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Mr Turnbull, where are your verbs?

By Ad astra

It was one of The Political Sword’s regular contributors, Casablanca, who drew my attention to the absence of a verb in the Coalition’s prime slogan ‘Jobs and Growth’. She had been alerted by an article in The Guardian by Van Badham in May: Good slogan, Malcolm Turnbull, but growth in what kind of jobs?

The absence of verbs is diagnostic of the malaise that afflicts PM Turnbull, Treasurer Morrison, Finance Minister Cormann and most of the Coalition ministry.

Casablanca reminds us that we learned that verbs are ‘doing’ words when we were kids in Primary School. Yet here we are in 2016 finding that it is the intention to do something, to take action, that is missing from the centerpiece of the Coalition’s election strategy, its much-vaunted ‘economic plan’ for ‘Jobs and Growth’; indeed it is missing from many of the Turnbull government’s so-called ‘plans’.

While it repeated ad nauseam its three word ‘Jobs and Growth’ mantra, it avoided saying how it would achieve this ethereal aspiration. We were left to deduce that somehow giving a tax cut to business would magically stimulate investment, expand business activity, improve productivity, create jobs, and increase wages. It was left to Arthur Sinodinos to confidently assure us that workers would be the main beneficiaries of a tax break for business – good old trickle down all over again! It seems the electorate did not give that assurance much credence; nor did it believe the insistent declarations about Jobs and Growth that emanated from Turnbull, Morrison and Cormann. No less than Victorian Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger castigated Turnbull and Morrison for selling the ‘Jobs and Growth’ story so poorly; in truth the slogan was never saleable as it had no substance, it had no verb.

Whatever else we thought of the calamitous Tony Abbott, we have to acknowledge that his three-word slogans at least had verbs: ‘Stop the Boats’, ‘Axe the Tax’, ‘Stop the Waste’ and ‘Repay the debt’. We could see his intentions, even if we disagreed with them. The intentions of Turnbull et al are vague, lacking in action words, sans verbs.

Now that he has his majority, we will see how he intends to action his promises.

Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald in an article titled: Federal election 2016: Malcolm Turnbull is a man with no plan, just a lot of flimflam, economics writer Ross Gittins said:

“Malcolm Turnbull went to the election offering a “national plan for jobs and growth” that was supposed to secure our future. Trouble is, it now looks unlikely he’ll be able to implement the centrepiece of that plan, the phased reduction over 10 years of the rate of company tax, from 30 per cent to 25 per cent.

“Unsurprisingly, the proposed cut in company tax did not impress the voters, who think companies are paying too little tax, not too much. Labor opposed the cut, save for the immediate reduction to 27.5 per cent for genuinely small business.

“With the government now facing an even more hostile Senate, it’s unlikely Turnbull will get any more than that.

“This would be no great loss in the quest for jobs and growth. The government’s own modelling suggested the tax cut would do virtually nothing to create jobs, and the boost to growth in Australians’ incomes would be tiny and come only after a decade or three.”

So ‘Jobs and Growth’ not only had no verb, it had no substance. Asked what ‘the plan’ was to achieve ‘Jobs and Growth’, the stock answer was: “The plan is the Budget”. The people saw through this answer, picked it as a fraud, an attempt to deceive. It nearly lost Turnbull the election.

What is this aversion to using verbs, to stating what action will be taken, to saying how promises will be kept?

Gittins continued:

“But what about the other parts of Turnbull’s ‘five-point plan’? It’s a muddle of things that will be done, things already done and…what the plan will achieve.”

Apart from the planned company tax cut, Gittins mentioned “an innovation and science program bringing Australian ideas to market” that’s already done with benefits likely to be modest; “a new defence industry plan that will secure an advanced defence manufacturing industry in Australia”…a highly protectionist and costly way of buying votes in South Australia, of debatable defence value; “export trade deals that will generate more than 19,000 export opportunities”, which refers to preferential trade deals already made with Japan, Korea and China, which Gittins’ colleague Peter Martin demonstrated usually add more to our imports than our exports; and “a strong new economy with more than 200,000 jobs to be created in 2016-17”, based on Treasury’s budget forecasts for growth in employment, but few of those extra jobs would have been ‘created’ by anything the government did.

Gittins continued:

“Get it? The “plan for jobs and growth” is a (now-thwarted) plan to cut company tax, plus a lot of packaging. That is, Malcolm Turnbull has no plan.

“And, as we’ve been reminded by noises coming from one of the credit rating agencies, nor does he have a plan to get the government’s budget back to surplus anytime soon.”

Image from smh.com.au

Image from smh.com.au

In his election announcement speech, Turnbull used the words ‘plan’ and ‘tax’ 21 times, ‘jobs’ 14 times, ‘economic’ 11 times and ‘investment’ 10 times. There was no mention of climate change. Verbs were sparse; the predominant one by far was ‘will’. Take a look at his May 8 ‘word cloud’.

Isn’t it laughable that as the long election campaign progressed, the focal point in his platform: ‘Jobs and Growth’ became the object of derision among journalists and commentators, some of whom mockingly personified it as: ‘Mr Jobson Grothe’.

Malcolm Turnbull turns out to be a man without verbs. He has nouns, plenty of adjectives: ‘nimble’, ‘agile’, ‘innovative’, and ‘exciting’, and an abundance of stock phrases that he, Morrison and Cormann spout whenever they get a chance, as portrayed in The tale of two Daleks.

How will he proceed with his bare minimum of seats in the House and a likely uncooperative, or even hostile Senate?

His spurious raison d’être for calling a double dissolution election: the desire to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, if necessary at a joint sitting of both Houses, seems doomed to failure. His exaggerated rhetoric about the imperative of cleansing the CFMEU and other construction unions of corruption and strong-arm behaviour has lost its zing. Nobody is listening any more. Even the Coalition-leaning Bob Katter has warned that he will not vote for what he terms ‘union-bashing’ legislation. With his slim majority in the House and the lack of a majority in the Senate, how can Turnbull muster the votes he needs? The one occasion where his intended action was spelt out, looks like being a non-event. He might have had a verb in mind, but an adjective – ‘impossible’ – will likely operate to thwart him.

How will he get his company tax cuts through the Senate? Even without the cross benches, it is likely that Labor and the Greens will not approve his full package. The best he can anticipate is a tax cut for genuinely small businesses, which Labor seems inclined to support. That will help small business, but will do nothing much for ‘Jobs and Growth’.

Except among Coalition members there is negligible support for giving the tax avoiders, the big banks and the multinationals still more tax relief. What is likely is substantial support for a Royal Commission into Banking, which will put intense pressure on Turnbull’s slender majority. The verb ‘oppose’ will be in his mind, but he might be forced to consider some nouns: compromise, conciliation, negotiation, concession, and cooperation. On top of this comes the revelation that four of our most prominent accounting firms are complicit in tax avoidance, advising big business and multinationals how to avoid paying their fair share of tax. Will there be a move to include them in the banking inquiry. What verb will Turnbull use to block that?

How will Turnbull handle the marriage equality plebiscite? If Labor or the Greens put forward legislation for a parliamentary vote, will he be able to muster his troops to oppose, or will he give way and compromise. He has to choose between a verb and a noun.

His distaste for verbs may leave him dangling indecisively, just as he has been for months now.

The behaviours that voters seek in those they elect are honesty, openness, transparency, lucid and appealing plans for advancing our nation and its citizens, decisiveness in implementation, and fidelity in keeping promises.

Voters want action, verbs that they understand, plans that have substance and ‘doing’ words, and nouns that indicate collaboration with other parties and cooperation that will bring benefits to us all, not just the top end of town.

Voters are tired of waffle, empty nouns, implausible adjectives, deceptive platitudes, a paucity of verbs, indecisiveness, dishonesty, self-interest and special pleading by rent-seekers. They want honest actions that lead to equitable outcomes for all of us.

Verbs are important Mr Turnbull. Verbs tell us that you intend to act – that you are going to do something. Where are your policy verbs Prime Minister?

What do you think?

What verbs would you like PM Turnbull to use?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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36 comments

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  1. Terry2

    It seems to have slipped below the media radar that Malcolm Turnbull specifically stated, following swearing in of his ministry, that his new ministers would be subject to KPI’s or Key Performance Indicators in the next term.

    KPI’s are used in business to help measure how well business units, projects or individuals are performing compared to their strategic goals and objectives. Well-designed KPIs provide the vital navigation instruments that give us a clear understanding of current levels of performance.

    A KPI needs to be well designed and realistic and it needs to be clearly explained so that all concerned – that’s us – are able to gauge the performance of the minister in question against the stated KPI.

    For instance, Peter Dutton may well be called upon to re-settle all asylum seekers who have been in detention on Manus and Nauru for more than twelve months and then close down these appalling places, without blowing the budget – no more adventures with an open cheque book in Cambodia for instance. He needs to be given clear time lines and report back – to us – regularly on his progress and costs incurred.

    What Malcolm Turnbull must now do is publish the individual KPI’s of his ministers and of his government in the next term. If he fails to do so, then all this talk of KPI’s is just so much political mumbo-jumbo.

  2. helvityni

    He was beaming there for a couple days and saying: We have the mandate, we won the election…
    He was full of confidence settling down to be interviewed by his friend, Leigh Sales. Pretty soon it was: Labor did this, Labor did that. He sounded more like Cormann and not like a confident PM at all anymore.

    Yes, where’s the innovation, the doing, you can’t just BE the PM… that’s not the end, it does not matter it was your life-long dream.

    Maybe he has gone camping.

  3. ozibody

    The phrase “Jobs and Growth ” is simply a caption such as one may use as the header to a paragraph enlarging and explaining what is entailed. Used on it’s own it was simply hollow!

    When used by intelligent people it clearly indicates the utter disdain in which they hold their audience – in this case the voters of
    Australia! With due respect, it could reasonably be time for us to realise that the neocons are not simply ” out of touch ” … they actually hold us in contempt!

    This contempt is supported by their solid understanding that the ( Australian) media endorses them and their agenda. Whilst we are held captive of this force we can expect little from the Coal – ition in Government.!

  4. helvityni

    ozibody, you can shout the slogan ‘jobs and growth’ for eight weeks, and find out that the only thing that’s growing is unemployment…

    I’m totally confused; some Ministers have now two jobs, and some share half of this and half of that. I hope the Ministers themselves know what they are supposed to be doing..

    Is this what’s called job-sharing, so we can tell the hoipolloi there has been ‘Growth”…

  5. Kaye Lee

    Barnaby Joyce was interviewed on Sky where he stated that the only reason they have to introduce the changes to superannuation is because of the huge debt left by Labor. When it was pointed out that his term in government had seen the debt rise significantly, it was still Labor’s fault according to Barnaby because they had “jumped off the cliff” so it wasn’t the Coalition’s fault they were plummeting to the ground.

    How many years do you have to be in power before you take responsibility? Joe Hockey said one month before the 2013 election – “I’m not afraid to accept responsibility and I’m not afraid to be accountable. We will own it from day one. We will be responsible for the Australian economy.”

    Waiting…..

  6. Freethinker

    Going by the increase in his support looks like that the electorate agree with Barnaby.
    What hope we can have, how much the people have to suffer to weak up?

  7. Carol Taylor

    As well as the illusion of ‘trickle down’ via tax cuts there was the term ‘innovation’. Interesting is that Liberal PMs in the west of Sydney dropped that term realising that to their constituents, needing to be innovative meant that their jobs were in jeopardy, something akin to being ‘liberated’ from one’s job.

  8. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    The company tax cut was, like the Superannuation changes, a last minute, back of the fag packet plan because they literally had nothing else. They’d tried increasing GST – nope. They went for income tax for the states – nope. So rather than go for the third nope, they rushed through something, anything, that might make it look like they actually knew what they were doing.

    If these company tax cuts were so brilliant, why aren’t we being shown what brilliant impact the cuts made last year have had on the economy. Surely that 1.5% cut, and the instant asset write-off has rippled through by now? Well of course it hasn’t, and it never will because it at an individual business level the impact is almost negligible, as any small business person would tell you. Sure it SOUNDS great, but the reality is not a toot.

    Small business doesn’t need cost savings, it needs more customers spending money. It needs more revenue, and more profits. Instead of focusing on saving costs, government should be looking at how they can help increase revenue. But they won’t. Because unfortunately it would appear that they simply haven’t a clue about business or about government.

  9. wam

    msm verbs , may, might, could, should, is possible, was meant to/for, will probably, is designed to/for
    My personal shudder verb is to review. My substitute is to evaluate.
    As for tax, all 457/baxckpacker pay 30% minimum no tax free threshhold and raise the tax free to $25000 will help every Aussie worker.

  10. Jaquix

    Terry2 I dont think we will be hearing any more about KPI’s ! Malcolm wouldnt have a hope in hell of achieving any himself, and look at his cabinet. Because Herbert is currently in Labor’s favor (though subject to a full recount) his government is only hanging by a thread anyway, 76 seats, less a speaker, means 75. Against Labor 69 plus the independents.

  11. Jaquix

    I heard this morning that Queensland’s Labor government, lead by Annastacia Palaszczuk, is in the process of legislating the publishing of political donations in real-time, available to us all instantly. This is a huge reform in itself, or at least Stage 1 of an area which needs much reform, not only in Qld, but all around the country, at both State and Federal level. If it had been in place prior to the 2nd July federal election, we would have known who had financed the last minute rash of panic stricken adverts for the Liberal Party.

  12. Phil

    Excellent article Ad Astra – I liked the grammar stuff to drive your points. I happily admit to wanting to see this government fail and fail soon. They did not deserve the return to government.

  13. Freethinker

    Malcolm, Scott and Mathias will be not happy with Australian Medical Association president, Michael Gannon.
    It would be interesting what some back benches have to say in the nest few days……
    “The AMA took a set of policies to the election campaign, supporting elements of Labor policy leading into the election,”
    “I would be gobsmacked if the government took an ongoing freeze to the next election.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/jul/21/ama-president-says-he-would-be-gobsmacked-if-coalition-sticks-with-medicare-rebate-freeze

  14. helvityni

    wam, I have noticed that Mal likes the verb ‘ensure’. The Liberals are not so keen on verbs, doing something; according to them all this doing is happening on Labor side. All negative of course, if you ask them.

  15. Möbius Ecko

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/health/sussan-ley-back-to-work-after-campaign-criticism/news-story/782e4758b7f639fd58b91690e90709a1

    Freethinker. After being missing in action the entire election campaign Susan Ley illustrated why the Liberals hid her away. In a big show of being back at work she was promptly wedged by AMA president Gannon and now has no choice but to lift the rebate freeze and soon, probably much sooner than Turnbull/Morrison planned, that is if they were going to lift it at all.

    The Liberal party really are full of under achievers and no hopers who barely have a microgram of political nous amongst the lot of them.

    http://tinyurl.com/zdf4hxg

  16. jimhaz

    They do use the verb promise often enough.

    From my view, a good long dose of herbs rather than verbs would do the far right wonders.

  17. Jaquix

    Another one Malcolm loves is “Committed”. Its become a household joke – “Im absolutely committed to ….” and going one further you could easily add “ensure” so its “Im absolutely committed to ensuring that ….” All means very little though doesnt it. Just more waffle. What a talentless lot.

  18. Terry2

    Jaquix

    This may be the article you are talking about : Queensland taking a principled step into making political donations more transparent :

    https://theconversation.com/queenslanders-will-soon-see-in-real-time-whos-paying-politicians-now-canberra-must-act-62697?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2021%202016%20-%205278&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2021%202016%20-%205278+CID_a52383b82780f3a89d58e64b5c03f5bf&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Queenslanders%20will%20soon%20see%20in%20real-time%20whos%20paying%20politicians%20%20now%20Canberra%20must%20act

    This in NSW and federally would certainly help the likes of Arthur Sinodinos to remember where the money came from and where it went.

  19. Terry2

    I ma be a cynic but I have a feeling that they will keep recounting Herbert until it comes out right – i.e. LNP

  20. astra5

    Folks
    Thank you for your interesting comments and complimentary remarks.

    I doubt if we will see KPIs for Turnbull’s ministers, Terry2. They were just Turnbull talk sans action.

    All Malcolm’s talk about a mandate helvityni seems to have evaporated. A majority of one (or two if the LNP retains Herbert) is hardly overwhelming. If his victory had been substantial, and certainly if it was crushing, he could have reasonably claimed to have a mandate, but a mandate for what? ‘Jobs and Growth’? Superannuation changes? Big tax breaks for businesses? It’s pointless claiming a mandate unless the electorate has strongly endorsed a party and a particular policy for which a mandate was specifically sought. For John Howard, a GST was such a policy. Turnbull’s so-called policies were so wishy-washy that he can hardly claim any of them as signature ones.

    You are right ozibody, Turnbull, Morrison, Cormann et al treated the electorate with contempt as they sonorously recited ‘Jobs and Growth’. They treated us as suckers.

    Barnaby Joyce is a windbag Kaye. Expect him to go on blaming Labor for the financial mess the LNP is in until the next election. Isn’t it laughable that the party that was going to deliver a surplus in its first term (because they were adults who understood how to run an economy!), has seen our fiscal situation steadily worsen. It is absurd that after three years, and the federal finances getting further behind, they still need to blame Labor. It is a stark indicator of their inability to deal with what they like to call ‘headwinds’. The ship of state is being blown backwards, and all Morrison talks about is jettisoning what he regards as dead weight, instead of asking how he can get the wind behind him (we have a spending problem, not a revenue one!).

    I think that any support Barnaby has Freethinker derives from the hope that he will look after the folk in the bush. For them, that’s the KPI they’ve lumbered him with. You are right about Michael Gannon. Although he is likely a Liberal supporter, he is putting the AMA line strongly, and hopefully will soon rid doctors of the rebate freeze. The profession did the Coalition a lot of damage during the election, and has the capacity to do a lot more. Sussan Lee had better listen to Gannon’s words carefully. You are right Möbius Ecko, Gannon has wedged her stylishly.

    Carol, it’s Malcolm who will need to innovate to get his legislation through and keep his job!

    Steve, you are right – what businesses need, both small and large – is people buying their goods and services. Tax breaks are band-aids, and we know how long they remain in place.

    wam, ‘to review’ is a classic device for postponement of an important issue until a tame reviewer can be enlisted to give the desired answer.

    Hopefully Anastacia’s initiative will start a move to expose all donations to political parties Jaquix, at the very time they are made. Now is the time to legislate this, when party coffers are depleted.

    Phil, with the way PM Turnbull and Coalition members have been behaving after just squeaking home, I think we can leave them to self-destruct as ineptitude slows them, ideological dogma bedevils them, legislative roadblocks stand in their way, and factional self-interest erodes solidarity.

    jimhaz, ‘promise’ slides from the disingenuous mouth so easily, but can quickly choke the insincere.

  21. Kyran

    What verbs would you like PM Turnbull to use?
    A hah, got one. ‘Shut’.
    It’s a verb. Not like in ‘Shut the feck up’.
    For the record, feck is an exclamation. Not like it’s cousin, which is definitely a verb.
    More like ‘Shut the door, on your way out’.
    Great read, and comments. As long as he shut’s the door on his fecking way out. Thank you, Ad astra. Take care

  22. Jack Russell

    The coalition will find a plethora of verbs, once they’re back in opposition . . .

  23. jimhaz

    Jack Russells go for a spin

  24. cornlegend

    While Malcolm dithers Labor caucus meet tomorrow in Canberra to sort out the shadow Ministry
    Would, mind betting Linda Burney gets a spot,maybe Mike Kelly and Carol Brown. The carve up should be 14/1/15/
    If the Left leave Kim Carr out I’m hoping Terri Butler gets a run.
    They are going to be a pretty talented bunch to square up to Malcolm s Misfits and Malcontents

  25. Jack Russell

    LOL jimhaz . . . agile, if not innovative. ?

  26. Jaquix

    I trust Labor’s scrutineers will be just as diligent as the Coalitions !! Fingers crossed for Cathy O’Toole. Anne Aly toppled the apparently lazy Lib incumbent in Cowan, in a close contest – tho not as close as Herbert. Would be wonderful to keep Malcolm on 75 seats + 1 speaker.

  27. cornlegend

    Jaquix
    Labor have brilliant scrutineers shipped into Herbert.
    The problem is, the big shit fight now about the 600 soldiers who couldn’t vote, about 85 apparently from Townsville, and we know how soldiers vote.
    If the Minister for the AEC has any imput, we are up shit creek Mathias Cormann Minister for AEC
    and if it goes to the Courts, they and the AFP are LNP playthings.
    Should strengthen Glen Lazarus fight about people unable to vote if the rule for soldiers.
    Also, as it seems 85 come from Townsville, where do the other 500 plus come from?
    Would other Electorates come under attention also

  28. Neil of Sydney

    How many years do you have to be in power before you take responsibility?

    The Coalition tried to do something in their first 2014 budget but were called mean and nasty and had lots of spending cuts blocked by the Senate. After that it looks like they gave up.

    Fact is the last election was a good one to lose. We will lose our AAA credit rating in 3 years because nobody wants to cut govt spending.

  29. Jaquix

    Thanks Cornlegend. Glad to hear it. It seems there were plenty of other instances of people being unable to vote due insufficient ballot papers etc. If there were such instances in this electorate I hope those who missed out, kick up a stink too. The Army would surely be responsible for arranging postal votes for soldiers it was sending on exercises on 2nd July. After all we had plenty of notice of the election day. Here’s hoping Cathy O’Toole prevails.

  30. Jack Russell

    Substantially defund the AEC, replace the old experienced boss with a muppet, pull the double dissolution shenanigans, nobble the media, amass an illegal campaign warchest, issue and collect voting forms via party headquarters prior to polling day, campaign as TCT not the official name, change the way we vote at short notice, be aware that many people were turned away from polling stations for lack of forms, the wrong forms, or lack of time . . .

    ???

  31. Jaquix

    Incorrect advice from poorly informed AEC booth staff re senate ballot paper new voting requirements… Just vote 1 above the line, thats OK. Insufficient education about the changes, and effect of same. Funny postal vote forns requiring signature and witness signature or else theyre informal. Option to send them back to the Liberals ? One huge senate committee enquiry needed please.

  32. townsvilleblog

    Our language has slowly but surely been replaced. We used to speak Australian English, now the majority of our population including our tory politicians speak yank English. Very few verbs and no connecting words. We used to go and do something, now we go, do something. As a true blue Aussie it shits me to tears, along with the loss of our identity, now only being the 51st State of the USA.

  33. Casablanca

    ‘Jobs and Growth’ was a direct steal from George Doubya’s election slogan, so apart from the lack of a verb it was also plagiarized. It was also derivative of John Howard’s 2007 slogan, ‘Go for Growth’ which at least was action oriented. Perhaps the best and most playful slogan to belatedly come out of the 2016 campaign came from a Derryn Hinch quip that his slogan should have been, ‘It’s Time to keep the bastards honest’.

    townsvilleblog, on the point that you make about Australian English, one celebration of that, which I recommend highly, is the Jacob Howardson series, Brilliant Creatures. https://shop.abc.net.au/products/brilliant-creatures-abc-dvd Howardson delights in Australian English and whereas we wallow in a cultural cringe, as did Germaine Greer, Clive James, Barry Humphries and Robert Hughes, he lauds them as having contributed disproportionately to the cultural revolution in London of the 1960s. Howardson lectured at Sydney University for a short period in the 1960s and there is a great piece of imagery in the series where he imagines that as he sailed into Sydney Harbour escaping stultifying England, the Australian Fab Four – Germaine, Clive, Barry & Bob were sailing away to England little realising that they would lead the cultural revolution. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brilliant_Creatures_(2014_TV_series

  34. Michael Taylor

    Casablanca, long time no see. You’re return is more than welcome.

  35. helvityni

    Casablanca, I recommend anything by Howard Jacobson (not Jacob Howardson 🙂 ), especially his collection of newspaper articles ”Whatever it is, I don’t like it”.

  36. Casablanca

    Thanks Michael. I read the excellent pieces on AIM but hardly ever comment.

    helvityni, thanks. Looks like I need to go back on my medications. 🙂 Sorry Howard!

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