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State memorial service for Packer

January 2nd, 2006

I didn’t say anything about the career of Kerry Packer on his death, because I think it’s reasonable at such a time for family and friends to have an opportunity to mourn or celebrate the departed without interruption from others[1]. However, state memorial services are another matter. The provision of such a service, at public expense, implies that the person concerned has done substantial service to the public.

I’m not aware of any such service in Packer’s case. He was a man of great wealth and power, but he used his position almost entirely to accumulate more wealth and more power. Although the bulk of his wealth came from government-created licenses to print money (TV stations and casinos) he boasted of paying as little tax as he could. As Andrew Leigh notes, claims of great philanthropic activity also don’t stand up. Most stories of his generosity seem to reflect the grandiose largesse of the ‘big man’, also reflected in high-rolling gambling, rather than any real concern to do good.

In doing all this, Packer was no better and no worse than plenty of other people in business. The commentary on his death said that he was a good father despite having a miserable childhood himself, and obviously plenty of people liked and admired him. But if those were the criteria, we’d be having state funerals every day.

Packer justified his own tax minimisation by objecting to the waste of public money. Giving a memorial service to someone solely for starting out rich and getting a lot richer is a prime example.

fn1. There are exceptions. In 1953, Frank Packer’s Telegraph memorably, and rightly, ran the headline Stalin is dead. Hooray

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  1. Will De Vere
    January 3rd, 2006 at 19:00 | #1

    And on that note, a Bigger State Splash! (see: David Hockney).

  2. whyisitso
    January 3rd, 2006 at 20:08 | #2

    What a miserable lot you (nearly) all are. Miserable curmudgeons! I note one commenter using the cypher IMHO – the third letter of which supposedly stands for “humble”. Not much humility being shown here, chaps. All morally superior in your own lunchtimes.

  3. Will De Vere
    January 3rd, 2006 at 20:26 | #3

    Too right I’m a curmudgeon! Why can’t we stop talking in strange cypher-codes? IMHO? Is that Aramaic or summing? Was it carved or typed?

    I reserve the right to feel morally superior when I’m expressing a personal opinion, especially as I’m using my own name and not a weird nom-de-guerre that sounds like a verbal twitch of Prof Julius S. Miller.

    Still feeling superior after all these years.

    Will De Vere

  4. Harry Clarke
    January 3rd, 2006 at 20:30 | #4

    I agree with whyisitso. You sound like a miserable lot of peanut lefties who can’t appreciate a man because he is rich and does not share your own narrow vision of lie.

    And the comments suggesting that Packer wasa never cleared by the Costigan Inq

  5. Harry Clarke
    January 3rd, 2006 at 20:35 | #5

    uiry are false.

    (I am unsure what happened in middle of the last post. A bug?)

  6. whyisitso
    January 3rd, 2006 at 20:42 | #6

    “Why can’t we stop talking in strange cypher-codes? IMHO? Is that Aramaic or summing? Was it carved or typed?”

    Better address that silly question to curmudgeon Andrew Reynolds, trackback:

    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2006/01/02/state-memorial-service-for-packer/#comment-39987

  7. Terje
    January 3rd, 2006 at 21:24 | #7

    If I am a peanut leftie then I’ll be a monkeys uncle. So to speak.

  8. Steve Chidio
    January 3rd, 2006 at 21:35 | #8

    Packer’s assets ought to taken by the government and redistributed back to the poor. If the family disapproves, jail them. Latham would have been this bold.

  9. Will De Vere
    January 3rd, 2006 at 21:45 | #9

    Harry Clarke has said

    ‘I agree with whyisitso. You sound like a miserable lot of peanut lefties who can’t appreciate a man because he is rich and does not share your own narrow vision of lie.’

    Not so: I have one or two friends who are wealthy because they’ve worked very hard for their cash over many years. I’m not an anti-wealth zealot and wouldn’t mind being rich myself. But Kerry Packer is utterly undeserving of state commemoration.

    Gee, when someone says that I have a ‘narrow vision of lie [sic]‘, I feel so downcast and forlorn, just like Eeyore. Would that we could all have as broad a vision as the great Kerry!

    Yessir, I can really appreciate a man who’s rich.

  10. Terje
    January 3rd, 2006 at 22:03 | #10

    If the family disapproves, jail them.

    You mean you wouldn’t just shoot them? Clearly there are a few peanut lefties still in town.

    Once the $7 billion has been distributed all the poor people will be able to buy another TV, some bread and an entire tank of petrol. Who should we lock up the following week? Do we have a list?

  11. Will De Vere
    January 3rd, 2006 at 22:12 | #11

    ‘Who should we lock up the following week? Do we have a list?’

    Quite right. It’s the Santa Claus Rule for Forced Redistribution:

    ‘We’re making a list, we’re checking it twice, we’re going to find out whose naughty or nice, Santa Claus is coming to JAIL you.’

  12. Conrad
    January 3rd, 2006 at 22:15 | #12

    Howard’s just taking the opportunity to ingratiate himself amidst the Packer empire and its many satellites on the public tit. Of course there is no reputable public reason to grant a state service to someone just because they are ridiculously rich, and the objections are doubly sharpened by the facts that the person was a tax dodger who’s wealth depended on state protectionism. The critics are incontrovertibly classically liberal in their objections, and the supporters are gratuitous feudal suckholes who’s only line is to impugn the motives of the critics. This obscenely rich person’s geatest claims to fame is that he used an arbitrage opportunity to ruin cricket and became a groupy to sportsmen, supplemented by the sort of attitude that comes easy to anyone who doesn’t need to have regard to anyone else. This isn’t a story about Packer, but the Howard government, and it’s now a very old story at that. We are by now thoroughly habituated to this sort of political corruption, and no doubt like Howard himself, we know this is a 24 hour media wonder, a footnote in a longer saga that would have boggled the minds of earlier generations of Australians.

  13. jquiggin
    January 3rd, 2006 at 22:20 | #13

    “I never knew that the Nine Network was government created, JQ. We live and learn.”

    All part of the friendly service, TimT !

  14. Will De Vere
    January 3rd, 2006 at 22:30 | #14

    Conrad has said

    ‘that would have boggled the minds of earlier generations of Australians’.

    Absolutely true, but it also boggles the minds of many of the current generation because it is such an insult to our historical memory. The ages of the minds being well-boggled range from 20 to 90 years. Howard is spitting on tradition.

  15. Andrew Reynolds
    January 4th, 2006 at 00:39 | #15

    I am not sure if I am a silly curmudgeon or peanut leftie. It is a little while since I was termed a leftie and I hope I am not yet old enough to be a curmudgeon.
    I use IMHO to emphasise that this is only my opinion – not what I believe to be a fact. Perhaps more recognition of the difference would be useful here.

  16. Seeker
    January 4th, 2006 at 03:35 | #16

    Well, it is a strange world indeed when Terje, Yobbo, and Andrew Reynolds are considered “lefties” of any form, let alone the peanut kind. (Welcome to the dark side, folks. Enjoy the stay. Is it just a passing visit? Do you like the scenery? I hope the pressed native wildflower wallpaper doesn’t give you hay fever, and that no one spikes your organic broccoli and gorgonzola omelette with magic mushrooms-we have had trouble with that before, and some people just have no sense of adventure, and even less of a sense of humour. You will be required to join in some loud mystic midnight chanting to the forest spirits on the full moon, part of an ancient pagan soul-cleansing ritual that must be followed by all true lefties, I’m afraid. Though I will admit that these days it is becoming a real bitch trying to keep one’s shakra pure and aligned to the socialist cosmic oneness.) :-)

    Back in the real world:

    If KP deserves a state funeral, then why didn’t my grandfather, who came back from sustained frontline fighting in WWII a physically and emotionally broken man, unable to work, and who then struggled on in poverty for years, before dying an early, unpleasant and lonely death, leaving behind a distraught and destitute young wife and young children? Where was the state recognition and support for this veteran, who had definitely sacrificed (been sacrificed?) for his country? The unknown, and apparently undeserving soldier, indeed.

    Considering his wealth and power, KP’s contribution to public life in Australia was modest at best, and, as Terje pointed out, his business achievements were not that impressive. So why does he deserve a state funeral? Such recognition and honour should be reserved for a select and genuinely deserving few, and not just handed out in a transparently ingratiating manoeuvre from the political class. They are the villains here, not KP. (I suspect KP would well appreciate the unsubtle irony of a very wealthy, strongly individualist free-marketeer, not known for his love of either ceremony or the political class, being given a state funded funeral.)

    And to end on a lighter note, when Terje met Harry, Terje said:

    “If I am a peanut leftie then I’ll be a monkeys uncle. So to speak.”

    Nice comeback, Terje.

  17. Harry Clarke
    January 4th, 2006 at 07:41 | #17

    Steve’s claim:

    “Packer’s assets ought to taken by the government and redistributed back to the poor. If the family disapproves, jail them. Latham would have been this bold”.

    Barry Humphries in The Age this morning writes about ‘pissing on the graves of the dead’. Rang a bell. Here it takes the form of, at core, hatred and envy of wealth — attitudes that have paralysed the left in Australia for yonks and which make it such a tiny minority. But the builder living in the terrace in Carlton with a holiday house at Port Fairy and whose wife takes the Merc when he has to use the 4WD has more sense about the issue of wealth. Don’t envy it – get it.

    I still find it amazing that people still have naive anti-business attitudes given that economics is so widely taught. People who run successful firms provide incomes and employment and satisfy human wants. To focus on their incomes alone and to deny the management and other business skills they have is not sensible.

    Andrew Reynolds, I still don’t get the IMHO? If your claims are false don’t state them and if they are correct IMHO is irrelevant. After all you don’t have the right to assert a false opinion. Or are you committing the old ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’ fallacy? They are not — the right depends on them believing they get it right.

  18. Seeker
    January 4th, 2006 at 08:33 | #18

    JQ, why is my comment at 3:35 am “awaiting moderation”? I don’t mind, but I am curious as to what part of it needs review. It seems a perfectly innocuous post to me.

  19. Paul Arrighi
    January 4th, 2006 at 09:00 | #19

    Kerry Packer is just not worthy of a state funeral, if it was someone like Howard Florey or Douglas Mawson, then I would be all for it.

    Yes, he was a successful businessman but what is his legacy? Judging from most peoples comments, it is that he was a “character”, not good enough to warrant a state funeral in my book.

  20. Conrad
    January 4th, 2006 at 09:04 | #20

    “If your claims are false don’t state them and if they are correct IMHO is irrelevant. After all you don’t have the right to assert a false opinion. Or are you committing the old ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’ fallacy? They are not — the right depends on them believing they get it right.”

    Nonsense. Factual or philosophic truth is coercive in that it is because it cannot otherwise be. Opinion on the other hand arises from thought that is representative (if only of self-interest) and communicates by persuasion and dissuasion. Whereas an unwelcome opinion can be agreed or argued with, rejected or compromised with, unwelcome facts can only be moved by lies. Treating opinion as though it is fact, and as if everyone is not entitled to one, is a conspicuous ideological trait of the right, which would do itself a favour by taking the ‘H’ more seriously IMHO.

  21. Andrew Reynolds
    January 4th, 2006 at 11:36 | #21

    Conrad,
    Thanks – but considering your line of argument, perhaps you should look to inserting an “IMHO” in your line which states as fact your opinion that “[t]reating opinion as though it is fact…is a conspicuous ideological trait of the right”.
    In my experience the left is just a guilty of this as the right, however they are defined, and (IMHO) this shows that the argument is sloppy and insufficiently thought through.
    You will only rarely see the true intellectual giants of either the left or the right fall into this hole – and a few of us minnows also attempt to avoid it, however unsuccessfully at times.

  22. Ian Gould
    January 4th, 2006 at 16:04 | #22

    >Secondly, I’m not sure that the Will de Vere’s suggestion (that the provision of state money for a state funeral is a ‘waste’) is entirely accurate. Presumably, the money is supplied by a specific government department, which in turn receives a certain amount of money every year to provide this service. Can this really be characterised as a ‘waste’? Would it really have been less wasteful for the money to just sit in the coffers of this department?

    The relevant Department – presumably Prime Minister and Cabinet – probably has a contingency funding line in its budget.

    If all the money isn’t spent, the excess goes back to Treasury at the end of the year.

    BTW, under zero-base accounting, a failure to spend money in a given yeard does NOT result in a reduction in funding in subsequent yars.

  23. Ian Gould
    January 4th, 2006 at 16:11 | #23

    Public Service Announcement: Steve Chidio is not a deranged leftist, he is a deranged rightist whose feeble attemtps at humor take the form of grotesque overstatements of what his delusional mind assumes his political opponents believe in.

  24. Ian Gould
    January 4th, 2006 at 16:17 | #24

    Regarding Packer’s tax affairs: there appears to be an urban myth developing that Packer engaged in aggressive tax minimisation.

    This seems to have arisen primarily because of his much-publicised contretemps with the ATO.

    In fact, Paker was cleared of any impropriety in that case. While it was a technically complex matter, the ATO essentially tried to claim a capital transfer from an off-shore holding company was a dividend. This was incorrect and a bit of a try-on by the government.

    In a media release at the time Packer went otu of his way to state that he had paid “many millions” of dollars in tax and was proud to have done so.

    Packer’s personal tax bill was relatively low but that was because the great bulk of his assets were in the form of shares in publicly-traded companies which paid fully franked dividends.

    PBL pays a higher effective tax rate than many other major public companies.

    Packer had some fairly glaring personal flaws, I see no need to invent new ones (or to misrepresent his views to support one’s own political views).

  25. wilful
    January 4th, 2006 at 16:39 | #25

    there appears to be an urban myth developing that Packer engaged in aggressive tax minimisation.

    This seems to have arisen primarily because of his much-publicised contretemps with the ATO.

    Rubbish.

    “In the late 1980s, the billionaire businessman’s tax advisers managed to keep a number of his international businesses beyond the reach of the tax man anywhere in the world.

    His UK non-resident businesses alone reportedly earned him $370 million in tax-free profits. They were run through Hong Kong. He later moved his international headquarters to the Bahamas.” (source)

    And if you can’t tell the difference between a legal and a moral obligation to pay your fair share of taxes, then there’s no point talking with you about it.

  26. Ian Gould
    January 4th, 2006 at 18:01 | #26

    “And if you can’t tell the difference between a legal and a moral obligation to pay your fair share of taxes, then there’s no point talking with you about it.”

    Yes because as regular readers of this blog can attest I’m violently opposed to a progressive tax system and paying a fair share of tax.

    The story you cite confirms te essential details of the ATO dispute I referred to above.

    As to CPH, see my earlier comments regarding PBL. CPH, the Packer family holding company was primarily invested in PBL.

    That leaves the vague allegations about his off-shore investments which wasn’t previously aware of.

  27. January 4th, 2006 at 18:11 | #27

    On the subject of Channel Nine, Kerry has pursued a vigorous policy of maximising his profits and minimising his outgoings on Australian drama. In this he is not exceptional – they all do it. As always, you can say this is a legitimate business practice in a competitive marketplace, but the ultimate effect on the independent producers who deal with these large players has been dire. It is certainly not a policy which nurtures a long-term stable sector.

  28. Will De Vere
    January 4th, 2006 at 19:04 | #28

    Seeker has said

    ‘Well, it is a strange world indeed when Terje, Yobbo, and Andrew Reynolds are considered “leftiesâ€? of any form, let alone the peanut kind’

    Perhaps not strange, but certainly capable of historical perspective. If KP has state commemoration, are our PMs entitled to it when they drop off the twig? Who knows, it’ll be up The Lodge Kirribbilli to determine it. When I become PM in 3456, there will be a long list of The Unclean.

  29. January 5th, 2006 at 00:52 | #29

    Wilful, all taxes are ultimately immoral; they serve roughly the same role as dangerous chemicals in medical treatment, bad things done to avoid worse (and so much for “first do no harm”). To the extent that the problems they ultimately mitigate are self perpetuating – iatrogenic, as it were – the only sensible approach is to consider the taxes that feed even as they palliate outright immoral, even considered as lesser or necessary evils.

    We have pretty much reached that stage for practically everything, and alternative solutions are known for the few exceptions, so anyone attempting to pay less than a “fair share” is in fact doing the right thing. Think of someone refusing to be conscripted for an unjust war, even knowing that the conscription shortfall will only be made up with another victim. That’s not “fair”, but rolling over is even more wrong.

  30. Matt
    January 5th, 2006 at 03:36 | #30

    PML, you’d never have the balls to spout that sort of crap about taxes in front of a Senate committee even today.
    To get away with it you’d need the lawyers, accountants and media influence of, let’s say for example, Kerry Packer.
    The great legacy of the man is he taught Australians to get what they could out of the government. They have and they’ll continue to – it’s a shame they won’t have Kerry’s lawyers to protect them when things change and government wisens up to the consequences of it.

  31. Will De Vere
    January 5th, 2006 at 17:14 | #31

    It’s been interesting to note that when this discussion began, all the talk was about the distinction between the ‘private’ and the ‘public’ citizen and that citizen’s entitlement to state commemoration. He was never a member of Parliament etc. Now, so much of the focus is on how little tax KP paid. Bermuda, Bermuda, Bermuda, Bermuda. What a useful island.

  32. Glenn Condell
    January 5th, 2006 at 17:38 | #32

    At that committee, he did indeed eat those nervous political nellies, but that doesn’t make his stance correct, or theirs wrong. It was their lack of clarity and more important, gumption, that gave him the room to dominate. Involved was an issue of importance to all Australians – the further concentration of ownership in an already small pool – but Packer’s whole schtick was basically ‘why should my business suffer from your decisions’. Someone on the C’tee might have cleared their throat to make the point that surely in any contest between the perceived interests of all Australians and those of one wealthy individual, the people come up trumps. But none of them did.

    Unfortunately, all this was before Keating fell out with him, or there might well have been some throat clearing. Which reminds me that the falling out occurred as a result of Keating quite rightly nixing Packer’s desire to control fibre optic rollout. Someone stood up to him and Packer didn’t like it one little bit; look what happened. Maybe some people, especially other pollies, will see that as a cautionary tale. I hope not; we need as many politicians willing sometimes to draw a line in front of the bulls of the market as we can find.

    Harry and co will see evidence of ‘hating the rich’ in this of course, but I never even think about them until I come across allegations or evidence of their gaming the system in their own interests and against ours. People can make shitloads for all I care but I believe they have to play in a paddock for which ALL of us build the fences. They don’t get to set their own boundaries, which is what Packer always tried to do, most often successfully. Then we’ll hear ‘he’s only doing what anyone else would’ but I object to that – I would pay my share, believe it or not, as I do now, and carry out my business with some regard for the wider community and the decisions of umpires acting on their behalf – call me old fashioned. Don’t assume others would behave as you would.

    Everyone else’s taxes saved the big fella’s life one day at the polo. He felt moved enough to buy defibrillators for all NSW ambulances, but not so much that he stopped evading tax. His generosity was reactive and selective rather than genuinely philanthropic.

    Just as Harry sees in the peanut leftist tendency to criticise the shenanigans of the ultrarich evidence of an envious ‘hatred’ of them, so I see in his lot’s tendency to make such criticisms evidence of an equally envious power-cleaving sycophancy. They can’t seem to grasp that concerns about equity, the rule of law, provision of public services et al, might actually exist in our minds independently of our apprehension of a person’s wealth or character. It’s funny how so many fearless right wingers, just take Alan Jones, have in all their rantings and ravings never once found space for even the mildest criticisms of Mr Packer. Considering the vast range and numbers of those showered with his thoughts and opinions, it seems a curious omission.

    Anyone see that little snippet of Packer at the cricket being asked an impertinent question on his intentions re the league TV contract a few years ago? His lips curled into a worldbeating sneer and his voice dripped scorn as he asked the poor fellow whether he owned a television station. There was a muffled negative before Packer leaned over to smirk ‘Well when you do, you can ask me that question again’ or words to that effect. Harry might think KP was having a bad hair day or simply think it irrelevant but to me we’re in nutshell territory.

    And Chiu, thanks for reminding me about the casino carry-on. I think you’ll find JP told John Fahey he was ‘fucked’ rather than ‘finished’ if they missed out on the licence. Like father, like son.

    In short, he should not get a state funeral.

  33. Seeker
    January 5th, 2006 at 21:19 | #33

    Well said, Glenn Condell.

  34. January 5th, 2006 at 22:38 | #34

    Matt, if you mean that Senate Committees have a great deal of power to bully people, you may be right. If, however, you mean that I would be overwhelmed by respect and yield to their superior moral position as representatives of the taxers – well, that is crap.

    Now, I can tell about that last point because I know how I have reacted to attempts to intimidate me in the past. But where on earth do you get the idea that what I presented about taxes is crap? Or is this just another case of resorting to abuse when argument fails?

    I certainly know that arguments about “fairness” are as meaningful as, say, the Singaporean government refusing to consider appeals on the grounds that granting them would be unfair to people whose appeals failed before. It’s just a covering for repeating possible mistakes and possible successes blindly, without actually bringing out any examination of whether the new case is a mistake or not.

    “Fairness” is a nonsense argument here. It amounts to “nothing may ever be done for the first time”.

  35. Bill O’Slatter
    January 6th, 2006 at 12:50 | #35

    This funeral is goning to be a source of amusement : as Howard and his government are not believers in euthanasia ( Kerry essentially euthanased himself) why are they attending Kerry’s funeral ? Will Kevin ” Bloody ” Andrews be there ?
    Packer’s career was testament to the cowardice and self interest of Australian politicians . This notion of the Big Fella’s fearful presence is farcical : from the early 90′s you culd have knocked the bloke over with a feather.
    As Glen Condell has said notions of equity are central to the taxation system. I remain unconvinced by Ian Gould’s argument that Kerry’s tax minimisation was not aggressive. There is a lot to come to light on his tax avoidance activities.

  36. Mike
    January 6th, 2006 at 14:36 | #36

    Entirely appropriate the ‘Big Fella’ should get a ‘Big Memorial’. Lets face it he made a motza for himself, the great australian dream, kept every politician in the country in check (better than a ballot box did), gave us the most watched television station (understood our entertainment needs), resurrected cricket to fit with the modern corporate planning and development model and made it consumable and last only a day. Not to mention the quality literature that the Australian public has devoured in spades for decades. Fantastic, a man who understood the masses and gave them what they liked, a real Ozzie battler to the last, buggered body, smoking, diabetic, still turned up for work, what a legacy. Anyway such a mogul and never did he stoop to the highest common denominator and throw buckets of cash at the modern entertainment extravaganza, the opera, kept it simple, a small bet, a bit of the cricket, a biff at the footie and a family man to boot. A real icon. On yer John W H

  37. Will De Vere
    January 6th, 2006 at 17:57 | #37

    No, KP never deserved it.

  38. January 12th, 2006 at 13:40 | #38

    >>The Nine Network was a government-created (one-third share in) a monopoly. It would have operated and created jobs in much the same manner if Packer had never been born.

    >>“I never knew that the Nine Network was government created, JQ. We live and learn.�
    >>All part of the friendly service, TimT !

    There are some attempts in your postings Prof Q to pass yourself off as analyitical, I believe that you have even been to uni?

    Only a yokel I may be, but I am well aware of the huge gulf between an opportunity existing, and someone having the ability to exploit that opportunity.

    Never mind that first so very few of us have the ability to recognise an opportunity during the lifetime of that opportunity.

    Detester of analogies that I am, lets put this in Karate terms: If you are momentarily distracted during a bout (just say), and inadvertantly leave a glaring opening for your opponent, and they are canny enough to attack, does their attempt to exploit this opportunity amount to any guarantee of success?

    Does the fact that you momentarily let slip your guard mean that you would be “on the mat” in much the same manner no matter who is your opponent?

    Agree with the thrust of your statement . Although financial outcomes are much more dependant upon the man at the top than we generally give credit for.

  39. Get Out
    January 21st, 2006 at 00:17 | #39

    How much will this state service for a bloke who’s already been buried cost us? Transport and accomodation costs for all the politicians attending, none of whom will be doing the $79 budget special, flowers, chauffer driven cars all round, the expensive nosh-up afterwards to rub shoulders and do deals with the big boys attending, etc…

    Then there would be the Channel9 rights to broadcast the service, along with the sale of footage to other networks. And the politicians getting some national publicity, all at our expense.

    And the politicians will do their best to not tell us how much of our money they’re spending.

    Cancel this disgraceful brown-nosing event, and use the money instead for decent burials for thousands of homeless people. Every person in Australia has equal value. Throwing public money at a service for a man whose claim to fame is that he had pots of money, shows our politicians to be embarrassingly shallow.

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