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Agenda Transcript: Mayors , Boag & Hodgson

September 9 2006

Transcript © Front Page Ltd 2006
May be used provided attribution is made to TVOne and “Agenda”

Presented by LISA OWEN

LISA: Auckland may be New Zealand's biggest city but high rates, traffic jams and bureaucratic delays have some people questioning the city's ability to foot it internationally. Of particular concern is whether Auckland can really pull off the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The mayors of Auckland's four cities have proposed that the region be streamlined in order to improve its efficiency, but what will this mean for the average Aucklander and indeed for the rest of the country. Two of those mayors, Sir Barry Curtis Mayor of Manukau City, and of course Bob Harvey Mayor of Waitakere City join me now, as does Gary Moore Mayor of Christchurch. Welcome to you all.

We'll go to Sir Barry first. Is this just a bail out package for the Rugby World Cup preparations?

SIR BARRY: CURTIS – Mayor, Manukau City
No nothing at all. The Rugby World Cup of course is an important issue into the future but what we're talking about now is making Auckland a truly international city, the time's arrived to do that, you’ve got to remember back in 1989 when the Labour government properly reformed local government within the Auckland region and throughout New Zealand it created a regional structure and gave power to the new Regional Council which revolved around resource management, parks, and of course in comparatively recent times funding for transport. Now that’s not a regional government unit, it has the capability of driving Auckland forward. What the mayors are suggesting to the government at this time is that we put in place a strategic plan to achieve the social economic environmental and cultural outcomes that this city richly deserves and in so doing create the greater Auckland council which would include elected members, would also contain the minister for Auckland and it would have co-opted members from the business community and other communities to drive Auckland forward.

LISA: Well why do we need this, Mayor Hubbard is saying that if we don’t proceed with this we could derail the Rugby World Cup plans, it does sound like a bail out package.

SIR BARRY: No it's not a bail out package at all, it's a package which Auckland needs at this time. We've got to the stage where the business community is saying look create a new government structure, we concur with their sentiments, we want to see put in place as a first step a new strengthened regional government structure to be followed in due course after the local government elections next year the reorganisation of local government. Now whether or not that means one city, two cities, three cities, or four cities, that has yet to be decided. The most important thing is to introduce this new regional structure for local government elections come October 07.

LISA: Let's bring in Gary Moore here, because he's down in Christchurch and his council is overlooking a super city. Mr Moore is this going far enough do you think or is having three separate individual councils plus this overriding council which is the preferred option, is it just shuffling chairs on the Titanic?

GARY MOORE – Mayor, Christchurch

LISA: What's wrong with it as far as you can see?

GARY: Oh I think these guys have got an opportunity to restructure. When you do restructure it's a painful process and that painful process should be done once not twice and so my response to Barry and Bob is come down here we'll show you what one city should look like and if you don’t believe us go and have a look at Brisbane which is the same size as Auckland and it's one city and after 13 or 14 or 15 years whatever it's been – that’s it's been one city, it's really functioning well.

LISA: Alright let's bring in Bob Harvey here, why aren’t you going to just one mega city?

BOB HARVEY – Mayor, Waitakere City
Well that was Dick Hubbard's and my original concept to go for not a super city but a greater Auckland, but when we started to look at it we realised the infrastructure needed to be looked at, in other words we needed to look at governance first, we needed to get the engine room working, and so the idea in this next year is to get if you like this great council which will bring us all together, because I'm not saying we've failed but we certainly haven’t been able to drive the boat faster and that has come out of the frustration as Sir Barry said so well, that’s exactly what we've done, we've decided the first step is to bring in the governance issues which I think people do understand, we need to get this – I think we're just in Auckland sick of the slow progress, this will speed it up make us I think a city of the 21st century.

GARY: Can I respond to that?

LISA: Of course you can.

GARY: I think Bob and Barry are making all the right noises but in fact the wrong actions and I think that what you guys have gotta do is show leadership and say we're making one step. I really like some of the ideas you're coming up with over engagement with the business community and other advisors, I think that’s quite a neat idea, but I do think that we should be restructuring local government every few years and it's now, and I think the 2002 Local Government Act which is a very good piece of legislation is proving that in fact local government now has to cost how much it costs to do local government properly and it's audited properly and that’s showing up that in fact you’ve got too many councils in Auckland, too many chief executives, too many district plans, and it's time to actually grab it by the throat and do it once, do it properly, and show courage.

SIR BARRY: That’s exactly what we're doing Gary, look I've gotta say…

LISA: Is this a halfway house Sir Barry ?

SIR BARRY: No it's not a halfway house, what it amounts to is this. there is a very urgent need to put in place a much strengthened regional government structure. We want to move urgently to do that.

LISA: How much is it gonna cost?

SIR BARRY: We have told the government yesterday that we want to have this new regional government structure in place for the local government elections come October 07, that requires government to move urgently with legislation and at that point having got the regional government structure in place then we will move through the processes of the Local Government Act to reorganise local government within the Auckland region at a city level.

LISA: Ordinary people want to know things like how much is it going to cost, is this going to be cheaper with less bureaucracy?

SIR BARRY: Absolutely, we believe it's going to bring enormous savings, we think the whole of the Auckland region should have one common rating base, we believe that there should be common services right across the region, one information technology system for example, one procurement system.

LISA: How much?

SIR BARRY: Well it has the capability of delivering enormous savings, but I think the other thing is for people to look what the Manukau City Council has done in recent times. We have corporatised all our delivery services, we have put in place corporate boards, their own board of directors, chairman of the directors and made enormous savings in the cost of the governance.

LISA: Sir Barry why do you need three mayors and say a lord mayor to do that, why can't you just have one person overlooking this, a mayor and a council?

SIR BARRY: I said earlier on Lisa this is a transition process, first and foremost the urgent need is to put in place a regional strategic plan in social economic environmental and cultural terms to drive this place forward. There's a lot of work going on at the moment, Michael Barnett with the work that he is doing in terms of economic development, there's the visioning process going on at the moment, all the work's being done and we need to give that effect, but come the local government elections in 07 then the opportunity arises to reorganise in the second step the other aspects of governance in the region.

LISA: Alright let's put it Gary Moore, Gary why do they need three mayors and the Obermayor why can't they just have one?

GARY: I totally agree with you. I was talking to Bob Harvey recently and we were comparing our average rates and I think in Waitakere the average rate is about 2200 – 2300.

BOB: No it's 15.

GARY: Yeah but you then add water on top of that Bob.

BOB No that’s included. Water and rates, we've got it right out there.

GARY: I would challenge your figures I think that the cost of local government in Auckland is horrendously high and I do believe – change is difficult and change is expensive but if you spend the money early on and you do it properly and you do it once then everyone will benefit, it will take 10 to 15 years before the huge benefits come, but I think New Zealand needs Auckland to get its act together and I guess I used to chair the metro mayors and I walked away in frustration because every time you deal you dealt with an issue in Auckland …

BOB: Gary I think you're missing the point.

GARY: No I'm not missing the point.

SIR BARRY: No Gary, look you're misrepresenting the situation, and I can't let you continue because what we are doing is reviewing the regional government structure urgently and we hope the government will initiate the legislation early in the new year to enable that to happen, that’s going to be followed by a complete review through the processes that you're well aware of which take some considerable time, to review whether or not we have one two or three appendages in the form of cities beneath this greater Auckland council. People are very supportive of what we're doing and I think we're going to get ahead and get it done so that Auckland can become truly an international city, that’s what it need to become.

GARY: Urgency must mean something else in New Zealand.

LISA: This morning we're discussing plans to turn Auckland into one city as such and Mayor Bob Harvey what's this going to mean for rates? People want to know if it's going to make their rates cheaper – is it?

SIR BARRY: Well I doubt it really but I think we can hold rates and we'll have a common rate across the region and that makes sense. Barry's got the cheapest rates in Auckland, I've got the second, I think Michelle will say that her rates have gone up nearly 50%, I mean that’s incredible. The whole country though is into this rates debate, and there is a cost of living in big cities and there's a cost of living in Auckland. I mean if you don’t want it well I guess you can go and live in Kaitaia, but we do want to live here and we do want to make it a good city. But do people care, only 30% of people vote in local elections, so do they care, or do they want us to show leadership and get on with it, we think they do.

LISA: Let's bring Michelle Boag in here who is an Auckland city resident living on Waiheke Island. What are you thinking about all of this in the sense that there has been a rates revolt if you like on Waiheke Island, is it going to make your rates cheaper, are you sceptical?

MICHELLE BOAG – Former National Party President
Well the reason why there's a rates revolt is the average increase on Waiheke is 43% which is six times the average increase in the rest of Auckland and we provide our own water and our own sewage, so what we get for our rates is one rubbish bag a week, and clearly what has happened here is people have got really upset about rates, the mayors have thought gosh we can't have this, they’ve come up with a grand plan, I'm all in favour of one Auckland, this isn't one Auckland, this is another layer of bureaucracy, all they're doing is saying let's take the power away from the ARC, give it to a new regional body which then rates, that body has the Minister for Auckland, a Labour Party Minister as an appointee who is not accountable at all to the ratepayers, this new body will rate everybody but this new body is only partly electable and the constituent cities will then apply to the new body for the rates amount, so all that’s happened is accountability is one step further away from the ratepayer, so it doesn’t help the ratepayer at all.

LISA: Let's bring Sir Barry back in on this. Sir Barry what is your mandate for pushing ahead with this, you don’t want a referendum, the people are not going to get a say via a referendum so what are the mayors' mandates for pushing ahead with this.

SIR BARRY: Well what we're doing is the four city leaders in this region is advancing a proposal to government, first and foremost I repeat, for the purpose not of replacing the ARC, not of creating another tier or government but rather strengthening regional governance in this region.

LISA: Sir Barry why not give the people a say via a referendum, Michelle has raised the issue about the people being able to participate in the process why no referendum?

SIR BARRY: Well that’s a very fair question but of course – I'll answer it this way, time is of the essence here, people are calling out for a new governance structure, the governance structure can be put in place if we move quickly for the local government elections 12 months down the track.

LISA: How do you know that people are calling out for a new structure when you haven’t asked them via a referendum what it is they want?

SIR BARRY: We know, we know from the consultation and we have with our communities throughout our individual cities, people want to see Auckland with a new structure to enable it to become an international city, and in order to achieve that…

LISA: Let's bring Bob Harvey into this, I just want to ask, how many government appointees, that is a valid question from Michelle Boag, this council is going to be made up of some people who are not elected and including the Minister for Auckland will be sitting there as well?

BOB: I think we have to avoid the Fijian model of a Great Council of Chiefs I have to say, and what we have to do is to bring the best and I think the brightest of local government in this region.

LISA: But is it going to end up being an extension of central government when you have government appointees on you greater council.

BOB: No we don’t believe so.

MICHELLE: Of course you wouldn’t believe so Bob. Come on you're a former Labour Party President you're quite happy for this government to come in and have a role in determining what happens in Auckland cos it suits them, the fact is to go back to Sir Barry's point, people in Auckland are not screaming for a new governance structure, people in Auckland are screaming for a rates reduction, that’s not going to happen if we just put another layer – that’s what they're screaming for and that’s why …

BOB: Michelle we're not creating a new layer.

MICHELLE: Yes you are.

BOB: No we're not, we're strengthening the present regional governance.

MICHELLE I'm sorry that is a euphemism for more costs.

BOB: No it's not it's the truth.

LISA: Excuse me, let's bring in Gary Moore. Mr Moore you have worked with these mayors in the past, if we're gonna have a council with three cities and an overriding council are the personalities going to work, are these guys going to be able to make decisions and work together or are they going to clash on decision making do you think?

GARY: My observation would be they will clash and I think that you never – wasn’t it David Lange that once said a turkey never calls for an early Christmas. I think that we have to stand back – I'm quite detached here, I think that Auckland needs one mayor, it needs one council with a number of community boards, I think the rating issue is a separate issue and I think there's some very good discussion taking place in Auckland, I think Auckland's leading that, but I do think that my response to Michelle – one of the things that drives the costs of doing business in Auckland is every council's got its own district scheme, every council's got its own chief executive, every council's got its infrastructure and IT systems etc, etc, and you can actually improve that hugely, we've done that here in Christchurch, nobody's ever perfect but we've just restructure in our city over the last three years again, but we are one city and I think there is a huge advantage in that because you can actually start planning properly for the future cos that’s basically what we have to have, a world class city in the South Pacific and we need Auckland to be in good shape, and at the last mayoral forum in Auckland when we started talking about 2011 where we need to be proud of how we look to the world, one of the mayors pulled away and said well that’s not my city, we're not going to contribute to it. You’ve just gotta cut through all that and you'll only do it as cone city.

LISA: Alright I want to bring Sir Barry back in here. Will you be putting your hand up for the job whatever it's called of Lord Mayor we'll call it in this circumstance.

SIR BARRY: No what I'm putting my hand up for is to move urgently to put in place a new governance system to drive Auckland forward into the future.

LISA: But would you like to be the Lord Mayor?

SIR BARRY: Well you asked the question earlier on too, how is the public going to be involved in this transformation of governance, when the government hopefully puts in new legislation next year, there'll be an opportunity at that time for the public at large to make submissions to the government in relation to the proposal. I have to say this, that the proposal does hinge around a leader elected at large to drive this organisation forward.

LISA: Will that leader be you, will you be putting your hand up for?

SIR BARRY: That’s a matter for the future, what I'm concerned about at the moment is being part of the solution. I'm working with Bob with Dick with George and the other mayors of the Auckland region to achieve change that is long overdue.

LISA: Alright let's ask Bob, will you be putting your hand up for the Lord Mayor's job?

BOB: I don’t think we should get into pick me right now, because the job needs to be defined, but if the job I thought I could do you bet, because I'm into leadership by the way, that’s what we do best, and if you just do it well then things can happen.

LISA: Alright, Gary, would you like to be Lord Mayor of Auckland?

BOB: Yes he would.

GARY: Oh that'd be great, it's just I don’t like the constant rain. I was just thinking as Barry was speaking, urgency must mean something else down here, something different,

SIR BARRY: You’ve got 160,000 people Gary, we've got 1.2 million people in this region.

GARY: That’s exactly my point, and 1.2 million people should be one city.

SIR BARRY: Not at all.

LISA: We could debate this for a long time yet, but thank you all for joining us this morning.

LISA: Well National is keeping up the pressure on Labour to repay the money it spent on its election pledge cards, at the same time Labour is accusing National of taking cash for policy pointing to the high percentage of anonymous donations that National has received through secret trust accounts. Cabinet Minister Pete Hodgson is a strategist for the Labour Party and he joins me now from Dunedin. But just before we begin we should explain that we invited National's Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee to join this debate as well, he said he wouldn’t, that he would debate only Helen Clark or Michael Cullen, and that he considered Mr Hodgson a platitudinous f-wit. Is this what New Zealand politics has been reduced to Mr Hodgson?

PETE HODGSON – Labour Party Strategist
It sounds like it, but on the other hand out of this maelstrom may come decent electoral law so I'm kinda trying to keep positive here I guess.

LISA: This is really just an extension of what's been going on this week, the barracking in the House was so bad that minor parties almost walked out, I mean how acceptable is it when a beef between the two main parties is preventing the real business of the House?

PETE: Lisa what's happened is that for the past several weeks the National Party's been calling us corrupt, it's something that we are taking personally, we are not corrupt, we have not done something that is corrupt and so we've decided to return fire and it's been pretty feisty and it will stay feisty until such times as they stop calling us corrupt for indeed we are not.

LISA: Well arguably that is open to debate, they would say that that is open to debate and refer you to the Auditor General's Report.

PETE: Let's talk about Auditor General's Report, I have read it, I've read a draft report, I know its findings well, and I would simply say in respect of the Auditor General's Report that if the final report were the same as the draft report then not only would we have spent money out of sorts against a judgement of the Auditor General where we should not have spent it, but so would every other party and not only would it be for 2005 but actually it would be for every election back to 1990, it's a very clear finding from the draft report and that’s something that National fails to acknowledge, it's why I have sent Bill English's expenditure off to the Auditor General on Tuesday saying what do you think of this buddy, if we've somehow broken the rules then so too have they, that’s the point which has failed to get through into the public arena.

LISA: Well National's paid back the ten and a half thousand and the Auditor General has been clear that this report applies only to the past election, but I want to move on and discuss something else.

PETE: No no that’s not the case – the Auditor General only looked at expenditure for three months that’s true, but if he's going to make a finding for three months in 05 that finding must in law apply back to 1990 which was when this funding began, and so if the Auditor General has signed off earlier years' expenditure that’s frankly his problem, he can't now just say that he got that wrong. If his finding is that 2005 expenditure was somehow unlawful then so has expenditure been unlawful for a decade and a half, whether he's signed it off or not.

LISA: I want to talk more about this behaviour in the House, Trevor Mallard is threatening to dish the dirt on National, so what information has Labour got, stump up with it instead of threatening, what have you got?

PETE: if you want to know what know what Trevor Mallard's got put Trevor Mallard on your programme and ask him, if you want to know what I've got I've released it and I'm happy to repeat it.

LISA: Is that appropriate though to be threatening the release of personal information, what have you got, are you talking about revelations of homosexuality and infidelity and what does that have to do with day to day politics?

PETE: I'm not.

LISA: Trevor Mallard is threatening personal…

PETE: Well put Trevor on your programme and ask him, I mean the long and short of it is …

LISA: You’re a strategist for the Labour Party is this part of your strategy?

PETE: The long and short of it is that the National Party has been calling us corrupt, that is not a minor charge, it is not a modest thing to say, they have also if I can do tit for tat if you like been telling lies, they have been lying for weeks and we are not about to put up with any more of it and until they desist we will be throwing it back, that’s the long and short of it.

LISA: Gutter politics can be a risky business, have you guys got any skeletons in your closet, will you be checking for them?

PETE: It's just not an area of endeavour I'm prepared to go into I'm sorry LISA: , the long and short of it is that they have been telling lies and we have started exposing them and we will continue to expose those lies until or unless they desist from calling us corrupt, we are not corrupt.

LISA: Alright, what's in this dossier of socalled Brash emails, what's in them?

PETE: Oh I don’t know.

LISA: Why are they being drip fed?

PETE: Well I don’t know what you mean by being drip fed, I put an email into parliament I think it was on Tuesday or Wednesday, that email showed that the Exclusive Brethren had gone along to the Chief Electoral Officer and said can we expend 1.2 million dollars in a campaign in such a way that it can't be counted as National's expenditure and how do we get our documentation together to do that and can we discuss it with National. All of that was in an email and yet this is the same Exclusive Brethren that Dr Brash couldn’t remember having anything to do with in the course of last year's campaign.

LISA: So the Labour Party has no intention of leaking out further emails of Dr Brash's?

PETE: We will make our – what you will see is …

LISA: So do you have any intentions of leaking further emails from Dr Brash?

PETE: What you will see Lisa is that you will see us respond as long as National calls us corrupt and what we respond with is our business, but I tell you what we are not corrupt and we're not putting up with the National Party saying that we're corrupt, and we're not putting up with the series of lies that they have been coming forward with.

LISA: Let's bring Michelle Boag in here, she's eager to join the conversation.

MICHELLE: I am and there's two things that Mr Hodgson isn't saying. Number one the Auditor General warned Labour before the election that the pledge card spending using taxpayers' money was illegal and at that stage…

PETE: Not true, that’s another National Party lie, it's not true.

MICHELLE: Will you please let me finish, and at that stage Mike Smith said he would pay the money back and then changed his mind, secondly, the Police found a prima facie case against heather Simpson for that expenditure and decided not to proceed, Now those things cannot be denied. Now thirdly the National Party has been calling the Labour Party corrupt for weeks and it's only now that they realise in an opinion poll that it's starting to hurt that they’ve done something about it. In terms of this dishing the dirt I have a prediction – Trevor Mallard will dish dirt, he will do it the same way he did during the election campaign alleging that the Americans alleging that the Americans were running the National Party's campaign, there will be stories in the media planted by Trevor Mallard which will throw dirt at National…

LISA: Hang on let's allow the Minister to respond to that.

MICHELLE: No hang on I want to finish because I want to give you an example of what Trevor Mallard does. They will throw dirt at National and it won't matter whether they're true or not because mud sticks and that’s the way Trevor operates. Now let me give you this example which is absolutely appalling of the way Trevor Mallard and his staff who are taxpayer paid operate. A few months ago when I was not National Party President, Trevor Mallard called me a National Party slag in the House, my husband heard it, my son heard it, my husband rang up understandably to talk to Mr Mallard to say I don’t appreciate you calling my wife a National Party slage, they wouldn’t let him talk to Mr Mallard they put him through to a press secretary and do you know what the press secretary said – well she is. Now how was that for behaviour from a ministerial office, don’t talk to me about your standards Mr Hodgson, your standards are in the gutter.

LISA: What evidence do you have Mr Hodgson if you are alleging that National is not telling the truth, you're talking about socalled secret trusts, what information do you have that suggests they're taking money for policy, or have taken money?

PETE: In the case of the secret trusts, they are secret and so we don’t know who puts funding into those trusts…

LISA: But Labour accepted $300,000 of anonymous donations at the last election how was that different.

PETE So if there's any chance of me getting a sentence finished I can tell you that Labour has trusts as well, or at least receives money from trusts and all political parties receive money from trusts, but trusts come in two sorts, one is legal trusts where we don’t ask for the money it just arrives quite possibly from the lawyer behind the trust and quite possibly from a client of the lawyer and a small amount of money comes our way and comes the way of all political parties and always has, and that’s always been seen to be kind of reasonable, but what's happened now is that the National Party and only the National Party has set up trusts precisely for the purpose of channelling money and that is now about 91 or 92% of their total funding, therefore they have deliberately frustrated the will of parliament which was to try and make funding as transparent as possible, they have ruined that, we will now have to change the law to make that illegal because they’ve abused it, who knows…

LISA: As you mentioned it is not illegal at this point.

PETE: That’s right.

LISA: Let's bring in Bob Harvey – what do you make of some of the tactics that are being used in the House, is this acceptable from Labour as well as from National?

BOB: I think there's something that we've just found in our lives and that’s the curse of emails. I think that other politicians who are in Whangamata happen to be – this is the bay of pigs for me I might say – sending some emails off, but I have to say emails are so disclosable now so unbelievably damaging. I want to talk with Pete because I actually understand where the Minister's coming from and I think he's right, we've got to move to full transparency. Look I used to go with Norman Kirk in the early days around businesses and they'd write cheques on the desk and hand them to the Prime Minister, well no he was in fact the Leader of the Opposition then – and we've moved a long way from there and I was involved in the first pledge card which was a Blair concept which I thought was terrific great marketing strategy, and a fantastic idea, and it was okay then, it was also okay in the next election, and it's not okay now for National, why, because they are right in with the Exclusive Brethren, I think was a horrendous laundering of dosh to gain power, it failed so now they are the losers, but I tell you this we've got to get transparency with this or we'll fall into the American politics of buying policy, it's as simple as that, it's damaging.

MICHELLE: Can I come in there, because in 1999 the Labour Party had over a million dollars of that non disclosed funding and that was mainly from businesses, now they don’t have it it's suddenly not alright. The best example of cash for policy, the best example is a trade union funding Labour to implement a legislative agenda, it's absolutely blatant and there's never any complaint about that.

LISA: Let's go to Pete Hodgson for the last word, is basically all of this just simply diversion tactics on the part of Labour muddying the water?

PETE: No it is not, no it is not, it is absolutely the case that we have an electoral act now which doesn’t work because the National Party alone, not any other party has decided to frustrate its intentions, secondly the socalled report that was received last year that Michelle Boag talks about, all she needs to do is read the foreword of that report and she will see that the Auditor General had not intention of doing anything about that funding until after the election, another National Party lie, we are sick of them.

LISA: Alright thank you very much for joining us this morning, the Minister Pete Hodgson from Dunedin.

FINAL THOUGHTS – Guest Commentators

LISA: To our panel for their final thoughts we'll start off with Bob Harvey, so is all of this stuff from Labour a smoke screen?

BOB: Well I want to come back to Auckland leadership and what Martin said about charismatic leadership I think that’s going to emerge to deliver the city that we need, and I don’t think the debate is over about the one city or three cities yet certainly from Waitakere's point of view that’s going to continue, but it's gonna be a pretty interesting time. I saw a t-shirt in McDonald's last night that said 'Jesus is coming look busy'.

LISA: Michelle Boag your final thoughts.

MICHELLE: Yes it is a diversion from the illegal spending and the attempt to open up the trust is vindictive and it's intimidating and if you want evidence of that you only have to look at the way Helen Clark and her government is now intimidating and berating the Exclusive Brethren for what they did.

BOB: They deserve to be.

LISA: We're gonna have to leave it there sorry, thank you very much to our panel for joining us.


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