The unmentionable problem of Australian citizenship.
Before proceeding to enlarge upon that judgment, it is fair to recognise that Mr Robb himself would have been subject, in finalising his paper, to two major constraints:
First, and almost certainly the more important, he is the parliamentary secretary to Senator Amanda Vanstone, whose period in office as Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has been one of almost unmitigated disaster for Australia (with consequences, I suspect, for the Government at the next federal election). Thus, even if Mr Robb had wished to produce a more meaningful document, he would undoubtedly have encountered difficulty in having that approved by his Minister.
Second, whatever may have been the already compromised draft paper that Mr Robb would then have submitted for Cabinet's consideration, we also do not know what changes Cabinet itself may have demanded in that draft.
While, therefore, I shall have many criticisms of this document, it does not follow that they should all be visited upon Mr Robb's own head.
In examining the paper I first focus on its basic failings. I then mention some useful informative aspects. I then show how, repeatedly, the paper's failure to address the right issues leads it into error. Finally, I address the four "key questions" (and 16 other questions) to which it seeks responses from the public (albeit by a date, 17 November, before this article is published).
NOT EVEN A CAMEL
A camel, it has been said, is a horse designed by committee. Yet, while there is much of the camel (so defined) about the Robb paper, the more fundamental problem is that its designers did not even set out to produce a horse in the first place. Not surprisingly, therefore, their product is not even a camel.
To understand that comment we might look at Mr Robb's two statements accompanying the paper's release. One, headed "Formal Citizenship Test" discussion paper released, sought "public reaction to a proposal to introduce a formal citizenship test". The other, entitled New Requirements for Australian Citizenship, focused on "new residence requirements" that will mean migrants "would be required to have a minimum of four years' lawful residence in Australia immediately prior to applying for Citizenship". (2) This change, Mr Robb said, "together with the proposed citizenship test, with its English language requirement", will "help ensure citizenship applicants have had sufficient time in Australia to become familiar with our way of life and appreciate the commitment they are making when they become citizens".
At first glance, all that might seem sensible enough. A Sydney talk-back radio host, interviewing the Prime Minister on 18 September, said that to him, the paper seemed merely "common sense". (3) And so, up to a point, it does. Yet its basic deficiencies, already apparent in those two Robb statements, may immediately be seen by asking the following three questions:
1). Why, in discussing the citizenship question, is there no mention of the fact that Australia is now embarked on a War against the Islamists? (4) This war gives every prospect of lasting even longer than the 1945-1989 Cold War against another form of totalitarianism/imperialism, and raises the same questions about personal loyalties to Australia (and hence requirements of citizenship) as did that earlier long-drawn-out conflict.
2). Against that background, what is the ultimate reason for this proposed change in the citizenship laws?
3). Why, in focusing on the requirements for citizenship of immigrants already in Australia, is the paper carefully skirting around the prior question of conditions governing admission to Australia in the first place? (5)
THE PAPER'S BASIC FAILINGS
With these three questions in mind, how has it come about that the government is proposing "new [and somewhat tougher] requirements for Australian citizenship"? After all, it is not so long since this same government was busy relaxing those requirements. Indeed, in 2002 it went further, repealing section 17 of the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 to enable those Australians who actively (6) acquire another citizenship (i.e., swear loyalty to another sovereign state) to retain their Australian citizenship notwithstanding. Some results of this were seen in southern Lebanon earlier this year!
Changes such as this were made, by both major political parties and by bureaucrats, as part of the ongoing program to transform Australia into a truly multicultural country--one in which the savagery of (say) Somali culture should be accorded equal respect to Australia's civilized (even, if you like, effete) "core" Judeo-Christian culture.
So, why do we now have a "discussion paper" seeking public views on proposals that would involve, not a reversal of those engines, but at least some deviation from the previous "full speed ahead"?
The answer is obvious; and what is both fascinating, and deeply disturbing, is the paper's total failure to refer to it. It is, of course, the emergence in our midst of an already serious, and steadily growing, cultural problem emanating chiefly from Australia's Muslim community. At the risk of resorting to a cliche, this is the (unmentioned) elephant in the room.
The paper's telling silence on this point is extraordinary. It is also, as I say, deeply disturbing: for it tells us that the government is unwilling to address openly the most important issue that, in the years ahead, will govern Australia's future and that of the world. Instead, we have a paper raising "for consideration" proposals that, even if adopted in full, will barely begin to address that Muslim cultural problem.
The more closely one reads the paper (particularly as a former public servant not unfamiliar with such things), the more one is struck by the strangeness of its construction--a strangeness deriving directly from its failure to address, openly, the issue giving rise to it. Consider, for example, the following points, among many more such that could be made:
* Part 1 of the paper is entitled "Background to current arrangements and policy", and begins with four nugatory paragraphs headed "Why does Australian citizenship matter?" The chief reason it matters is the grave situation in which Australia now finds itself, and the relevance of citizenship to that situation. Yet nowhere does the paper refer to that.
* The next five paragraphs are headed "What are the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship?" Despite beginning with the wholly proper statement that "Australian citizenship is a privilege, not a right", they are almost wholly devoted to the rights and privileges that citizenship bestows on those who acquire it (including, though this is not said, the right to remain here notwithstanding any criminal or even seditious act subsequently carried out against Australians). Paragraph 9 briefly refers to "certain legal responsibilities", including "to defend Australia should the need arise". Try telling that to those Hezbollah-flag-carriers marching in Sydney's streets a few months ago.
* Part 2 of the paper is entitled "Key issues", and opens with six paragraphs headed "Should Australia consider introducing a formal citizenship test?" The answer is "yes"; but since the paper has nowhere mentioned the real reason for doing so, it now has to invent some reasons which, to say the least, are less than convincing.
* Thus, we have five paragraphs headed "What is the economic impetus for introducing a formal citizenship test?" There is no such economic impetus. If there were, it would have existed ever since 1948, when Australia's first Citizenship Act was enacted. So while this section is not wholly erroneous, it is wholly beside the point.
* Next, we have a similar search for justification in six paragraphs headed "What is the social impetus for introducing a formal citizenship test?" Again, while these paragraphs are broadly correct in what they say about the advantages of resident immigrants speaking English and being better attuned to our way of life, they carefully avoid saying why those attributes should now constitute a formal requirement for citizenship. The reason, again, is that unmentionable one.
* And so the paper goes on. The five paragraphs headed "What level of English is required to participate as an Australian citizen?" could equally well apply if "citizen" were replaced by "resident". The real reason we should now require immigrants to pass a formal test of English language ability (plus some knowledge of Australia) is to improve the chances that the culturally incompatible people already here (and those who might seek to come here in future) will be better able to live in harmony with us. If they cannot pass such a citizenship test, they can if necessary be sent back to where they came from!
I could go on. But let us turn briefly to the paper's more useful aspects.
SOME INFORMATIVE ASPECTS
Those aspects are found not in the paper proper but in its four Annexures, which are, respectively:
Annexure A: Citizenship testing arrangements in other countries.
Annexure B: Information provided to migrants and long-term temporary residents about living in Australia.
Annexure C: Current government services available to help people settle into life in Australia.
Annexure D: Current arrangements for English language tuition for new migrants.
Of these, Annexure A is the most valuable, indeed the most useful part of the whole document. It sets out the citizenship testing arrangements that currently obtain in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Canada. Several things are immediately notable:
* Current arrangements in the Netherlands (which in most respects seem superior to those in any of the other three countries) were introduced in April 2003. It is no coincidence that their introduction followed growing alarm over Muslim immigration (both legal and illegal) into the Netherlands, culminating in the assassination of anti-Muslim-immigration political leader Pym Fortuyn. (7) Unsurprisingly, the paper makes no reference to those facts.
* The "Life in the UK" test is also of recent origin, having become operative on 1 November 2005. Its introduction followed increasing disquiet about the near total breakdown of immigration arrangements in Britain, the upsurge of illegal immigrants (a high proportion of them Muslims), and of course, the London bombings of July 2005.
* In Canada, the country from which "mushy multiculturalism" first principally originated, (8) the test is both less demanding and manifestly more directed to enforcing Canada's particular brand of Political Correctness. Introduced more than a decade ago (1994), it is unrelated to our recent concerns and provides little useful basis for Australian citizenship test arrangements.
* In the United States, the tests involved in acquiring citizenship are in some respects tougher, but in other respects less demanding, than those in the Netherlands or the UK. In the tougher category is the fact that, "prior to taking the test, citizenship applicants under 75 years have their fingerprints taken"--an example which, the predictable bleatings of the civil libertarians notwithstanding, we would do well to follow (with DNA records also?). By contrast, however, the English language testing appears relatively weak. Significantly, the paper notes that the Office of Citizenship "is currently revising the citizenship test to increase ... meaningfulness of the testing process". Even more significantly, the Office of Citizenship, and the whole area of Citizenship and Immigration Services, is now located within the Department of Homeland Security. (9)
Annexures B, C and D also contain useful information, but chiefly in what they tell us about our taxes at work. Chiefly concerned as they are with the wide range of services (including English language tuition) provided to immigrants, they give rise to a series of impressions, in particular:
* Many of the "special needs" for which the Department so liberally caters result from the wholly inappropriate nature of those being admitted. In particular, the present "humanitarian" intake (largely focusing on Somalis, Sudanese, and other such culturally incompatible, as well as non-English-speaking, groups) gives rise to a huge expense for a thoroughly undesirable outcome. (10)
* Overwhelmingly, Australians are being taken for a gigantic ride; we are seen as a bunch of soft touch suckers.
* Complicit in that process are the departmental officials busily devising more and more "programs", more and more "services", with corresponding expansion of bureaucratic numbers and promotion opportunities.
* Such conclusions underline what is plainly visible throughout the paper, namely the need for a thorough-going review of the Department, its ethos, its personnel and its more general functioning. (11)
Again, much more could be said, but I now turn to showing how, repeatedly, the paper's failure to address the key issue leads it into error.
THE IRISHMAN'S GUIDANCE
There is an old anecdote about the Irishman who, on being asked for the best way to get to Cork, replied, "I wouldn't start from here." Similarly, if you frame a paper so as to studiously avoid ever stating its true objective (or what certainly should be its true objective), you are likely to arrive at a destination that bears little resemblance to the one you really want. For example:
* Since the paper makes no reference to the many deficiencies in our current immigration intake, it fails to acknowledge that many of the problems to which it (timidly) refers largely derive from that.
* If, for example, you now hand out the prospect of acquiring permanent resident status after completing a course of study in Australia, is it any wonder that you attract people from all over the world whose object is the visa, not that study? These people, once present in Australia, and however little chance they might have had of entry under the traditional admission programs, now have every prospect of staying here and acquiring citizenship.
* In the same way, so-called "skilled" immigrants now being brought into Australia as "long-term temporary residents" under the increasingly notorious "457 Visas" are being offered every prospect of acquiring permanent residence after four years. These people, many of whom have little command of English, and even less regard for Australia other than as a honey pot around which to swarm, are already the source of many of the problems to which the paper (timidly) points.
* In these cases of students and so-called "skilled" migrants, many of the worst abuses spring from the role of private immigration agents (most of them, nowadays, ethnically focused in one way or another). These people, whose sole interest is in attracting the fees (and in some cases the bribes) associated with their trade in human cargo, have no requirement to act in Australia's interests, and are unlikely to feel constrained to do so even if they did. They are a tool that has long since outlived any usefulness it may once have had. As argued elsewhere, (12) their licences should be withdrawn, with compensation for loss of profit.
* At present, when citizenship is conferred on parents of children under 16 years of age, the latter also acquire citizenship automatically, and the paper nowhere suggests any change in that. Yet if the (unstated) purpose of introducing these new citizenship requirements is to "screen" applicants better, this automaticity is clearly undesirable. Rather, it should be necessary for immigrant children to reach the age of maturity (18, or better still 21) and then make application for citizenship in their own right. (13)
* There is considerable discussion in the paper of the possible need to provide "exemptions" from the testing requirements for various categories of people (in addition to those for under-16-year-olds already mentioned). Yet if the new requirements are seen--as they should be--as part of enhanced security arrangements, there can be no ground for providing any such exemptions. (14) The fact that people are older, or illiterate, or have been resident in Australia for a long time, has no bearing upon whether or not they could potentially constitute a future security risk. Again, if you ask the wrong question, you will get the wrong answer.
* A similar point--that underlines the sheer gutlessness of the whole paper--arises from Mr Robb's statement that "people who are already permanent residents will only be required to meet the current two-year residential qualifying period" provided they apply for citizenship within three years of the commencement of the Act. (Note also that "the current two-year residential qualifying period" does not mean that the resident has to have actually spent two years living in Australia). The large number of immigrants currently residing in Australia who will be eligible for this exemption drives a huge, and entirely indefensible, hole through the whole process.
* This, and the considerations referred to in footnote 2 above, underline yet again the over-riding need for a wholesale review of the Department of Immigration's administration of the current system for establishing so-called "permanent" residence.
* At no point does the paper squarely address the fact that the present arrangements for citizenship are wide open to corruption. (15) In a system in which citizenship is chiefly valued for its rights and privileges, that is hardly surprising. But in a system which is (or should be) seen as part of Australia's overall security de-fences, that must change. The new requirements will need to be administered by departmental officials who, even though they also are clearly not beyond being corrupted these days, are nevertheless much more under control than private agents (e.g., English-language "testing" agencies).
All these, and many more, such examples could be given of the fact that if you start out by wrongly describing your intended destination, you will end up in the wrong place. A somewhat similar problem arises in the paper's (and indeed much public) discussion of what "knowledge of Australia" should be included in the requirements for citizenship.
THE BILL OF RIGHTS ANALOGY
Just as, in the debate about so-called Bills of Rights, the approach of most lawyers is fundamentally wrong, so, in the debate about citizenship obligations, there is much talk by journalists and politicians that is fundamentally misconceived.
In the Bill of Rights matter, lawyers invariably start by trying to set down all the things they can think of that people should have a "right" to do. In truth, what is needed is the very reverse--to set down (not in a Bill of Rights, but in the criminal or civil statute law) the things that people should be debarred from doing. Apart from those things, people should be free to do as they wish.
Similarly, while a citizenship test might usefully require applicants to have some factual knowledge of Australia, it would be silly to require them to sign up to various subjective beliefs ("a fair go", "a decent wage for a decent day's work", and so on) that might be loosely described as "Australian values". What they must sign up to is a rejection of certain beliefs and practices that are not acceptable in Australia.
For example, it is not acceptable that women and men be treated unequally. It is not acceptable that men or women should be debarred from marrying a person of a different faith (or none). Certain cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation, are abhorrent and cannot be practised in Australia. Wives cannot be divorced other than by due process of civil law, with matrimonial property apportioned according to that law. Homosexuality, however abhorrent it may be to Muslims, is not illegal and cannot be the subject of physical or other violent attack. Church and state are not the same, and cannot be accepted as such. There is only one system of law, and any other system (e.g., sharia law) cannot be tolerated; and so on.
As argued elsewhere, however, it is not enough to "pass" the proposed citizenship test of knowledge (and nominal acceptance) of such fundamentals. Certificates of citizenship, which today are regarded chiefly as credentials giving access to numerous privileges, must entail a lasting two-way mutual obligation. Those receiving them must, by signing for them, legally undertake to adhere to the rules laid down in the "prohibited list" above; and failure to do so must constitute grounds for revocation of citizenship and (depending on the seriousness of the offence) deportation.
MR ROBB'S QUESTIONS
The body of the paper poses 16 questions to which it seeks responses from the public. Strangely, six of them (numbers 6-11) are devoted to tests that might be applied to those seeking either permanent residence, or long-term temporary residence, in Australia, as distinct from tests for citizenship for those already residing here. My own view is that such tests are even more important at the entry point, than at the later point of application for citizenship.
Before coming to those 16 questions, however, the paper's Introduction enumerates "four key questions" on which "comments are particularly sought".
THE FOUR "KEY QUESTIONS"
These questions, and my answers to them, are:
Question 1: Should Australia introduce a formal citizenship test? Yes.
Question 2: How important is knowledge of Australia for Australian citizenship? Some factual knowledge should be required, but the standard should not be set at an unreasonably high level.
Question 3: What level of English is required to participate as an Australian citizen? A level of English, to be tested in all four modes (listening, speech, reading and writing) that is needed to function as a member of the wider Australian society.
Question 4: How important is a demonstrated commitment to Australia's way of life and values for those intending to settle permanently in Australia or spend a significant period of time in Australia? This question, unlike questions 1-3, refers to people intending to enter Australia as permanent or long-term temporary residents, as distinct from residents applying for citizenship. The answer, however, is the same in both instances, namely that "Australia's way of life and values" are subjective concepts to which it is not sensible to seek adherence. As set out above under the heading "The Bill of Rights analogy", what is required are legally binding undertakings to reject and refrain from certain beliefs and practices that are not acceptable in Australia. Those who cannot sign up to those legally binding "negative pledges" should not be granted permanent (or long-term temporary) residence.
THE 16 QUESTIONS
Questions 1-3 in the body of the paper are identical with the similarly numbered "key questions", and Question 4, although worded slightly differently, is also broadly equivalent to its counterpart. Question 5 (What form should a commitment to Australian values take?) is also covered by my answer above to Key Question 4.
Of the remaining 11 questions, as noted earlier, numbers 6-11 pertain not to citizenship tests but to tests of suitability of would-be immigrants at the point of intake. Those questions, and my answers to them, are as follows:
Question 6: What level of knowledge and understanding of the Australian way of life and English language skills should people have to be approved for permanent residence in Australia? See answers to Key Questions 2, 3 and 4 above.
Question 7: Should they be required to demonstrate this knowledge? Yes--and not to some corruptible immigration agent or other private agency, but to an Australian government official.
Question 8: If so, how could they demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of Australia and their English language skills? Via formal testing of the kind now used in the Netherlands, conducted at an Australian Embassy or Consulate. As to the nature of the tests for English language skills and knowledge of Australia, see the answers above to Key Questions 2, 3 and 4.
Question 9: Should the same be required of people to be approved for long-term temporary residence in Australia, such as for business or study? Yes. The answers are the same as those to Question 7.
Question 10: How important is a commitment to Australia's way of life and values for permanent residents and long-term temporary residents? The wording of this question is almost identical to that of Key Question 4, and the answer is the same in both cases.
Question 11: What form should a commitment to Australian values take? The wording of this question is identical with that of Question 5, and the answer is the same in both cases, namely that given to Key Question 4.
The remaining questions (12-16), and my answers to them, are as follows:
Question 12: What things do you think are important for prospective citizens to have an understanding of before taking up Australian citizenship? A functioning knowledge of the English language, some modest factual knowledge about Australia, and a clear understanding of certain beliefs and practices that are not acceptable to Australians. See my answers to Key Questions 2, 3 and 4 above.
Question 13: Should prospective Australian citizens be formally tested for their level of English? If so, would it be necessary to test oral, written, reading, and listening skills? Yes; and yes, in all four modes.
Question 14: Should the requirement be expanded beyond needing a knowledge of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship and an understanding of the nature of the application? Should it instead encompass a broader knowledge of Australia? Yes; and yes, of the kind enumerated in the answers above to Key Questions 2 and 4.
Question 15: If knowledge of Australia is considered important for Australian citizenship, what elements do you think are necessary? For example, should people choosing to become Australians know something about our history; our culture and traditions; our common values; national symbols; our laws; and our Australian system of democracy? What other things do you think are important?
Applicants for citizenship should be tested on their knowledge of factual aspects of our history, our national symbols, our laws, and our Australian system of democracy, but at a standard that is not set unreasonably high. Testing should not extend to knowledge of our "culture and traditions", and still less to "our common values", both of which are too subjective to admit of reasonable testing. More importantly than any of this, however, applicants should be tested on their acceptance that certain beliefs and practices are not acceptable in Australia--see the answer to Key Question 4 above.
Question 16: If a formal citizenship test were to be introduced, should certain groups (for example, older people or long-term residents) be exempt? No. See the comment on this matter under the heading "The Irish-man's guidance" above.
The foregoing analysis of Mr Andrew Robb's discussion paper has focused more or less strictly on its contents. Consequently, it has not considered further measures to assist in dealing with the (unmentioned) problem to which the paper is addressed.
For example, the proposed requirement of only four years' "lawful residence" before citizenship may be sought is ludicrously lax. It is even more ludicrously so when the true meaning of "lawful residence" is understood (see footnote 2 above). Nevertheless, I have not addressed the question of what the minimum permanent residency requirement should be. In brief, it should not be less than five years; a longer period, say 10 years, would be better; and the gaping loopholes in the definition of what constitutes "permanent" residence should be closed. Today's widespread abuse of the system by "residents of convenience" should be ended.
Similarly, I have not addressed the wider question underlying the paper--namely, the fact that our policies of official multiculturalism have failed. At a time when Australians desperately need forces to bind us together, policies that reinforce separatism constitute a positive danger to us. In the changed circumstances now confronting us, all such policies (including the separate existence of the SBS broadcasting service) should be terminated without delay.
In short, the paper raises many more questions than it answers. If it has a virtue, it is that, at long last, it has put the Australian citizenship topic on the public agenda. For that, at least, we should all be grateful.
1. John Stone, "Solutions to the Muslim problem in Australia", National Observer, No. 66, Spring 2005, p.23. The argument for (among many other things) a formal citizenship test advanced in that article had been put forward earlier, more briefly, in "One nation, one culture", The Australian, 22 July 2005.
2. Note however that "lawful residence" is a term of art. It glosses over the fact that, according to Mr Robb's statement, "only one of the four years spent in Australia had to be as a permanent resident". To add further insult to this injury, "absences from Australia for up to 12 months would be allowed during the four-year period". Such provisions mean that the apparently enhanced residential requirements will be little more demanding than those which now allow thousands of so-called "permanent residents" to live, effectively, in Lebanon, or Hong Kong, or whatever other country in which these "residents of convenience" choose to live rather than Australia (many of them continuing to enjoy Australian welfare benefits while doing so). Mr Robb's statement sternly adds, however, that "people would not be allowed to spend more than three months away from Australia in the year before applying for citizenship". Really!
3. Ray Hadley, Macquarie Network Radio 2GB, 18 September 2006.
4. The term "Islamist" appears to have come into widely accepted use as a convenient shorthand for such terms as "Islamic extremists", "Islamic fundamentalists", "Islamofascists" and so on--all of which are employed to distinguish such extremists from "moderate" Muslims. As to the ultimate legitimacy of that distinction, see my article, "The Muslim problem and what to do about it" in Quadrant, September 2006.
5. Note however Questions 6-11 in the paper (discussed below).
6. Despite strenuous attempts by Government ministers and their officials to confuse the two, there is a clear distinction to be drawn between those Australians who actively acquire another (dual) citizenship, and the numerous Australians who, having been born elsewhere, in many cases still passively retain citizenship of their countries of origin.
7. In May 2002, nine days before Dutch national elections in which his party was predicted to win enough seats to have a significant influence on the formation and policies of the new government, 54-year-old sociology professor Pym Fortuyn was assassinated. Fortuyn, who had earlier "slammed Islam as 'a backward culture'", and been sacked from the leadership of the party to which he originally belonged, then formed his own party, Ljist Pym Fortuyn. His "anti-Muslim views, call for an end to all immigration and pledges to come down hard on crime struck a chord with voters", particularly younger ones. At the elections shortly after his death his party was highly successful. BBC News, Obituary: Pym Fortuyn, 6 May 2002.
8. A product, originally, of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's problems with the Quebec Libre separatist movement, but rapidly ramifying under the influence of the "flower children" of the Vietnam "lost generation", including Trudeau's wife.
9. "There should be an immediate major reform and reshaping of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [to] formally recognise that this Department is now as integral to our national security as the Defence Department, ASIO and the armed forces, and begin to staff it accordingly, including with respect to security checks."--John Stone, Quadrant, op. cit.
10. On all this, see my Quadrant article, supra.
11. See note 9 above.
12. Quadrant, September 2006, op. cit.
13. Several of the (subsequently convicted) defendants in Sydney's most notorious recent rape cases involving young Muslim men of Lebanese or Pakistani origin were legally minors at the time of the offences. Because their parents had acquired citizenship, they cannot now be deported from Australia after having served their sentences.
14. There would, as always, have to be some discretion to administer tests differently for those (e.g., physically handicapped) who might otherwise find it literally impossible to undertake them in the normal manner.
15. It does, however, rightly stress the need for those applying for citizenship to supply proof of identity.
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|Publication:||National Observer - Australia and World Affairs|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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