Keynote paper given by John Tomlinson at the Australia New Zealand Student Services Association, Canberra 4-7th December 2005. reproduced in the Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association: No 27. April 2006 pp.56-73.
In 1972, after Whitlam’s “It’s Time” victory, it seemed to me that a better world was possible. Education, health and social services were revitalised. There was reform in the air and in those days reform meant ‘to make better to improve’. These days, ‘reform’ is again being spoken about – but it has a new meaning. Welfare ‘reform’ means loading more obligations onto the shoulders of those who are unemployed, have a disability or who are single parents. Kevin Andrews’ (2005 [a]) industrial relations ‘reform’ amounts to squeezing even more out of an already-stretched workforce. In such an environment, the health ‘reforms’ of “Medicare plus” result in less bulkbilling and greater costs accruing to individuals and families for private medical and pharmaceutical services. Brendan Nelson’s educational ‘reform’ means increasing student’s Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) debt, demolishing student unions and limiting students’ access to services.
In the years since 1996, when prime ministerial aspirant, John Howard, assured us that we could be “relaxed and comfortable” if only we would vote Labor from office, we have seen:
The prevailing political climate, informed as it is by neo-liberal economic fundamentalism, preaches that the market is the final arbiter of good taste. In this paper, I will reflect upon the changes that have taken place since 1996 and argue that it is time for those employed in tertiary education to meet our obligation. Our obligation is to our students. It is an obligation to provide a supportive educational environment which educates students to live in society rather than simply equipping them to become pliable peons in the global marketplace. We should aim to prepare our student for what Guy Standing (2002) calls an “occupation” rather than just skilling them for “jobs”. That is, we should aim to produce citizens not slaves – citizens equipped to demand that all permanent residents of this Commonwealth have access to a fair share of the common wealth.
From Alice in Wonderland to Joseph Goebbels, from Stalin to Bush and from Blair to John Howard’s media machine, it is imperative to the spin doctors that words come to mean what the powerful want them to mean.
When Howard speaks about removing workers’ protection against being unfairly dismissed, he claims to be removing “unfair dismissal legislation”. When he speaks about destroying the near universal membership of student guilds he claims to be protecting choice and introducing “voluntary student unionism”. When he discusses imposing oppressive obligations on unemployed people, he claims to be saving them from the scourge of “welfare dependency”. When he announces that from July 2006 lone parents, once their youngest child reaches six years, will be required to seek employment and when the youngest child turns eight year will be transferred to Newstart unemployment benefit (Lewis and Karvelas 2005), he claims to be assisting such parents to “take their place in the labour market”. He makes similar pronouncements about his plans to restrict those with disabilities gaining access to Disability Support Pensions. (For a more detailed discussion of these last two issues see Galvin 2004 and Tomlinson 2005[a], ABC News Online 2005, Perry 2005).
When you are trying to work out what is happening in social policy debates it can be helpful to go to a good dictionary and look up the meaning of some of the words being used in the debate. You can then see the degree of departure from the meaning that politicians are giving, or attempting to give, to concepts and the standard dictionary meaning/s of the same terms. For instance, when Howard Government ministers claim to be “reforming” everything from welfare, education, Medicare to industrial relations, the meaning they give to such “reforms” appears to be vastly different to that which the Macquarie Dictionary (1987 p. 1479) provides:
re-form verb. to form again.
reform noun. 4. the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, etc.: social reform. Reform 4. to restore to a former and better state; improve by alteration, substitution, abolition, etc. to cause (a person) to abandon wrong or evil ways of life or conduct. 6. to put an end to (abuses, disorders, etc.). 7. to abandon evil conduct or error.
Whether the Howard Government’s “mutual obligation” policy is ethically just, we might consider if the imposition of such obligations upon those forced to rely on income support could accurately described as “mutual”. The Macquarie Dictionary defines ‘mutual’ as:
1. possessed, experienced, performed, etc. by each of two or more with respect to other or others; reciprocal: mutual aid.
2. having the same relation each towards the other or others: mutual foes.
3. of or pertaining to each of two or more or common: mutual acquaintance (1987 p.1175 italics in original).
There is no reciprocity in the relationship between the Howard Government and unemployed people. The opinions of unemployed people were not sought; their interests are not considered. The Government unilaterally imposed the policy; the Government unilaterally extended the policy in every budget from 1996/7 to 2005/6.
Now let’s look at the ethics of such policies. Goodin (2001) provides a sustained articulate analysis of the failure of ‘mutual obligation’ and increasingly targeted income support to achieve justice for the least affluent Australians (see also Kinnear 2000, Standing 2002, Bessant, Watts, Dalton and Smyth 2006).
Goodin (2001) points to the propensity of governments to assert an implied consent, for changes in income policy between welfare recipients and the State, through the widespread use of the language of the social contract. He conjures the image of a highwayman declaring that even if one had parted with one’s money in return for one’s life no court would enforce such a contract. He goes on:
The proposition that the welfare worker is putting to her putative ‘client’ is: ‘Agree or starve.’ That is the same, in all essentials, to the proposition the highwayman puts to his victim: ‘Agree or die.’(p.191).
Just as we still have an obligation to feed people even after they have committed heinous crimes so too we have an obligation to not let people starve even if they have committed mortal sins against the labour market …Welfare recipients have not agreed to those new arrangements at the macro- level; and such consent as they give at the micro-level, in ‘agreements’ negotiated under effective duress with welfare caseworkers, has no moral standing (p.195).
If we seriously believed that work is good for you and that it is the state’s legitimate role to force you to do it, then we would have no grounds for confining our paternalism to the poor. Paternalistically speaking, it would be equally important to make the rich work too (p.198).
But, perhaps I have missed something – maybe Frederick von Hayek (1944) John Howard (1999, 2000) Jocelyn Newman (1999) Abbott (1999) and Andrews (2005[a]) are on to something when they claim that by forcing people off income support they are saving the poor from their slothful desire to sink into the quagmire of “welfare dependency”.
The impact of enforcing obligations upon unemployed people, insufficiently employed people, lone parents and people with disabilities, is the same whether it is expressed in the considered tones of Patrick McClure’s (2000) Report, or Minister Abbott’s (1999) suggestion that unemployed people are “job snobs”. The hysterical denunciation of “welfare dependency”, particularly intergenerational “welfare dependency”, is based on a myth. There have been no intergenerational panel studies of long-term social security recipients in Australia. Recent overseas long-term panel studies refute such assertions (Goodin, Headey, Muffels and Dirven 1999, pp.260- 261). Cook, Dodd and Mitchell (2001, p.24) report that since 1975 in Australia there have been around eleven job seekers for each job vacancy. Even, the Minister for Family and Community Services, Kay Patterson (2004) has admitted “we do not have adequate longitudinal data in the Australian context from which to draw a reliable picture of the extent and circumstances surrounding the cycle of intergenerational welfare dependence.” (See also Banks 2005.)
There is little recognition that workfare jobs entrench low-paid employment by displacing full-time, above-poverty-line jobs (Briggs and Buchanan 2000). “Work for the dole” and Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) jobs in Australia have a similar effect of entrenching poverty (Tomlinson 2003 Chapters 4 and 6). The CDEP is a “work for the dole” program which has been operating in Indigenous communities since 1977. The bulk of Indigenous “jobs” on Indigenous communities are CDEP “jobs” – paid at about the rate of unemployment benefits and only the most misguided would claim that such “jobs” have abolished poverty in Indigenous Australia.
Advocates of participation-income seem oblivious to the life experiences of low-paid workers revealed in the Australian Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union’s (LHMU) submission to the Senate Inquiry into Poverty (2003). There is very little recognition of the demoralisation that follows in the wake of working full-time yet still experiencing poverty, or only being able to gain casualised, poorly remunerated, precarious employment.
The Mabo High Court judgement in 1992 led, in 1994, to the Native Title Act. It appeared, for a while, that reconciliation might be reached between the original owners of this continent and those of us who arrived since 1788. This was particularly so after Prime Minister Keating’s Redfern speech on 10th December 1992 when he declared:
…the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non- Aboriginal Australians.
It begins…with the act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion (Australian Politics 1992).
After the Coalition regained control of the Treasury benches came the Wik High Court judgement which recognised that native title could coexist with pastoral leases. The Coalition Government was determined to provide “Bucket loads of extinguishment” (McKenna 2004) in its 1998 “Ten Point Plan” which made it very much harder for traditional owners to establish ownership of land. Middle Australia hit back in 2000 when over a million marched against the failure of the Government to facilitate the reconciliation process. Then there was Howard’s refusal to apologise to the stolen generations, his amalgamation of the Aboriginal Benefit Study Assistance program and Austudy, the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission and the imposition of shared responsibility agreements. All the while Aborigines continue to die twenty years younger than other Australians. (For further details see Tomlinson 2005[b])
In October 1999, asylum seekers who arrived without visas were granted three year Temporary Protection Visas rather than permanent protection (Phillips 2004, p. 1). A system of concentration camps, euphemistically referred to as Immigration Detention Centres, proliferated. These camps were usually located in remote and inhospitable places. Then, in 2001 came the Tampa with its cargo of 430 asylum seekers which the crew had rescued from the Indian Ocean. Howard responded with his ‘Pacific solution’ which began a policy of incarcerating asylum seekers, who had not set foot on Australian soil, in camps on Nauru and Manus Island. White racist groups here and in Europe praised the Australian Government but in other circles the ‘Pacific solution’ was roundly condemned (Maley 2004, Marr and Wilkinson 2004, Brennan 2003, Lock, Quenault, and Tomlinson 2002).
The privatised concentration camps established in many arid parts of Australia have been the setting for hundreds of incidents of self-harm every year, many people have been driven mad by their incarceration, cells have been set on fire, asylum seekers have sewn their lips together, families have been torn apart, and riots have been ruthlessly suppressed. Australia’s oppressive treatment of asylum seekers in the camps has been criticised by a number of United Nations Committees, particularly the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) here (CERD 2005, HEROC 2005). For too long, all this made little impression on the Government despite every Australian professional health association warning of the destructive impact that such indefinite incarceration was having on the health of inmates.
Gradually refugee advocacy groups (Rural Australians for Refugees, Chilout, Spare Rooms for Refugees and many others) began to change public opinion. The story about the young boy Shayan Bedarae being driven mad inside a detention centre, as shown on Four Corners (2001), made an appreciable dint the wall of public indifference. But, after the Coalition Government was returned to office in 2004 and gained control of the Senate from July 2005 it seemed that there would be little change in asylum seeker policy. Then came Cornelia Rau, Vivian Alvarez Solon, the Palmer Inquiry, the Giorgio Bills, the Prime Minister’s initial stone-walling and subsequent relaxation of some of the most punitive aspects of refugee policy. Recently, the Howard Government brought back all but two of the asylum seekers remaining on Nauru. The ABC’s PM program 25th of October this year revealed, in relation to the Immigration Department, that “…of the 220 people whose cases the Commonwealth Ombudsman is examining for possible unlawful detention, two were locked up for between five and seven years”.
Clearly, there are many improvements which could be made to Australia’s asylum seeker policy: the end of mandatory detention, the closure of Baxter, the end of off- shore processing, the end of detention beyond initial health and security checking (say 48 hours), the removal of the exclusion of off-shore islands from our immigration zone, the provision of Medicare and social security to asylum seekers awaiting determination of their refugee status but at least Australia seems to have turned the corner and these struggles lie ahead.
Neo-classical economics now holds sway in Australia and has done so since the mid- 1980s. Some trace its re-emergence to Austrian, Frederick von Hayek’s 1944 text entitled The Road to Serfdom and his involvement with other right-wing business leaders and economists through the Mont Pelerin Society. Susan George (1997) points to the proliferation of well-funded right-wing think-tanks for abetting the rise in economic fundamentalism. Michael Pusey (1991) here and Jane Kelsey (1995) in New Zealand have recorded the rampage of neo-classical economics.
Economic fundamentalism has become so much a part of the Howard Government’s mind set that it is sometimes hard for Australians to remember that from the early 1940s until the end of the 1970s Keynesian economics prevailed and with it came full employment, improved welfare and educational services, decent industrial relations and for a while universal health care and free university education.
Nowadays we have a “user pays” system underpinning most decisions made by governments. I think this system should more appropriately be referred to as a loser pays system as the Patrick Cook cartoon amply demonstrates.
Those of us who don’t have the time or patience to come to terms with the intricacies of economics owe it to ourselves and our students to read at least Bob Ellis’ (1998) very amusing little book entitled First Abolish the Customer: 202 Arguments Against Economic Rationalism and the first eight chapters of the concise text How to argue with an economist written by Lindy Edwards in 2002. Then we might start to see that those economists who believe in an invisible hand which controls the market should not be taken too seriously but should rather be seen as objects of ridicule. Of course, if you do have time to deconstruct economic fundamentalism then I suggest you start your journey with Rees, Rodley and Stilwell’s (1993) Beyond the Market, Paul Ormerod’s (1994) The Death of Economics, Will Hutton’s (2002) The World We’re In and Frank Stilwell’s (2002) Political Economy.
Seventeen academics (July 2005) who specialise in labour market research reviewed the Howard Government’s proposed Industrial Relations policies. They concluded:
On all the evidence available … there is simply no reason to believe that the federal government’s proposed changes will do anything to address these complex economic and social problems. The Government’s proposals will:
The Howard Government’s industrial relations policy involves coercing more people into the labour market, staying longer at work, decreasing the conditions of employment and conscripting the reserve army of labour to accept precarious, casual and part-time work or being forced into workfare type programs in an effort to ensure the quiescence of organised labour. At the very time when more of the population is part of the labour market and the Australian nation is more affluent than ever, the Government is demanding that all (even those most marginal to the productive process) demonstrate their economic utility and self-sufficiency. This is the real agenda of the Howard Government.
From 1996 to 1999 the number of academic staff fell by 5% across the board…. Between 1998-2000 casual employment of academic staff in universities rose by over 18% (Group of Eight [Universities] 2001).
Student-staff ratios in the Humanities rose from 15.5 in 1995 to 20 in the year 2000. Source: Group of Eight [Universities] (2001)
Prior 1974, students, with the exception of scholarship holders, paid university fees. Gough Whitlam argued that university education was a public good which should be publicly funded: the “Whitlam Labor Government abolished university fees with a view to increasing the number of Australians able to study at university (Bessant et al 2006, p. 316)”. It is ironic that university fees (HECS) were reintroduced by the Hawke Labor Government as a way of funding more university places (Bessant et al 2006, p. 317, Edwards, Howard and Miller 2001). Judith Bessant and her colleagues (2006) detail what a cash cow HECS has become for tertiary institutions and governments when they point out that:
Until 1997, HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) contributed about 20 per cent of the cost of a degree. Now that has risen under the Howard government to 40 per cent. The Nelson reforms are likely to see this increase to 44 without a 30 percent surcharge, or up to 56 per cent if all universities apply the surcharge (Bessant et al 2006, p. 331).
One outcome of having students gain their higher education on credit means that all (but the BMW set) are saddled with debt for a long time after graduating. This means that many will postpone establishing a family, buying a home and doing all the other things that many take for granted. At the last New Zealand election the Labour Party promised to stop charging interest on student fees for graduates who stay in Aotearoa (Otago Polytech Students Association 2005). There was a lot of discussion as to whether this was affordable (Farrar 2005) most of which ignored the cost to a country of training skilled workers only to have them leave. Clearly, many graduates left New Zealand as a way of avoiding repaying student educational loans.
I was recently at Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory where the administration has been forced, by economic necessity, to reduce by one third the number of subjects it offers. In 2005/6 the Federal Government will provide less than 40% of Australian universities’ funding and, in return for that money, the Howard Government is intervening more and more in the industrial, administrative and academic life of universities (Department of Education Science and Training 2005 [a]).
The rise of managerialism, the application of competition policy and the commodification of knowledge have placed considerable pressure on the older conception of universities as places of light, liberty, learning, reason and debate. Such changes have been “accompanied by a reconstitution of student identities from liberal learning-citizens to customers-cum-consumers of education commodities who, on enrolment enter commercial contractual arrangements with ‘deliverers’ of ‘educational services’ (Bessant et al 2006, p. 333)”.
The Technical and Further Education (TAFE) system is under even greater pressure than universities. The spectre of Howard’s new Australian Technical Colleges with their aggressive industrial relations policies will be used to pressure TAFE management to cut staff wages and conditions (Department of Education Science and Training 2005 [b]).
It is easy to separate what is happening in the rest of the world from what is happening in our workplaces. Sometimes we don’t see the connection between the changes in the system of income support and the problems that students are having with their studies. Some of my students badly need access to dental services and, prior to the Howard Government abolishing the low income earner dental scheme in 1997, would have been able to get it – now they just have to put up with the pain. We can’t afford to ignore what is happening out there whilst trying to fix up what is going on in our work places. As criminologist, Paul Wilson, often remarked “Decisions made in the boardrooms affect what happens in the bedrooms”.
The racism which has influenced our treatment of Indigenous Australians since 1788 is an ever-present feature of Indigenous students’ experience of the tertiary education system. The racism which allows the Howard Government to incarcerate asylum seekers in Baxter or to use SAS commandos to prevent those rescued by the Tampa arriving at Christmas Island, is an ongoing feature of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers once they obtain refugee status. Refugee students tell me they frequently encounter racism in my university and on the streets.
The divisive class attitudes which allow the government to decide who are and who are not the “deserving unemployed’, the “deserving students”, the “deserving single parents” are present in TAFEs and universities around the country. The denigration of the young and sometimes the old in workplaces up and down this country can be found in the hallowed halls of academe. Few of our tertiary institutions adequately service rural students, let alone those who live in remote parts of Australia. Though women now constitute the majority of university students, gender discrimination is alive and well in tertiary education. Attitudes about being able-bodied, attractive or demonstrating sporting prowess (which are so much a part of Australian life) don’t fit well with the need to provide appropriate educational access to students with disabilities. When the government claims that it intends to cut the number of Disability Support Pensioners by a third, it is hardly surprising that many in the community and in our sector come to believe that a third of Disability Support Pensioners are malingerers, or in some other way undeserving. Of course, not all people with severe mobility impairments are socially and politically perceptive. One woman at my university, who receives a Disability Support Pension uses the disability car park and the lift which we fought to have installed to assist staff and students with mobility difficulties. She drives a car with the personalised number plate “Tax Sux” – which leads me to believe that she has not thought through the role of government revenue in the provision of social services.
Student support workers are going to find that, if student unions are decimated as a result of the Howard Government’s assault on them (Crombie 2005), they won’t have a power base when they want to pressure academics to give students with disabilities special consideration. Uncooperative teaching staff or staff who believe that students with disabilities or severe disadvantage should not receive special consideration will just dig in their heels and refuse to cooperate with counsellors. Such an outcome will prevent students competing fairly with their fellow students.
The extent to which TAFE and university budgets are cut will determine how many staff are employed to maintain counselling and other services. If the abolition of student amenity fees leads to the closing of campus child care services this will make it even harder for parents of young children to undertake or complete their studies.
There are less obvious impacts on our institutions which will eventuate if the present Government prevails in the longer term. We can’t say we were not warned. In 1996 Howard told the Australian people he wanted to replicate the New Zealand experience and too few of us had read Jane Kelsey’s (1995) account of the destruction inflicted by economic fundamentalism upon New Zealand’s productive capacity and society more generally. In 1999 and 2000 Howard clearly set out his particular amalgam of social conservative and neo-liberal agendas. It should have been obvious, that his fascination with imposing ‘work for the dole’ on young people was not going to be the limit of his assault on the social wage.
The most likely downside of continued economic fundamentalism and social divisiveness will be the breakdown in trust between citizens. The ease with which Howard was able to evoke feelings of downward envy directed towards the unemployed should have alerted us to this danger (Tomlinson 1999). There seemed no recognition in suburbia that “…if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night” (James Baldwin cited in Davis 1971, p.1). In a society, a TAFE or a university where there is no solidarity between people, the sense of what is reasonable or fair is lost and the various actors struggle competitively for their individual place in the sun.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher always suggested “There is no alternative” to her chosen policy. In the real world, however, there are always other alternatives to those which our “betters” have mapped out for us.
In the long term we don’t have to settle for the highly targeted, means-tested, obligating categorical system of income support. We could opt for a universal Basic Income paid to each and every one on the basis of citizenship or permanent residence.
The recipient would not be obligated to do anything in return for receiving the Basic Income, which is why, in Britain, this idea is referred to as a Citizen’s Income. At present, the only implemented Basic Income is the Alaskan Dividend (Goldsmith 2002) which is paid out of oil dividends and has been in operation for 20 years. Basic Income is being seriously considered by the government in Ireland, been partly implemented in Brazil and is being hotly debated in Germany, Spain, South Africa and Namibia (For further information see USBIG Newsletter Vol 6, No 35, 2005, Basic Income Earth Network[BIEN] 2005, Basic Income Guarantee Australia [BIGA] 2005). Various forms of universal income guarantee have been promoted in Australia since the early 1970s (Tomlinson, Harrington and Schooneveldt 2004) and across the Tasman (Universal Basic Income New Zealand 2005).
I have proposed a universal Basic Income as the long term solution to income maintenance because I believe that once a Basic Income is in place many of the other necessary social wage improvements will be easier to implement. I am mindful, however, that John Maynard Keynes noted that “in the long run we are all dead” and that the poor need to eat every day. So I will suggest some things we can do immediately to meet our obligations to ourselves and our students. First, we must work with unions to resist the Howard Government’s industrial relations changes and their attack on enterprise bargaining and award conditions. This will assist us to have greater bargaining power with our employers and indirectly assist our students to maintain their wage structures and conditions. Secondly, we must become active in the struggle for reconciliation between Indigenous and other Australians. Thirdly, we need to campaign for the end of mandatory detention of asylum seekers and the closure of the concentration camps. Fourthly, we must confront sexism, ageism, racism and discrimination on the basis of disability whenever we encounter them.
The next step in our day-to-day work with students is to attempt to show them how attractive Guy Standing’s concept of occupation is compared with going along with the Government’s mantra that “the best form of welfare is a job and any job is better than no job at all”(Andrews 2005[b]).
When he speaks about occupation, Standing (2002), equates it with a calling, a vocation or a craft lamenting that:
the ancient sense of ‘craft’ or vocation has been eroded, symbolised in part by the virtual collapse of apprenticeship as a system of training …For many workers, vocational training has been absent, while there has been a shift to job training and its surrogate, labour market training (pp. 46-47).
At page 255 Standing (2002) says:
We define ourselves by our occupation, a word that has a double sense in the English language – meaning taking possession of a piece of territory…and also a set of related activities learned or refined through a career…
A ‘job’ is a humbler word, conveying a set of tasks that might or might not be combined into an occupation. Often, it has had a pejorative meaning attached to it, implying a lack of permanency, a lack of accumulated wisdom and skill…A job is what one does, an occupation is what one is.
Perhaps if we successfully encourage our students to approach their learning as a step on the way to gaining an occupation then the challenges we face in this sector and in our societies will seem less imposing.
Standing (2002) condemns workfare programs as a labourist fetish (p. 272), pointing out that for much of the 20th century in many parts of the world employment or being prepared to take a job determines individual entitlements and status (p.xii). In addition, he regards workfare as a methodology of exclusion from income security rather than as a way to include unemployed people in the labour market (Ch. 8). Standing is an ardent advocate of introducing a Basic Income as a way of ensuring real freedom (see also Van Parijs (1997). Standing (2002) concludes his book by suggesting:
Dignified work needs basic security, or real freedom is denied. The ultimate paradox is that it requires the freedom to do no work at all. Dignified work can only exist when it is done for intrinsic reasons, not because a landlord, a boss or the state says it shall be so (p. 277).
As workers committed to our occupation, we need to be mindful of the immediate and long-term outcomes for our students. It would be a pyrrhic victory indeed if we were to succeed in assisting students with disabilities to get through their courses only to find that their student allowances or Disability Support Pension ceased, they were offered work under unconscionable conditions, which if they refused would mean they were refused Newstart or other forms of income support.
It is not a choice between fighting for the immediate best interests of our students and struggling to build a decent society in the longer term. These are interwoven issues. We need to do both.
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