Multiculturalism under siege

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Monument to Multiculturalism in Toronto, a sculpture by Francesco Perilli. Photo by Shaun Merritt https://flic.kr/p/5d7sTp

My plan to write something cuddly and wholesome about Multiculturalism Month in Queensland was derailed somewhat by the egregious maiden speech of crossbench Senator Fraser Anning.

One of our newest politicians, he chose his maiden speech to call for a return to the White Australia policy, suggesting that a plebiscite be held to ask Australians if they want ‘wholesale non-English speaking immigrants from the Third World and, in particular, whether they want any Muslims’.

Politicians who make incendiary speeches are often misquoted, so this is exactly what Senator Anning had to say about Muslims.

“A majority of Muslims in Australia of working age do not work and live on welfare. Muslims in New South Wales and Victoria are three times more likely than other groups to be convicted of crimes. We have black African Muslim gangs terrorising Melbourne. We have ISIS-sympathising Muslims trying to go overseas to fight for ISIS and, while all Muslims are not terrorists, certainly all terrorists these days are Muslims. So why would anyone want to bring more of them here?”

He said a lot of other things too; about countering the growing threat of China both outside and within Australia; about building coal-fired power stations to return us to the cheapest power in the world, and about (ahem) restoring personal freedoms and free speech.

The thing that outraged many, however, was his use of the words, ‘the final solution’, made infamous by the Nazis in WWII. Senator Anning seems unrepentant, amid claims the speech was deliberately structured to be controversial and raise his profile. He claims the use of the term “final solution” (the Nazi regime’s euphemism for exterminating Jewish people), was “inadvertent”. But he has not backed down, saying the outrage is coming solely from political opponents.

The counterpoint to Senator Anning’s divisive speech was a plea for consensus by the Member for Chifley, Hon Ed Husic. His response in Parliament described the experiences of his Bosnian parents, who came to Australia in the 1960s.

“My old man worked on the Snowy Mountains scheme. Dad worked with his hands and Mum stayed home to make sure we had a family that could take advantage of all the great things in this country.

“Like many kids of migrants, I carry a debt – a debt of gratitude to this country that we were able to achieve this. I went to university. I could count on one hand the numbers of folks in my family or from my Dad’s generation that got to do that. Now I get to serve in this place (Parliament) and regardless of my faith, my commitment to the community is what I’m judged on.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten weighed in, saying  “…As leaders, as representatives of the Australian people, as servants of diverse communities in a great multicultural nation, we cannot stay silent in the face of racism.”

Even former MP John Howard condemned the tone of Anning’s speech, which is a bit rich coming from the bloke who introduced the One Australia policy in 1988, which called for an end to multiculturalism (and opposed a treaty with Aboriginal Australians).

Anning might not have read the spray in the Tweed Daily News from Australian-born journalist Charis Chong, who said that although she drinks all kinds of Australian beer and has a Weber in her backyard, “I’ll never be Australian enough”.

She talks of her negative experiences as an Asian Australia, but also her true friendships with people who don’t talk about assimilation – “they are just nice, decent people who appreciate each individual person for who they are.

“The problem with Senator Anning’s comments is that they seek to exclude people from ever being good enough to be ‘Australian’ simply because they don’t look ‘white’ or want to practice a certain religion.”

Katharine Murphy writing for The Guardian warned that the Anning speech was a sign that Australia was being caught up in global nationalist debates.

What we are witnessing in national politics is the latest manifestation of Australia’s cultural cringe. Far right political operatives, and the media voices prepared to give them succour, are importing the nationalist debates that have sprung up in the shadow of the global financial crisis.”

Murphy is correct in saying that debates about race, multiculturalism, sovereignty and immigration have flared up elsewhere because of deep resentments felt by the losers of globalisation. While Australia was not as deeply affected by the GFC, the ‘outrage consciousness’ that exists elsewhere is being imported, validated and projected here, she said.

The 2016 Census revealed a lot about the ethnic makeup of Australia. Nearly half (49%) of Australians had either been born overseas (first generation Australian) or one or both of their parents had been born overseas (second generation Australians). Of the 6.16 million overseas-born persons, nearly one in five (18%) had arrived since the start of 2012. While England and New Zealand were still the next most common countries of birth, the proportion of those born overseas who were born in China and India has increased to 8.3% and 7.4% respectively. Malaysia now appears in the top 10 countries of birth (replacing Scotland) and represents 0.6% of the Australian population. While 52.1% of Australians identify as Christians, those who listed Islam as their religion numbered 620,200 or 2.6% of the population.

One might imagine that immigrants and refugees settling in regional and rural Australia would receive a chilly reception from the stereotypical ‘rednecks’ of the bush. But Prof. Collins wrote in The Conversation that a research project on immigrants living in regional Australia a decade ago dispelled this myth, with 80% of respondents reporting a warm welcome.

“Our new research confirmed this finding, with 68% of the refugees surveyed in Queensland overall – and 81% in Toowoomba – reporting it was ‘very easy’ or ‘easy’ to make friends in Australia.”

Meanwhile, people who believe in embracing multiculturalism continue to celebrate its existence, which in Queensland is the month of August.

If you live in regional Queensland and support cultural diversity, you could look out for BEMAC’s Culture Train. (BEMAC is Queensland’s leading multicultural arts producer, presenter and artistic development organisation).The train will be making 15 whistle stops on a tour that starts today. A group of five culturally diverse musicians will present free concerts and workshops starting at Dunwich (Stradbroke Island), then on to Dalby, Chinchilla, Roma, Charleville, Longreach, Barcaldine, Emerald, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Childers, Cherbourg, Toowoomba, Ipswich and finishing at the Brisbane Multicultural Centre on August 31. The Culture Train 2018 ensemble is: Sarah Calderwood: Celtic singer-songwriter, flute & whistle player, Chong Ali: Vietnamese rapper and emcee, Marcelo Rosciano: Brazilian percussionist, Ben Kashi: Persian dulcimer and percussionist and Gertrude Benjamin: Torres-Strait Islander folk and soul singer.

Sarah, who is also musical director, said the group would be performing shows which combine songs from the group’s vastly different cultures backgrounds, with individuals performing solo work as well.

“The five of us are thrilled to not only celebrate this diversity through music and storytelling,” she told FOMM, “but to promote inclusion and bring communities together to collectively celebrate multiculturalism in regional, rural and remote communities.”

 

 

 

Queensland ramps up renewable energy

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Renewable energy – solar lights at Charters Towers-

For some time I’d been harbouring a suspicion that Queensland was a laggard when it came to renewable energy. That may have been the case in the past – wind and solar generation increased only 3% between 2006 and 2016. But a recent national survey by the Clean Energy Council found that eight of the country’s top 10 domestic solar panel users are in Queensland. Bundaberg, which has some 11,060 households with solar panel installations, tops the list.

The Clean Energy Australia report (2018) said that in 2017, more than 1100 MW of rooftop solar power capacity was installed Australia-wide. This has happened despite the winding back of once-attractive subsidies to install solar, as well as a reduction in the amounts paid for selling energy back to the grid.

At the end of 2017, more than 50 large-scale wind and solar projects were under construction or scheduled to start in the near future. This represents more than 5,300 MW of new generating capacity, $10 billion in investment and 5,750 new direct jobs. Queensland’s share of this new infrastructure will generate 2121 MW, a $4 billion investment creating 3,196 jobs. If all of the proposed projects come to pass, they will generate more than 15% of Queensland’s present day electricity needs.

While some regional Queensland towns (Emerald, Charters Towers, Hughenden), are building solar farms, my observations are that the domestic and business use of solar is hit and miss. We visited shopping centres in regional towns that have gone to the trouble of providing shaded car parks for their customers. These shelters usually comprised heavy duty shade cloth over steel frames. If they’d spent more money, they could have their very own solar farm, protecting shoppers from the punishing summer sun and generating their own electricity.

The lights upon the hill

While it may seem relatively inconsequential, outback Councils and mining companies have adopted outdoor solar lighting, the latter to light pathways within mining villages. Charters Towers Council has spent a lot of money dressing up the town’s main attraction (Tower Hill), with picnic tables and a walkway made from recycled plastic leading to the 29 concrete bunkers which were used to store ammunition during WWII. At night, LED solar lights positioned every 20m or so light the steep path to the summit for the nightly amphitheatre show, Ghosts after Dark, a documentary about the town’s history and legends.

Renewable energy’s been on my mind since returning from 39 nights staying in caravan parks, recreation grounds, farm stays and free camps. The latter attract grey nomads and their generators. We were camped somewhere off grid for a few days, so I put our 120W portable solar panel out in the sun, as you do, while my neighbour primed his generator. It wasn’t that intrusive and he did shut it off at dusk, but when there are 90 vans on one large site…

Meanwhile, after three days off grid, our 12-volt lights and marine fan were still working; we charged our phones and my trusty laptop and all I had to do was to keep moving the panel as the sun passed over.

Until recently, we also had a portable solar light, a simple gooseneck lamp, very handy as an extra light when cooking. It has/had a pop-out panel you can hold in the palm of your hand. Alas, I left it sitting on a tree branch (charging), at the last or second-last camp site. We spent a fruitless hour or so traversing Townsville in search of an Ikea (from whence the light was purchased, moons ago). Alas, lackaday, it turns out there is no Ikea in Townsville. The GPS navigated us to the outer industrial suburbs to a warehouse which acts as a distribution depot for online orders (from outlets which so far have no real estate in Townsville).

Just because you have switched to renewable energy, that’s no reason to forget about maintenance. We have eight panels on the roof and a solar hot water system which pre-dates the panels. When the technician came to give the system its 10-year check-up, the part of the system which converts the sun into energy had given up the ghost some indeterminate time before. Which meant our hot water was being delivered via a 240v booster switch. This partially explained why (a) the water was sometimes not so hot and (b) the disparity in our power bill. So this week we hired a plumber who installed two new solar panels to service the hot water system. This cost a bit, but we are confident of once more returning to the world of smaller power bills.

Which brings us to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s recommendation to wind down the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme by 2021.There are varying opinions as to whether that is a good or bad thing.

Lucy Percival of the Grattan Institute says the ACCC concluded that offering subsidies for household solar was a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided policy.

“Solar schemes were too generous, unfairly disadvantaged lower-income households, and failed to adjust to the changing economics of household solar.”

The SRES subsidy did not reduce as the cost of solar installation fell. So a larger proportion of solar installation was paid for by the scheme, as prices fell (from around $18,000 for a 1.5kW system in 2007 to around $5,000 for a 3kW system today).

In addition, premium feed-in tariffs were well above what generators were paid for their electricity production. Historically, solar feed-in tariffs paid households between 16c and 60c per kilowatt-hour, while wholesale prices were less than 5c per kWh.

Not everyone agrees that the ACCC got this right. Joseph Scales, national director of Solar Citizens said that while much of the ACCC’s report was ‘spot on’, the suggestion to slash the small-scale (subsidy) made zero sense.

“Solar is the best way to guarantee energy bill savings. Our governments should be helping more people to take the power back from the big power companies by installing cost-cutting solar.”

By way of example, New South Wales solar owners saved all of the state’s energy consumers $2.2 billion in just one year.

Meanwhile, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will meet today to decide whether to support the Federal Government’s controversial National Energy Guarantee.

Solar Citizens and other pro-renewable lobby groups have three main objections to what they see as flawed, old-school energy policy:

  • The NEG will allow energy retailers to continue to benefit from energy fed back into the grid from customers’ rooftop solar systems (given that many consumers are paid around 11c per Kw, while retailers charge upwards of 32c per Kw) ;
  • The NEG does not provide incentives for renewable energy but instead props up ageing and inefficient coal plants;
  • The renewable energy target for 2030 is now so low it will be covered by schemes already planned or under construction.

It’s hard to see the NEG fixing the number one issue – the rising cost of electricity. Meanwhile, some three million Australian households have taken the matter into their own hands, installing solar panels. Now we just have to convert the two thirds of households who don’t have solar that it is the right way to go.

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Confessions of a Tree Hugger

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Bob the Tree Hugger, somewhere in Queensland

The derogatory label ‘tree hugger’ is worn with pride by environmental guerrillas, the ones who chain themselves to trees in a bid to prevent them being chopped down.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines tree hugger as ‘someone who is regarded as foolish or annoying because of being too concerned about protecting trees, animals, and other parts of the natural world from pollution and other threats’. Yes, well, that’s objective.

Although chaining yourself to a tree as a form of conservation protest is more often associated with North America, you’ll find many such tree hugger examples in Australia. In Tasmania’s Tarkine forest, conservationists protested logging by direct action. Suburban tree hugger types arc up when councils decide to fell established trees for public liability or other specious reasons.

Trees, as the occasional crossword question will remind us, are the largest plants in the world. They not only provide animals and humans with shade and shelter, they pump out oxygen, suck up carbon, stabilise the soil and provide homes for native birds and animals. Trees are great for children to climb and big ones often support tree houses and swings. And as anyone who lives in a timber house could attest, once removed from the landscape, trees make permanent shelters for humans. Moreover, generations of young lovers have carved their initials in tree trunks. The latter is not world’s best practice, though, as damaging a tree’s skin (bark) can start a deterioration of the plant’s health.

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Tree hugger paradise – ancient Ooline forest

On our six-week outback trip last month we visited one of the few remaining stands of Ooline forest in Tregole National Park, which only achieved that status in 1995. Tregole’s Ooline forest survives in semi-arid, south-western Queensland, between two of the State’s natural regions, the Brigalow belt and the Mulga lands. As the National Parks website tells us, “the park protects a small but pure stand of ooline Cadellia pentastylis, an attractive dry rainforest tree dating back to the Ice Age”.

Ooline has been extensively cleared and is now uncommon and considered vulnerable to extinction.

In Queensland, a very large northern state of Australia, trees have been under siege and remain endangered by forestry activities and by clearing for agriculture or mining. Only 9% of Queensland is forested, compared to 16% of Australia overall.

​The ABC did a fact checking exercise during the last state election, to verify the claim that Queensland was clearing more timber than Brazil.

Some 395,000 hectares of regrowth and old growth vegetation was cleared in 2015-16, a 33% increase over the previous year. Queensland accounts for more than half of Australia’s total losses of native forests. This dire statistic generated critical editorials in international media.

The ABC fact checkers vindicated the claim by the Queensland Greens that more than one million hectares of native bush and forest was cleared in Queensland over four years.

“Land clearing in Queensland is now on par with Brazil,” the Greens said.

Unhappily, the rate of land clearing tends to increase under the management of conservative governments (voted in primarily by farmers, miners and the businesses that profit from agricultural and mining commerce).  One of the infamous innovations of land clearing was the ‘ball and chain’ method, involving two bulldozers, a giant steel ball and a ship’s anchor chain. The chain was secured between two bulldozers (with a third bulldozer often following on behind to add weight to dislodge larger trees).

The felled trees were swept up into a giant pile and left to dry for up to a year before being torched (in itself an ecological disaster).

Although the use of a five-tonne steel ball has largely been discontinued, many landowners still engage contractors to use the dozer and chain method to clear light scrub and forest. A good contractor can clear 40 hectares a day.

Fortunately, Labor governments tend to block or reverse the worst of the land clearing excesses. Queensland’s Palaszczuk government passed new legislation in May limiting broad scale land clearing. Farmers demonstrated outside Queensland parliament as the bill was being debated.

Meanwhile, the deforestation of Indonesia, South America and other continents and countries continues unabated. The World Resources Institute says that more than 80% of the Earth’s natural forests already have been destroyed, with clearing continuing at the rate of 20,000 hectares per day.

Tane Mahuta and the risk of dieback

If you have visited New Zealand and saw the country’s oldest and largest Kauri, Tane Mahuta, you were indeed fortunate. Two thousand year old Tane Mahuta, held sacred by the Maori, is at risk of infection from Kauri dieback, a disease which has already picked off many old Kauris in the surrounding forest in Northland and elsewhere in NZ.

New Zealand’s once massive Kauri forests were plundered over the centuries for ships’ masts, houses and other buildings and simply to clear the land for agriculture. In the 1700s, Kauri covered 1.2 billion hectares. Today the coverage is less than 4,000 hectares.

Meanwhile in Maleny, Australia, we ‘small c’ conservationists nurture the native trees on our half acre block, which remains well wooded. We rid the bottom of the block of every bad weed known to man or woman, circa 2002, planted several natives and allowed the area to regenerate as native forest.

The downside is a straggly line of giant camphor laurel trees which straddle the boundary between our block and a neighbour. We felled the biggest and oldest camphor as it was too close to the house, its root system undermining the driveway, massive limbs swaying about during storms. We felt bad about hiring someone to remove that huge old weed tree, imagining its psychic pain as chainsaws did their fatal work.

Did you know the term ‘tree hugger’ can also mean someone who physically hugs a tree to become more at one with nature?

“Good morning, tree.”

“Morning, Elspeth, coffee smells good. Ahem, I don’t suppose I could have a glass of water?”

BBC culture writer Lindsay Baker found that the recent emergence of ‘tree literature’ is no new thing, quoting the likes of William Wordsworth (It Was An April Morn), John Clare (The Fallen Elm) and German poet and philosopher Herman Hesse (Trees: Reflections and Poems).

“Trees are sanctuaries,” wrote Hesse. “When we have learned to listen to trees… that is home.”

New age and literary tree-isms aside, ‘small c’ conservationists can do their bit to save trees without necessarily chaining themselves to bulldozers or a Wollemi Pine (critically endangered, according to the Canberra Arboretum, which hosts 31 endangered species).

In 2014, we set ourselves a carbon-neutral cap after towing a caravan 15,000 kms around Australia. Our carbon footprint for this epic journey was 4.77 tonnes of CO2, based on driving 15,000 kms at an average 14.5 litres per 100 kilometres. This translated to $24.15 per tonne or $115.95. We donated this amount to Barung Landcare, where we often purchase trees, plants and ferns from their native nursery.

Our 2018 outback trip (6,000 kms), which ended on Monday, should cost us around $50 as our version of the ‘carbon tax’. Or we could just wander around the block, hugging trees (hose in hand).

Recommended reading: The Bush – Don Watson, Barkskins – Annie Proulx, The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben.

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Caravan maintenance and the art of journaling

No 6 in a six-part travelogue.

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Theresa Creek Dam at sunset. Caravan maintenance and the art of journaling.

As we start out on the last six days of a six-week caravan adventure, now is the time to dig into my journal for publishable insights and ironies. We found quite by accident an oasis in the outback called Theresa Creek Dam, 22km south west of Clermont. The dam was built here in 1985 by Blair Athol Coal to supply Clermont with drinking water.

It’s a tranquil lake spanning some 8,100 acres with abundant birdlife and a special kind of light. The dam is also an angler’s paradise, stocked quite recently (2015-16) with 14,200 barramundi and 34,147 golden perch. There’s also jewfish, saratoga and red claw. All kinds of boating is allowed, but you must have a licence to go fishing.

So after some hard driving across the flatlands of central Queensland, known for beef cattle and abundant reserves of coal, we took time to sit by the cool waters and reflect on the journey. We also did some running repairs on car and caravan. I say ‘we’ advisedly, as I am the sort of impractical bloke who will try three ways of doing something before the fourth and correct way.

This trip has not been without its mishaps, starting with the realisation, three days out, that the three-way caravan fridge wasn’t working. It cost $230 for a fridge mechanic in Charleville to tell us the bad news, that the fridge, given its age and resale value (nil), was not worth fixing.

So it’s had a good innings, this fridge, which the mechanic said was still working on gas, or at least it was until we took the van on dirt roads. She Who Plans Ahead Even When Being In The Moment reckoned it would cost $500 just to get the old fridge removed and a new three-way fridge (about $1200) installed.

The alternative, we figure, is an upright 12-volt fridge which will also cost about $1,100 but the installation will be a piece of cake. It can then run off the car battery when driving, the van battery when camped and the solar panel can keep the latter topped up. (Meanwhile, we pretend we’re in the 1920’s and use the fridge as an icebox, replenishing ice every couple of days. Ed)

In other on-road adventures, we bought a new car battery in Clermont. The old on failed once at Mt Surprise for no real reason other than to suspect the original Ford battery (four years old) was about to cark it. We got a ‘low battery’ warning a few days ago when starting the car, so got it tested in Clermont by the local RACQ approved repairer.

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Handy Mandy and the art of caravan maintenance

The other challenge was the caravan wardrobe door, which fell off while we were bouncing our way across the dirt road shortcut between Hughenden and The Lynd. Fortunately, the mirror on the inside of the door remained intact. Not so the hinges, which apart from matching all other hinges in the van, proved a curse to replace. Uncle John, who is possibly more handy than She Who Screws With her Left Hand (make of that what you will), tried three different hardware stores on the Atherton Tablelands and came up empty. He suggested a hardware store in Cairns which (a) was hard to find) and (b) couldn’t help us anyway. Persistent as always, SWSWHLH found a set of offset hinges in a caravan supplies shop in Townsville. But there were only two to (the only) packet. Not to be deterred, SWSWHLH took a hinge off a back cupboard, replacing it with the damaged one off the wardrobe, figuring that it ‘would do’ as it is not load bearing. So yesterday, with my assistance, She hung the wardrobe door and what do you know, it closes and locks. Yay. Estimated cost $4.86.

Anais Nin and my 40-year journaling habit

All of these little challenges are detailed in my journal, a long-running series of notebooks which contain not only factual observations, but also fiction and my interpretations of life as it progresses. It’s hardly the erotic adventures of Anais Nin, but as any good psychologist could tell you, it can be cathartic and even helpful to pour one’s feelings out in a journal that will hopefully never be read by anyone else. My executors have their instructions.

My journal contains sentiments which could be misinterpreted in the context of a loving relationship spanning many years. For example, Ms Acronym is apt to interrupt my sudden brilliant flashes of creativity, encouraging me to go birding, walking, do the laundry, work out what we’re doing tomorrow etc just when the small kernel of a new song has started rattling around in my head.

And as she no doubt caustically observes when scribbling in her own book, when travelling I tend to get dazed and confused in the late afternoon, readily confusing left and right and north and south. I grant that one’s spouse could find that exasperating, as I so often insist my way is the right way (when it is abundantly clear it is not).

She Who Keeps A Journal While Travelling has another writing exercise where she is supposed to spend 10 minutes writing down her feelings and then burn the paper. I apparently blundered into this exercise, rummaging around in the fridge (kept cool with ice boxes), saying “Honey, where are the carrots?” (My riposte was milder than you might suspect. Ed.)

Other minor mishaps on this escapade were usually due to somehow getting lost, which we either found amusing (or not). On leaving Glenmorgan for Surat (we’d been at Myall Park, a fascinating botanic garden in the bush), our GPS told us to turn left and continue down a corrugated dirt road which, half an hour later, had not yet met a bend. As my journal now tells me, some weeks after we stopped being annoyed about it, if we had not taken this road less travelled we would not have seen a mob of wallabies, a Bustard, a feral cat, four dead dingos hanging from a tree and a drover on a horse, durrie hanging from the corner of his mouth, who gave us a puzzled look and a laconic wave as if to say ‘are youse lost or something’. Later we deduced we had taken a local access road through various pastoral properties, emerging some 120 kms later at Surat.

We share equal blame for mishaps and forgetfulness. Someone left the van step on the footpath in Augathella while we went to take photos of murals. “Maybe someone nicked it,” I said, in an attempt to be charitable.

We drove on to Morven, planning to have a leisurely meal at the pub then watch State of Origin II. Alas, the pub burned down two years earlier so we ate canned stew and watched the game on the Ipad. I believe it is called finding strength in adversity.

My best act of dazed and confused was going into the ladies loo at Morven Recreation Ground. I came out of the shower wearing only a towel to find a woman about my own age looking less than excited to find a paunchy, near-naked old man in the ladies’ loo. “I think you’re in the wrong place, mate,” she said, in that charming understated outback way, adding “Ewes means girls, mate.”

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