‘Indonesia remains important for Australia under Abbott’, or why Indonesians don’t like him

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

It is obvious from reports coming out of Indonesia that not many of our northern neighbours like Tony Abbott. Since news of the phone tapping scandal was made public they have demonstrated their dislike by burning photos of our gung-ho Prime Minister, whilst as the media itself is concerned he rates highly as a reasonable person to attack. They certainly have it in for him.

But why?

I’m not convinced it’s over the phone tapping as the Australian media are going to great pains to have us believe. If that were issue then why aren’t Indonesians burning photos of Kevin Rudd, who was the prime minister at the time of the incident?

There’s clearly more to it.

Here’s a hint. An article by Donny Syofyan, lecturer in the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at Andalas University, Padang in the Jakarta Post on September 10 in the wake of Abbott’s election victory announces to we surprised Australians that Abbott was unpopular well before the phone tapping became public. This latest episode, quite possibly, was the straw that simply broke the proverbial camel’s back. Indonesians had had enough of him and the phone tapping, if Abbott was responsible or not, was the opportunity to express it.

Syofyan’s article, titled Indonesia remains important for Australia under Abbott covers the main bases. Here is the article in full:

Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott celebrated a landslide victory in Australia’s election last Saturday, ending six years of Labor Party government. In his election victory speech, he restated his campaign promises: in three years time the carbon tax would be gone, the asylum seeker boats would be stopped, the budget would be on track for surplus and the roads of the 21st century would be started.

Listening to his victory speech, along with his campaign, one might infer that Australia under Abbott leadership would be more tough on non-Australians, particularly Asians, following his unremitting commitment to adopting a military approach to stem the flow of boat people, mostly Asians, including using the navy to turn around asylum seekers and expanding Labor’s plan to deport all boat people to remote Pacific islands.

Indonesia, to a serious degree, will be hit with the step since thousands of would-be refugees stage perilous sea journeys each year from Indonesia in a desperate attempt to reach Australia.

This is not to mention the promised A$4.5 billion cuts to foreign aid to pay for infrastructure projects, which would be detrimental for education in Indonesia.

Despite the pessimistic future profile of Australia and Indonesia relations, Indonesia will remain important in the Abbott premiership.

On many occasions, Abbott has asserted that his focus will be on Asia over the US and European Union, saying that his top travel priority as prime minister would be Indonesia, China, Japan and South Korea before the traditional visits to Washington and London.

This statement is likely not simply a matter of political courtesy. Rather, it strongly confirms the very nature of Abbott’s foreign relations and policy. It is apparent that Abbott explores every avenue to avoid the mistake of former Australian prime minister and his political mentor, John Howard, who declared that he was America’s “deputy sheriff” in Pacific region.

This is particularly true as Abbott further restated that the Australia’s Liberal Party is now entering one of the golden ages of 11 years of engagement with Asia.

In view of Abbott’s first overseas trip to Jakarta, Indonesian government must best prime for bilateral talk under the principle of trust and mutual benefit.

While Prime Minister Abbott will certainly ask for cooperation with Indonesia to handle the asylum seeker issue, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono needs to push Abbott for continued collaboration for education programs. Both leaders have to come to terms that the efforts to stop the flow of asylum seekers call for bilateral cooperation.

Such a common platform is crucial for Indonesia since Abbott was notorious for his previous $440 million scheme, including a capped government buy-back plan for vessels as well as stipends for Indonesian guardians in 100 villages to provide information to Australia and bounty payments for information leading to successful smuggling prosecutions.

This plan — to use Indonesian villagers as agents — has been viewed as bruising Indonesians, making out that everything can be overcome by giving money to Indonesia.

Outrage in Indonesia over the plan makes sense because Indonesia is not Australia’s colony with people available to be “bought” for another country’s interest.

The asylum seeker issue is a much vexed issue. A satisfactory solution to the matter seems further away than ever and will never be reached until Indonesia is part of the solution. The only way to stop the boats ethically is to negotiate a regional agreement with Indonesia.

This will certainly take a considerable period of time, a good check book and a strong commitment to detailed open diplomatic work instead of the megaphone and backroom diplomacy.

The absence of mutual benefit standards in response to the asylum seeker issue will certainly put Indonesia and Australia ties at stake.

Education is also central to both countries. There is fear that Abbott’s measure to slash the foreign aid budget will conduce to Indonesia’s poor education quality owing to the fact that the biggest single portion of Australia’s aid spending in Indonesia goes to education.

Yet it is an exaggeration to say that Indonesia’s quality education improvement is greatly bound to Australia’s aid in the light of Indonesia’s position as it’s largest aid recipient.

With the Australian government shifting the foreign aid budget to infrastructure projects at home, it is high time that cooperation in education and training between the two countries are cushioned by people-to-people relations.

Cultural diplomacy and educational cooperation between the West Sumatra city of Bukittinggi and various cities in Australia are splendid examples. The visit of Greater Geraldton City mayor Ian Carpenter to Bukittinggi on Sept. 10-13 will be testament to intensified relations between Bukittinggi and Australia in terms of culture and education.

Though it is a sign of government to government based, such profound cultural and educational cooperation is actually driven by the people-to-people approach.

Thanks to Gusrizal, an avid advocate for teaching Indonesian language studies at Australian high schools and universities for years, Bukittinggi and Australia cooperation is progressing at the community level.

People-to-people contact hold key to future Indonesia and Australia relations. Counting much on foreign aid is tricky and risky.

The government needs to be independent from foreign aid since it has become an instrument whereby foreign countries, not necessarily Australia, can ask for favorable policies as apparent in the controversy surrounding President Yudhoyono’s decision to grant five years clemency to Schapelle Corby, an Australian who was convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia.

It appears that the root of the disdain is clearly as a result of Abbott’s attitude towards the Indonesians. This was echoed in an editorial in the Jakarta Post, also after Abbott’s election victory:

Now that Abbott is in power, he will have to give up the whacky campaign promises about cracking down on human traffickers, such as sending the Australian police into Indonesian villages to chase after culprits or buying up all the boats from their owners.

He had evidently been treading on people’s toes in Indonesia before he took office, ignoring warnings before the election that he would need to come to terms with the fact that his turning back the boats policy was not only unworkable, but more crucially, unacceptable to Indonesia. Abbott didn’t listen and continued along with his ambitious plan and was blindly ignorant to the dangers that in doing so he was displaying deep disregard of Indonesia’s sovereignty. The Indonesians, which many Australians might be unaware of, are a proud people. They deeply resent the colonial attitudes of superiority and parochialism often displayed by Tony Abbott and the cultural insensitivities from not only Abbott himself, but now the Australian media.

And how much to blame is the Australian media in promoting the myth that is all revolves around phone tapping? How could they not pick up on the opinion that Tony Abbott’s ideas are ‘whacky’ in the opinion of Jakarta and the ensuing frustration this causes?

But it is not only his arrogance and ill-thought policies that are stuck in Indonesia’s collective craw.

The cutting of foreign aid to Indonesia is as equally unpopular and may prove not just the fuel that fired further resentment of Abbott, but to an economic disaster for Australia. The ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ rule applies just as much in politics and international relations as it does in any walk of life.

John Howard was good at scratching Indonesia’s back. I was one of the many who was critical when he gifted $1B in aid to Indonesia after the Aceh Tsunami of December 2004. I guess I didn’t, at the time, have much of a grasp on international relations. It was Howard’s way of appeasing Indonesia and protecting the $16B a year Indonesians spent on Australian products and services (now $15B). By cutting aid, Abbott has put away the back scratcher and Indonesia takes offense. Education programs, for example, so badly needed in Indonesia as they have themselves stated, will suffer.

Will they make Australia suffer? Time will provide us the answer.

Indonesia certainly remains important for Australia under Tony Abbott. He needs to wake up to just how important they are. His ‘turn back the boats’ policy is now in shambles thanks to his cowboy attitude. What’s next?

Phone tapping scandal or not, he needs to start making a few friends.

Categories: Politics

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48 replies

  1. I don’t think shutting the Indonesian press out of his first press conference on their soil was a move designed to win friends. Tony (or more likely Peta) was so used to a complicit media here that he would not risk those outside Rupert’s control making comment. I think he forgot that we have access to the Jakarta Post and Kompas.

  2. It gets more and more curious. Many Australians just don’t get and understand the consequences of colonialism and capitalism in their own country, let alone have the empathetic ability to consider the Indonesian experience. Tony Abbott belongs to and governs for the apartheid of White Australia. The disdain that the Howard / Abbott governments held for educational possibilities to improve the world, to address poverty, to give hope, meaning and dignity to all human lives, is more than unfortunate – it will damage Australia’s potential opportunities.

    The ‘asylum seeker’ issue didn’t have to be toxic. Australia could have and SHOULD HAVE looked to its regional neighbours with respect and courtesy and methodically sought a regional solution. Australia should have been prepared to invest billions of dollars into properly developing a response that would assist the economies of its neighbours, provide training and education opportunities for its neighbours, and just as equally been a more humane treatment of people seeking refuge from war, genocide, rape, brutality and the fear of persecution and death. Australia failed in the most spectacularly ugly of ways.

    Indonesia has long been familiar with the ‘ugly Australian’. I don’t think Indonesia will be in a hurry to let bygones by bygones. (The curious thing about Indonesia is that it could develop its own cattle industry that provides employment for its own people and not be dependent on the live cattle trade from Australia – if I was a vaguely enterprising entrepreneur I’d be looking into it!)

  3. “Slick’ Abbott’s Indonesian problems appear to be because Murdoch doesn’t have a majority interest in Indonesia.

    “Murdoch’s media bullied Australians into voting for Abbott”.

    “Don’t feed Murdoch”.

  4. Hard to tell whether its a policy or just a meme, but any given Coalition member when asked about foreign aid immediately launches into the “well, its a great idea, but, you know the CORRUPTION they have in these sordid foreign places ….” spiel.

    They have been doing such since the advent of Howard, so I guess they kind of notice this attitude in ASEAN nations.

  5. jasonblog,

    Indonesia announced a plan in 2010 to become food self sufficient by 2014. Their plan to buy 1 million hectares in Australia was part of a move to help solve its beef supply problems.


  6. They have also for several years been buying some very fine breeding stock,Just adding to what you are saying Kaye.

  7. Excellent article. Wish information like this was available to a wider audience in our MSM.

  8. Mary, the audience on these sites are growing every day. Just tweet to your friends, and tick the Facebook button. You will be doing your bit, to make it grow,

  9. Thank you Michael,well written and articulate of you on so many points that Abbott just supposed would happen because he became PM
    The BS prior the election and fed to the bogans who swallowed it all via Ltd News is now seen for what it is,
    I believe Indonesia will send the Abbott Government a reminder of what they were doing and was not acknowledged,that being turning a blind eye for a while as the boat flotilla sets off.
    Spin works both ways,and that`s something BS artists forget.

  10. Kaye Lee says Indonesia is becoming food self sufficient by buying up pastoral holdings in Australia. Duh, any contradiction evident there, Kaye?
    Jasonblog says Abbott governs for “the apartheid of white Australia”. Well that outrageous slander ignores the fact that the white Australia policy was a creation of the Australian Labor Party.

    What planet are you lunatics living on?

  11. I see no contradiction JohnB. Perhaps you could explain it to me. What I see is Indonesia buying up land to breed cattle on. Am I missing something?

  12. Oh, come on, JohnB, the White Australia policy was introduced in 1901! You really can’t make judgements on something that happened over a century ago! Surely we’ve moved on since then! The Liberal Government of Harold Holt took the first steps towards dismantling it, and the Whitlam Labor Government finished the process. Let’s hope that policy isn’t creeping back in!

  13. How pathetic you Libturds become when you know you took the wrong turn and are now going down in quick sand.
    Call Labor supporters lunatics and you bring into discussion to attack with the white Australian policy.
    Bye,bye JohnBoy.Dead set just can’t be bothered wasting quality time with people like you anymore.If you can still support this Gov.that has proven their total incompetence,domestically & internationally,and then attempted to blatantly bullshit and lie their way out of the hole they dug for them selves.WHAT PLANET DO YOU LIVE ON?????

  14. Not so long ago SBY stood with other BRICS members against US hegemony and its unipolar world view. Things have changed since the early days of the Non Aligned Movement.
    NAM was a progressive cause but had no economic teeth. Things have changed. Those once Third World Countries are emerging as the new super powers – and just in case you missed it – in a couple of years Indonesia will have a bigger economy (and political clout) than Australia …for ever.

    Abbott like Gillard and Rudd and dare I say it Shorten and most of the commentariat, it seems, still live in the past. Hiding behind Uncle Samuel won’t wash any more and neither will being Sam’s puppet – especially if we want some respect as an independent nation in our region.

    Taking orders (directions) from London or Washington is demeaning and lazy. It’s time we grew up as a nation and learnt a little respect, some humility and understanding for what is happening in the region we reside.

    We don’t punch above our weight and never did. So far we have just followed others.
    And what Indonesia is doing is sneering at an arrogant upstart – with good reason.

    Things have changed.

  15. Indonesia is a very complex, very corrupt nation. The regime in power now has not removed itself from, nor in any way atoned for the corruption of the past. The culture is still dominated by military power. This military have killed millions of Indonesians and people whose territory the Indonesian regimes have invaded. The East Timor atrocities were par for the course; rule by terror and mass slaughter. NO Australian regime is not infinitely better than this; as we saw in the intervention to free East Timor from appalling murder of men, women, and children.
    Part of official and institutional Indonesian resentment of Australia comes from this; and this includes Indonesian main Media. Indonesian nationalism excuses, and indeed is proud of, its mass murder.
    Just because Abbott and his horrible bunch are now in power in Australia is no excuse for people to write as if Indonesia has the sensitivities indicating an open and free and equitable society. Abbott is very bad, in Australian terms. But please keep some perspective. The enemy of my enemy might be an enemy a lot worse. You can oppose Abbott, AND stand up for the victims of the Indonesian regime. Otherwise your views are extremely twisted and opportunist; and can do this nation no good in the long term.

  16. If we treat the JohnBs with a bit of respect; then they may learn something. Abbott and his Ministers Against ….. are the ones we should be attacking. Whats happening is that people are becoming too polarised under the Abbott gang regime.

    They could be termed Coalition aka Wedding Party aka Liebral Party aka Tea Party; complete with pretend Ministers in a number of policy areas except Science. I’m wondering if there are any decent Liberal Parliamentary members who have been elected, or have they all been pre- gutted prior to being allowed to stand as a member.

    I’m still angry about Abbott being willing to sell Aboriginals down the drain:


  17. Randalstella, I’m not saying I’m a big fan of Indonesia either. Actually, I’m not. Their human rights record is appalling.

    I’m merely pointing out why they don’t like Tony Abbott. 😉

  18. Keith, I think this is one of the LNP’s mottoes: Aboriginal bashing is good politics.

    Their record is disgraceful.

  19. Slightly off point but I have just been reading about Tony Abbott’s more controversial speeches ( on abortion : the carbon tax : foreign aid) have been airbrushed from LNP websites :


    Do you remember Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984; this was precisely the job that he had at the Ministry of Truth – rewriting and airbrushing history to suit the prevailing political climate.

    Welcome to the brave new world of the LNP: now remember the slogan of the day is “cleanup Labor’s Mess” repeat at every opportunity no matter the subject no matter the question………

  20. JohnB, the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, better known as the White Australia Policy, was introduced by the Protectionist Party.

    Why do you blame Labor for that?

  21. Randalstella, we know you are right about the appalling history that Indonesia has been involved in; it is still going on in New Guinea.
    The issue focussed on here is that of Abbott’s lack of skill in quelling a diplomatic disaster. He didn’t listen to the Indonesians before the election, and now we see the results.

  22. Thanks for your replies. I could hardly believe that people here could be apologists for the Indonesian regime. And the incompetence and diplomatic blunders of Abbott, are obvious and hardly surprising.
    But my point remains, about a need for care against allowing opportunism to rule debate.
    Besides the dreadful cruelties and iniquities in Indonesia, which no progressive could be seen to support, another matter has been only touched on and largely avoided. It is the lack of accountability of “our” espionage; which is funded by elected Governments, but otherwise is free to do as it decides. Thus, who knows what they are up to? This ridiculous tapping of private phones of SBY and family shows that their level of competence, and their thought patterns are as blundering as ever. “Right-wing” opportunists have made much of the hacking as occurring under Rudd; while “left-wing” opportunists have concentrated on Abbott’s incompetence in handling the exposure of it. Only fleeting mention has been made of the total lack of accountability of the spooks. Rudd would have had no idea that they bugging SBY. The “right-wing” opportunists who blame him display no knowledge of the serious matter of this unaccountability. And progressives should be focussing on it. This is the major matter which comes from this exposure; going to the heart of our supposedly free and democratic society. The spooks have done – literally – untold harm to many loyal, decent and intelligent Australians. Please debate this here sometime.(I hope I have not missed it if you have.)

  23. Terry2, Pyne is also rewriting history and still espouses his rewritten history even when the real history is shown to him. He even changed his own spoken history from what he said in the morning was the history to something different that afternoon.

    Apparently less than a day is way too long a historical period for Pyne to remember his history in.

  24. We also must remember, whether we like Indonesia or not, it is still one of our biggest trading partners.

    The same could be said about China, whose record on human rights is even more appalling, but who we need. Without China our economy would be torn to shreds.

  25. randalstella,

    Would you agree with the proposition that Australian security agencies have been engaging in high level covert surveillance since the Howard regime (post 9/11) and that subsequent Australian Governments have ostensibly lost control of the matter? It seems as though the U.S. and agencies such as the NSA have taken virtual control over aspects of our security agencies, at least with respect to political and public surveillance.

    I’m inclined to agree that Rudd, and probably every leader since Howard is largely ignorant of the full extent of what some people may regard as a serious problem. It would be nice if some journalists experienced in this area would do some investigatory work. At the very least it would give Andrew Bolt something to write about.

  26. Meet the Press should not be missed today. Even Bolt is revealing. That is as long as one ignore the usual rubbish that comes out of Bolt’s mouth. Abbott, Costa and Costello on Bolt. Kate Ellis on Meet the Press.

  27. Randalstella
    I agree that Indo is corrupt but that corruption is open to all comers, where as in Australia it is only to be played by the mega wealthy, political flunkies and multi national corps

  28. Wun Farlung,
    Interesting point, about social stratification. Thanks.
    But there is that social divide between murdered and murderers – which Aust, does not have so starkly.

  29. In West Papua they endure both. Their land is being raped by mining companies, the jobs are going to Javanese, and the wealth back to Indonesia and the mining company shareholders.

    And even though our PM may consider that Indonesia is doing a good job and that West Papua is better off, others disagree.

    “According to criminologist Elizabeth Stanley, Indonesian “security forces have killed as many as 200,000 Papuans since 1963 …. Terror has been made routine rather than exceptional”. Stanley explains, “Papuan people have been systematically ill-treated, arbitrarily detained, raped and tortured. These violations, undertaken under the rubric of countering subversive or terrorist forces, have been dovetailed with all kinds of social controls. Indonesian officials have placed restrictions on group gatherings, imposed curfews, forcibly displaced populations, conducted house and mail searches, monitored cultural events, and refused ‘outsider’ access to the regions”. ”


  30. So Abbott is going to keep the promises he made. not the one we thought he made.

    It is now our fault, that we cannot comprehend what the Coalition says.

    Also the diversion today, is to turn up with Cando in Brisbane, in an effort to put Palmer out in front.

    Yes, attacking Palmer is todays news.

  31. Dan, I believe that it is proper to keep at arms length, when it comes to the day to day running of security agencies. To be hands on, is wrong.

    One sets up the laws, gives the guidelines and aims, then let them get on with the job. Same is true for the judiciary and defence.

  32. Abbott leaves himself open, when he gallops around the region, calling everyone his bested friends. Why the need for mouthing such childish words.

    Yes, maybe we are friends with you, is passable, but I cannot see why it has to be put in words. Action and negotiation should be the vogue, not weasel words, that mean little. Yes, as the Indonesians replied to Abbott’s letter, is full of intentions.

    When one nominates who is the bested, even a child learns, leads to trouble.

    When one is in difficult negotiations, it seems silly to say, we want to sign this by the end of they year.One immediately hands the opposition unnecessary advantages. If Abbott had said, if we do not sign by the end of the year, we will be dropping the idea altogether. He did not say that.

    Now we have from this man, it is not his fault, if we do not comprehend what he says. That he is going to implemented what he promised, not what we thought he said.

    The truth is, that all in this region, only has to sit back, until our PM falls into line,. He has given away any debating or negotiation advances that he has. There is nothing now, that he can do or say. He is impotent in this region.

  33. Fed up,

    I’m inclined to disagree somewhat. I don’t think the judiciary and defense/security agencies are analogous. Certainly the later two ought be able to get on with their daily routines free of political interference, but at the same time neither defense nor security ought be engaged in operational matters that the Executive has no knowledge of. That leads to the sort of stuff that goes on in America, where security agencies are a law unto themselves. A sub-government almost. JFK discovered that the hard way.

  34. By the way, what was that promise, when it comes to education?

  35. I take my mind back to the days of Howard, and Dr. Haneef among many. Yes, security and all agencies must report to government,. That cannot be denied, but are they over involved in day to day running of the department. Do they tell them, to bug the phones of nearby leader’s family, I suspect not.

    I do not believe what is going on now, when it comes to Abbott is really about the phone hacking. It is the leaders in the region, taking the opportunity to get back at Abbott, for his insults of the last couple of years.

    This is just my opinion, and many disagree I know.

    Whatever the right answer is, the truth is, that Abbott and Australia are ot in a good position. Seems a little like cutting one’s nose off, to spite one’s face. Not a good outcome.

  36. Oh, I think it’s absolutely true that Indonesia is using the phone hacking thing as a means to kick the Australian Government over other matters. They know hacking goes on and they do it themselves to the extent they are able.

  37. I think it is extremely important that the government oversees what the intelligence services are doing. I think back to when the CIA, in co-operation with the UK, organised the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran and installed Shah Pahlavi in exchange for oil concessions.


  38. Dan I think Marty Natalegawa is having a ball.

    Asked if the process was a “long road ahead,” Mr Natalegawa laughed and said: “Ah, the long and winding road — what’s that other song called? Sorry seems to be ….?”

  39. Pyne is setting out to reinvent the wheel. He is setting bodies up, to tell him, what the Gonski report has already announced. Yes, reinventing the wheel.


  40. Michael, whether we like them or not, is of little importance.

    What is true, this nation has come a long way over the last couple of decades,. It’s economy is growing. The numbers of middle class is growing.

    Yes, they and the rest of the region are becoming powers that one should respect.

    That is, if we also want to thrive in the region.

  41. And to think all this could have been avoided if the racist bigot Liesalot had simply said we are very sorry our security forces have been spying on Indonesia and particularly sorry that SBY & his wife had been subject to phone hacking and that the matter had been addressed and will not happen again.

    Simple, but apparently way beyond our Prime Simpleton’s ability to comprehend. Perhaps the Liars have assumed that because Rupert owns the press here, he owns it everywhere.

  42. As I said on here before the election what our government is doing to the Indonesians it is also doing to us – and there wasn’t a peep from anyone.
    Jason started the comments on the correct path and I will add again it doesn’t matter whether it is a liberal or labor government they are both wedded to a neocolonial mentality. Vietnam Korea Iraq Syria Palestine libya even North Korea or Afghanistan – whereever – we (our government) are on the wrong side supporting the oppressors and invaders pushing our noses into other peoples business – upsetting the local power balance – and preparing the way for the wall street gangs to exercise their dominance. Our subservience to empire is not lost on our neighbours. We might not like what they do in Timor or West Papua but they don’t like what we do either and our brutality is no less than theirs. For example the Iraqi sanctions during the Keating years killed a million people and the invasion(s) during the Howard years killed another million. Nothing to be proud of and neither were held to account for their actions. No lessons learnt.

  43. Everybody spies on everyone else – nothing new there.

    The diplomatic approach is to apologise and offer to investigate the past error Rudd made (perfect opportunity for some more Labor bashing).

    Calling Indonesia corrupt may well be true – how that helps maintain trade and cooperation is zero. Australia can hardly claim high moral ground. Remaining open to communication helps everyone.

    Finally, thanks Michael Taylor – confirming what I have been thinking; Indonesia were waiting for a suitable time to test Abbott, shame Abbott only met expectations.

  44. mark delmage,is totally correct,no if or buts and right now a bit hard to improve on 100% right.
    F#&k I love this forum.


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