rs, should be out learning a trade (with a govt voucher) working under SerfChoices, not getting educated and getting above their station in life, huh?

    Pleased to see that Rudd and Co are reviewing it again, all these years later. I wonder if the stats have changed much since the last review? (which presumably, was never made public. I just stumbled over it when I was researching info, for my own Appeal process)

    And then Costello in 2003 or 04 cut disability pensions by $10/week, and instituted work-for-the-pension conditions, coz obviously they are all bludgers too.

    Same time he increased HECS by a massive 25% in one hit, and adding on annual interest to the HECS debt, and re-branded the whole scheme to ‘HELP’. And with wage-inflation, a lot of newer grads were hit with private health insurance *tax* on top of it.

    Then being told that if your working-class, all you need is the 3-Rs and a Tafe voucher….wow, that must have gone down well …

    No wonder the Gen-Y’s were so over-the-top in supporting the ALP this time around.

    Along with their younger brothers/sisters amongst the high-school kids mobbing Kevin wherever he went 🙂

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