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Do unto refugees

By John Haly

Deterring and imprisoning asylum seekers is gaining popularity in the western world. Punishment by separation of children from parents now has occurred in both Australia and America invoking community backlash. Many are unaware such practices have a long history in both countries. America forthwith will follow Australia’s indefinite detention practices, even as Trump repudiates his policy on separation of children from parents. These practices contravene the Refugee Convention to which both America and Australia were signatories. Dutton’s commentary emphasised the desire to be rid of this troublesome convention. He commented, “I think there is a need for like-minded countries to look at whether a convention designed decades ago is relevant today”.

I want to examine the relevance of international principles that underpin our history of refugee conventions versus “deterrence” against refugees and their smugglers. As I write this, it is Refugee week, so it is an ideal time to investigate the principles behind “deterrence”.

Human Rights convention

On the 10th of December 2018, Democratic Nations worldwide will celebrate the 69th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, Robert Menzies (a man no one will mistake for a soft-hearted humanitarian) signed the UN Refugee Convention on January the 22nd, 1954. Prime ministers that followed him, both Tony Abbott and John Howard spoke of him being the father of modern Australian Liberal ideology. The former Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser would have argued that in the 21st century, the Liberal “apple” has rolled a long way from that “tree”.

As we recall Human Rights Day, we will have long distinguished ourselves as the least compliant signatory to the Human Rights convention amongst any western democracy. When even North Korea can legitimately accuse us of human rights abuses, you know we have moved to the “dark side of the Force.”

Australia, a world leader in child abuse

Internationally speaking, things have taken a turn for the worse since World War II. We have now reached a point where both America and Australia are actively abusing people, including children, who have fled from torture and prospective death in their own country. Some have even died within our offshore gulags and deaths have already featured in Trump’s “zero-tolerance” regime. I want first to outline some historical legal cases which illustrate how international courts have responded to the idea of subordinating human rights to achieve political ends.

The German Autumn

Following the days from 1970 to 1977 clashes between the Red Army Faction (RAF) with Germany culminated in the “German Autumn,” and the kidnapping and murder of industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer. Brett Walker delivered a speech to the annual Dinner of the Civil Liberties Society on Friday the 24th of November 2017 in Sydney in which he described the events of the German Autumn. The Germans had resisted the kidnapper’s demands. Schleyer’s son after failing to pay the ransom privately in part due to both inadvertent publicity and the German government’s reluctance then sued the Government in an attempt to save his father. The principle invoked was the invariable nature of human dignity by which he called on the government to make an effort to save his father’s life. The specific implication was that nobody should use another, as an instrument or means, to achieve an end. This included hostage-taking with demands. The court rejected the son’s claim in less than a day, and within days, his father was killed. Standing up to hostage takers has consequences.

Aviation hostages

In 2006, the constitutional court in Karlsruhe received a complaint from flight crew staff about the decision that the government had justification in shooting down aircraft held hostage in the air under the ironically named “Aviation Security Act”. The Bundesverfassungsgericht declared that legislation which would have allowed the German Air Force to shoot down hijacked passenger planes was unconstitutional and as a counterproposal reinforced the constitutional right to life and human dignity.

Securing on air matters

In reviewing the decision, the court would not accept the argument by the government that the passengers were very probably soon to die anyhow. They instead held to another principle, that the State could not reduce passengers and crew to the status of “objects” they can kill at the pleasure of the State, no matter the amount of time the people, may or may not, have left to live. The court essentially held that human life should not be used as a bargaining chip or as instruments to achieve an end of preventing the possibility of further deaths. Presuming that one would then be as guilty of the Machiavellian principle that the “ends justify the means“, which is, of itself, the ploy of hostage taking.

Machiavelli versus the Golden Rule

The categorical imperative in a civilised society is that we should act in a manner towards others that we think can, and should be, applied universally. Brett Walker espoused the principle that one should “do as you would have, you and everybody else, done by.” To extend this principle, it would mean that one would never abuse fellow inhabitants of this planet as instruments for some political end or project. The welfare and dignity of people is an end, but never a means by which you should cause one person or group to suffer to produce some advantage for others.

Instead, an alternate approach has been pursued with vigour and enthusiasm by recent immigration ministers such as Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton. Successive Australian governments (supported by the electors who have repeatedly voted for them) have created policies, legislation, and facilities, which are deliberately designed to mistreat and hold refugees and asylum seekers in conditions that we would not subject criminals in our internal national incarceration system. All designed and executed for the declared purpose of “deterrence.”

If punishing the innocent is the law then the “law” is criminal

Under criminal law, the idea of “deterrence” is to sentence a legally convicted person, in a such a way as to deter others from committing such crime. It serves idealistically to deter the convicted person from re-offending. What is not part of the principle, is the notion of taking people who are not guilty of a crime and have not been convicted of having acted criminally, and visit upon them adversity and punishments to deter and modify other people’s conduct. That is abuse to use innocents as a means and abrogate their human dignity as an end.

Other democracies handle refugees far more efficiently and with less abuse than we do. But this perversion of law, criminality, morality and deterrence did not merely begin here with the likes of Howard, Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton! In fact, they have refined the “art” of this deliberate moral bankruptcy to heights which previously only totalitarian dictatorships or regimes have practised. Our pathway to abuse instead began with far humbler utterances from the lips of Labor politicians.

Queue jumping

While Keating is often attributed with the “queue jumping” rhetoric, the source of this phrase came from Immigration minister, Michael MacKellar, in 1977 in a Radio Australia broadcast. While Malcolm Fraser was attempting to placate the fears that hordes of Vietnamese “boat people” were descending on Australia, the Labor Party was busily trying to capitalise on fears about this “unchecked invasion”. Herein lies the original authorship of the fear mongering, which was eventually to become the backbone of refugee policy in Australia. Back then, the Australian public’s reaction, though cautious, was a far cry from the response of this century.

Bob Hawke and Paul Keating continued Labor’s negative attitudes towards refugees when they decided to use mandatory detention for asylum seekers at Port Headland, WA. This deterrent detention was the next step in both perspective and action. That act being detention of Cambodian refugees who arrived at Pedder Bay in November of 1989. They were held till 1992 while the government tried in vain to exclude these asylum seekers from seeking justice and the rule of law in the courts.

Like most immigrants, once allowed in and embraced, they became highly productive members of the Australian community. Up until that time, the maximum period of detention allowed for refugees had been 273 days. That limit in the Migration act was removed in 1994, paving the way for the era of indefinite mandatory detention. Similarly Trump’s executive order on June 20th – presumed to be reuniting families – seeks indefinite detention of families as a challenge a 1997 law that limited immigration detention to 20 days. (See Flores v. Reno).

Racism as policy

The success of Pauline Hanson’s racism in 1996 and the rhetoric of Phillip Ruddock in treating refugees not just as “queue jumpers”, but as cunning manipulators of peoples sympathy with an evil intention; marked a change in Australian attitudes. [Pg 31] The implication is that refugees sought to reap the rewards of an Australian Economy, steal our jobs out from underneath Australians, and then use their consequential “enormous wages” to finance terrorist plots against our nation. Not only does Australia’s falling wage rates make this unlikely, but the patient absurdity of the argument that traumatised people fleeing for their lives – often with their children – were even capable of such manipulation, was surprisingly and naively accepted by the public.

The strange attribution of motives

The proposition that terrorists hide out in detention centres was absurd back then and still is. Myths like these grew in number over time. Until the emergence of Pauline Hanson, it had not dawned on the political party system that racism inherent in public policy was a vote winner. John Howard realised that he could leverage refugees to acquire political power, which he did as a boat named the Tampa approached Australia. In particular, his use of the meaningless phrase “illegal immigrants” helped reframed the public debate to John Howard’s advantage in August of 2001.

The Pacific solution

The Pacific solution followed in September 2001 as Howard opened offshore gulags on Christmas Island, Manus Island, and Nauru. After Howard lost government to Kevin Rudd, that new government closed them down. When Rudd lost leadership to Julia Gillard, she reopened them, and once Tony Abbott became PM, he massively escalated the usage of offshore detention.

On his ascension, Malcolm Turnbull did little to change anything by way of policy; he did allow Morrison and Dutton to leverage legislative control of these gulags. The relish with which Dutton justifies the Government’s actions on Manus beggars belief. Given that even the vaguest sense of decency would suggest, “deterrence” ought only to be addressed, at least under the pretence of regret.

Drowning in moral ambiguity

It’s not that complex to support children

If we did in any honesty, believe that preventing “drownings at sea” was a moral imperative, then indeed we would be doing what is being done privately by individuals with large boats in the Mediterranean Sea. We would be sending boats to rescue these people, rather than stopping their boats, turning them around and returning them to danger, which is what the Navy now does to prevent “drownings at sea”.

We should also most certainly be addressing the issue of why such people have a well-founded fear of persecution. One so strong, it leads them to seek protection on foreign soil in the first place. We would be spending money at the UN addressing the veto factor or refusing to engage in the sort of bombing and attacks on overseas middle-eastern targets that create push factors that generate asylum seekers.

The notion of leveraging human beings to achieve an end to stop the boats and prevent deaths at sea is comparable to the tactics of hostage-takers in the 1970s. Our government is holding an innocent population hostage to achieve a goal at which they are, evidently, unsuccessful. Claims of having stopped the boats have turned out to be exaggerations or spin. Boats filled with refugees seeking asylum are still “setting sail” to come to Australia as recently as last month. The illusion, however, created and maintained by the government’s response, is to either intercept the boats; pay off the “captains” to turn the boat around; or simply to declare that successful arrivals – when they do arise – don’t count as “arrivals“.

The End – does not justify the means

The end is not justified by whatever means are applied to achieve it. Instead, it’s the acts of compassion that define a civilised society, when they are brought to bear as the means to address an issue and achieve a goal with justice. And that, Mr Peter Dutton, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Jeff Sessions and Mr Donald Trump, is something which benefits all members of a community, old and new, and which has never become outdated.

Community garden signposts

This article was originally published on Australia Awaken – Ignite your Torches.


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  1. Robin Alexander

    Why should Dutton have a say on this! After all he is only member of present government LNP he is not the Devine person above all of us who should have any authority to change a large world agreement to abide by human rights! Espe cially those regarding children? I think he has deep regard to how things are or were done in despotic countries!now &back to German ways of control pre2nd war?

  2. Vikingduk

    Because he is a vile, rotten creature, doing what the scum of the LNP desire. And, of course, the brains behind their evil, twisted ideology, the repulsive rupert/ news corpse — where the truth goes to die, ably supported by the brain dead voters of this place.

    And, of course, what else could a morally bankrupt sociopath do but inflict more cruelty on the defenceless?

  3. Andrew Smith

    The LNP and to an extent Labor are still playing up to old white Australia sentiment through a whole variety of proxy issues with refugees being prominent and suggesting the need for strong borders etc. and authoritian attitudes (generally to replace leadership).

    However, neither have any or many original ideas and have both been drawn into a largely US inspired swamp where eugenics was mainstream pre WWII, and some old oligarchs supported Nazi’s research, and their own business interests.

    Of course any party, constituents, voters or opponents cannot or should not be openly racist so the old oligarchs in the US then focused upon population control and immigration restrictions with astro turfing of the same eg. ZPG, ‘limits to growth’, ‘sustainable population’ etc.

    One man known as the ‘architect’ and ‘puppeteer’, also admirer of the white Australia policy (and visitor) was key, biography and post WWII history follows of the US movement, seems more powerful than ever under Trump (when previously fringe):

    The Anti-Immigrant Lobby: The White Nationalist Roots of the Organizations Fighting Immigration

    The moral issues in Australia include (culturally specific) MPs claiming to be ethical, whether LNP or Labor, Catholic or Protestant, yet blindly following not just a squalid electoral policy but also Nativism grounded in and directly from eugenics. How do they get away with it, or is it simply the old adage we get the politicians and media we deserve?

  4. Mick Byron

    Dutton is a repulsive human being but I still have the memory of a poll some years ago seared into my brain.
    Our fellow citizens probably empower them.
    Any wonder with these community attitudes that Dutton will likely be re elected

    “A strong majority of Australians, 60 per cent, also want the Abbott government to “increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers.”


  5. wam

    Asylugees and refuum seekers are confusing to an old duffer, like me. Is the former the equal of the later? Are people forced to run equal to those who chose and pay for a path leaving family behind to follow later?
    the end justifies the means is the slogan for the pragmatic,
    It is how opus dei works and why the dibransimkims exist.

  6. Cool Pete

    Dutton, is an evil bastard!

  7. helvityni

    …and we punish asylum seekers for NOT drowning; we send the ones who did NOT drown to some hell-hole islands to get depressed and possible to suicide, then we import others from overseas to do our dirty work for a minimal pay, whilst our youth unemployment is increasing….

  8. Cool Pete

    There was an Austrian-born genocidal dictator leading Germany from 1933 to 1945. That genocidal dictator, wait for it, intervened to save an old Jewish comrade in arms from the gas chambers. That is not to say that the history books should be rewritten and that Hitler was some poor being wrongly reviled, but this evil Dutton bastard, is, for his refusal to intervene to help some who deserved it, WORSE THAN HITLER!

  9. Terence Mills

    I heard a discussion on Deutsche Welle (DW English radio from Bonne) where they analysed various options including the Australian approach to asylum seekers.

    They considered boat turnbacks (even with the provision of new boats as we have done) and dismissed that as being far to dangerous and, in reality merely avoiding the problem by passing it on to somebody else.

    They considered offshore indefinite detention the way that we have done on Manus and Nauru and they actually had costings (which we rarely see) and this showed something over $400,000 per detainee per annum as being the cost incurred by our government on our behalf see : http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-13/offshore-detention-cost-australia-10-billion-in-three-years/7837388

    The DW panel dismissed Australia’s so called solutions as being far too costly and more of a political game than a real solution.

    What was refreshing, however was the frankness of the discussion, free of political innuendo and name calling.

  10. John Haly

    All good points Terrance. The obvious solution is to provide in community processing for refugees. It costs 10 times less than the $400,000 per refugee per year then it costs to house them in Manus. It is a waste of resources, time, effort and money to apply it to a solution that does nothing to “secure our borders” or safeguard our population. Nobody with focused ill-intent chooses to travel across an ocean to seek safety. Traumatised individuals, desperate and ill-focused choose such a method and the fact that the do, proves they are neither psychologically well, nor adequately resourced.

  11. John Haly

    Wam, I though someone would have by now explained the difference, but not apparently. I guess that falls to me. An asylum seeker is someone who is seeking international protection but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined. In contrast, a refugee is someone who has been recognised under the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees to be a refugee. Most of what Dutton deperately trys to do is delay the processing of that recognition. There are deliberate well documented delays inherent in the Australian governance of Asylum Seekers to prevent their recognition as refugees, as the vast majority of them meet the criteria. A headline in the SMH from June two years (2016) ago reported that “Almost 90 per cent of the asylum seekers Australia has sent to Papua New Guinea are genuine refugees, new figures suggest.” I have read larger figures but that was a conservative estimate.

  12. John Haly

    Wam, sorry, I realised there was a second part to your query concerning, I think, immigration paid for verses asylum seeking. Beyond the issue that asylum seekers usually have lost the capacity to afford to fly in as an immigrant, and that airlines actually restrict at the takeoff point many attempts to seek asylum, let’s look at the stats around immigration and refugee intake. As of 2015-2016, Australia accepted 17,555 refugees in total. Refugees usually represent between 6-10% of Australia’s overall permanent migration intake in any given year and we take LESS than half of one percent of the world’s recognised refugees, let alone the 0.026% of the world’s 65.6M asylum seekers (2016 stats), yet we live on the 8th least populated region in the world. I assume by now you have read my remark above and now know the difference between asylum seekers and refugees. The odds are very much stacked against refugees in this country, so it is fair to suggest no equality for thoes who “choose and pay for a path”.

  13. John Haly

    Andrew Smith, some interesting observations, although I am not sure whether or not you are suggesting we are following the US, when I suspect frankly Trump is following us, given his phone conversation about refugees to Turnbull. Being overtly racist in regards refugees is not in a politician’s interests but manipulating racist sentiment is actually more of a deliberate stategy. Consider the politicians dominant interest is in the maintenance of power and control because of a corrupt system that enriches and protects them from the consequences of their actions. So by encouraging division, reduce education & manipulate rising racist irrationalism of the populous to divide and conquer, they can effectively maintain corporate bribes, power and influence. It’s both distraction and catering to a loud minority base. This facilitates conquest of the democratic system to manipulate the voting agenda to enable their control of the money and power. The total primary vote for Liberal, National and LNP in the last election was only 41.8% of the vote. In essence the vast majority of Australians do not want them in power, but of course they are. Refugee incarceration is actually something they are preoccupied with as it serves to ensure their own survival. By manipulating our inherent racism, they stay in power.

    As for getting the media and politicians we deserve, I am not sure that is true given the stronger prelidiction the larger proportion of the community have for non-conservative views. Unfortunately the capitalist system fosters upon us a class of media and political pundit that seeks to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the public psyche. Also it is predominately sociopaths that are attracted to politics in the first place in the same way they are attracted to and actively seek positions of power in the corporate world. As my Father used to say: “People who seek political power usually shouldn’t, where as people who should, don’t want to”.

  14. Andrew J. Smith

    IMO Trump is a symptom and an opportunist taking advantage of longstanding architecture used to shape attitudes through media, social and political discourse.

    JK Galbraith in ‘The Age of Uncertainty’ made specific mention of long standing oligarchs obsession with all things round ‘human biology’.

  15. John Haly

    Interesting that you should speak of Trump as a symptom, Andrew Smith. With not quite the same words I said something similar in an article I gave AIMN back in July last year. I said:
    ”But societies and technology have changed slowly over time, and unfortunately that electoral system has simply not adjusted (enough) to the changing nuances and circumstances of contemporary life. As a result, the erosion of democracy did not occur suddenly. The rights of the majority were rather whittled away through successive governments from both “sides” of politics. Privatisation of Public assets in Australia did not start with Conservatives, it began with Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. The “socialist” Labor party divorced itself gradually from its roots in the Union movement and its support of the working class. Similarly, Trump is not a new phenomenon. The pathway there was laid by Democrats and Republicans equally.”

  16. Andrew Smith

    Agree, however could include ‘hollowing out’ of institutions and it’s probably multi factored including eg. compromising of the NBN while our ‘elites’ including policy makers lack basic digital literacy (that notion came from former NewsLtd director Kim Williams, who wasn’t exactly a PR protagonist for the former).

    Regarding public vs. private assets, especially infrastructure and services, there is a case to be made for retaining state ownership to maintain fair and reasonable access. However, it’s when they become ‘half pregnant’, monopoly provider and quasi QUANGO (pardon the pun); the AWB was a good example of how neither state nor private (let alone QUANGOS) have a monopoly on integrity.

  17. Kyran

    There are so many points brought up, each worth further expansion and discussion. At the very crux of it is your comment at 5.58 and your quote from a previous article. Whilst I agree with the overall premise that what we have loosely defined as democracy has been eroded over the years by governments of every persuasion, I would draw a subtle difference to your opening sentence.
    ”But societies and technology have changed slowly over time, and unfortunately that electoral system has simply not adjusted (enough) to the changing nuances and circumstances of contemporary life.”
    I would contend that societies and technology have changed rapidly, with the pace of change accelerating since the industrial revolution of over a century ago. I would also contend that the proletariat have been far more adaptable to change than their political overlords and that that is the dilemma of modern times.
    With regard to specific examples, there are many. Your article is focused on refugees and the attitude of the various groups on that one issue are informative to the discussion. For example, Refugee Week saw Dutton introduce more punitive treatments of refugees and asylum seekers alike in our ‘onshore’ regime, whilst concurrently seeking the deportation and dismemberment of at least two families, both of which he has temporarily stayed. There has been another suicide in custody on Nauru. And make no mistake, there will be more. He currently presides over our immigration system and his department is regularly and routinely investigated for corruption. The ALP are in lock step with his bastardry. All of this is done in our names, yet when you ‘drill down’ on the lies and falsities, they are easily discredited, by no less than Dutton himself. There are numerous examples of popular disagreement with the bastardry, which was initially justified by assertions there were three or four electorates that would respond to punitive regimes. Through nothing more than mindless repetition, this became portrayed as the consent of some ‘silent majority’. In the same Refugee Week, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) had their telethon, a fundraising event for the increasing cost of rendering aid to those Dutton would have silenced or ignored. They raised over $800k, having raised over $600k the year before. They are still taking donations for those so inclined.

    Homepage – Main page – /home

    Additionally, there is the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) and numerous other groups. That’s before you start on GetUp and their social justice campaigns. That’s before you start on the numerous ‘local’ action groups that drive real change at a local level, such as the Eltham ‘Butterfly’ rallies or the Bendigo Mosque rallies. How many local councils now take action on behalf of their municipalities to entrench open and inclusive programs for our refugees and new migrants, to the chagrin and infuriation of Herr Dutton?
    The main problem seems to be that change is rapid – socially, technologically, scientifically, environmentally, and so on – and the obstinate denialist recalcitrant’s are those who call themselves our leaders.
    In an historical context, your reference to Menzies and the UN Declaration is also informative, as much for the context and backstory as anything else. Menzies affiliation with the Japanese prior to WW2 saw him ousted for the term of the war. It was Labor who participated in the convening of the War Crimes Tribunals in the Asia Pacific region, largely under the stewardship of Doc Evatt. There is a book called ‘Traitors’ by Frank Walker,


    which should be compulsory reading for Year 11 and 12 nationally. The historical ironies are profound. Doc Evatt went on to the then newly formed UN, a post WW1 dream heralded as the ‘League of Nations’, and was one of the authors of the Declaration of Human Rights. Menzies went on to become PM and shut down the war crimes trials. The saddest irony is, in my opinion, that the last war crimes trial was held on Manus Island.
    “The new Menzies government announced a final series of trials to be held on remote Manus Island off Papua New Guinea. Those trials commenced in June 1950 and concluded in April 1951. Two months later, in June 1951, all five prisoners who had received death sentences during those trials were executed—thus bringing to its final close Australia’s war crimes trials programme.”


    Australia was at the forefront of prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, and went on to help frame a declaration to guard against the repetition of such horrors. Australia truncated the examination of these horrors. All these years later, Australia is at the forefront of committing crimes against humanity, in breach of the Declaration they helped write, on, of all places, Manus Island, where they had previously prosecuted such breaches.
    With regard to the substance of your article, the paltry distraction of queue jumping when there is no queue, of a Pacific solution adopted and adapted to ensure there would never be a solution, to a government stating they had stopped the boats in the same sentence they gleefully admit they are only turning them around, the offering of $25k to each refugee that agrees to be returned to the country of their persecution (which makes the Australian government not only a people smuggler, but tarnishes them with the contravention of the principle of non-refoulement), and on and on and on we go.
    As to the costs, $400k per refugee is a conservative estimate, with other stating $570k up to $1mill.

    Detention costs

    The bottom line seems to be this one subject, our treatment of those in our care, seems to underscore how out of touch our leaders – both sides – are when it comes to the subjects of change and keeping up with the people they are meant to represent.
    My eternal optimism is that this does not reflect the Australians I know. At a very real and local level, many are taking action, not merely offering words, to demonstrate their fundamental belief in a fair Australia. It is our leaders who are out of touch. Not in my name, not with my consent.
    And I am not alone. Look around you, locally. How many fundamentally positive things happen at the local level? It is all fine and dandy to become ensconced in the drudge of the daily news, of the commentariat fixating in endless mindless discussions of themselves, their importance and, ultimately, their irrelevance.
    “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
    Who would have thought a 16 year old Anne Frank, facing the depravity of a world gone mad, could have encapsulated a global humanity so succinctly? Who would have thought that, more than 60 years later, her words ring truer than ever?
    Thank you Mr Haly and commentators. Take care

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