Town Council riven by conflict, lack of leadership


2568 council pic 2

Right: Crs Catherine Satour and Eli Melky stand up, ready to walk out of council last night. Cr Cocking in the chair was shortly to join them. 

UPDATE, 2.30pm, 15 August 2018: Catering cost and invitation list, including some media, excluding others. See at bottom.
The Town Council is riven by conflict, the painful cracks are only getting wider, and there is no leadership from the top doing anything about it.
Mayor Damien Ryan and CEO Rex Mooney in part are playing a waiting game, when one might think they would be actively seeking to conciliate between parties and help council to move on.
In part they have also exacerbated matters, by introducing new levels of scrutiny at a time when three if not four councillors are feeling under demoralising pressure.
Added to this, they appear to have allowed council to be used to support Jacinta Price’s campaign in the forthcoming Federal election.
2568 Price, Turnbull 1As much as council could normally be expected to host the Prime Minister of the country on a visit to town, they allowed last week’s civic reception of the PM to be politicised, giving over its organisation, including invitation list, to Senator Nigel Scullion in tandem with Cr Price, while nonetheless picking up the tab.
Right: Cr Price, CLP candidate for Lingiari, got plenty of campaign mileage out of the Prime Minister’s visit to town. In fact, did the visit have any other purpose?  Part of the Advocate’s front page of 10 August. 
This came against a backdrop of significant pressure on some councillors relating to Code of Conduct complaints, ongoing since the end of March. When Councillor Eli Melky broke the silence on this at the end of July’s meeting he would not confirm or deny that other councillors were involved. Last night it became clear, when he led a 10-minute walkout from the Finance Committee meeting, that there were.
The walkout came after Cr Melky delivered a fairly detailed written statement, which he said was intended to “push back on the fear and misinformation, division in order to return to a more welcoming and inclusive culture within our council”.
His invitation to join him was to “those members who are adversely affected by those actions, including Code of Conduct notices, bullying, harassment,  threat of legal action, excluded from meetings and information, threatened, intimidated.”
As reported last night, he was followed out by Crs Catherine Satour, Jimmy Cocking, and Marli Banks.
After Crs Satour and Banks had stood up to go and then a moment’s hesitation, Cr Cocking had said, from the chair: “In the interest of honesty and truth and to the community I have to stand up too, because I am also facing something, so … a 10 minute recess.”
Outside the chamber Crs Satour and Cocking would make no further comment: they could not, they said, not yet.  The implication is clear: they remain subject to a formal process and are bound not to comment until it has been concluded. We can assume they are answering Code of Conduct complaints.  Cr Melky had likewise felt constrained from commenting until he was formally cleared.
Cr Banks is not subject to a complaint, she confirmed, but walked out in support and also, as she told Alice Springs News Online, because “I have witnessed or been subject, in my opinion, to some of those behaviours.”
This state of affairs, and the further unsettling, at times ugly episodes of last night’s meeting (dealt with below), make doubtful Mr Mooney’s confidence that “differences” within Council will be resolved any time soon.
During the walkout, the News asked Mayor Ryan what he, as leader of the council, had to say about what was going on.
“I’m waiting for somebody to explain what’s going on, ” he said.
So between a fortnight ago and today he had not had a conversation with Cr Melky about it?
He had spoken to him about other matters but “not about his accusations”. And he thought Cr Melky was calling on the Minister to do an enquiry. Wasn’t that what we had reported at the time?
But doesn’t he see a role for himself, as leader of the council, to address the issue more directly?
“I need information.”
What, he has asked for it and hasn’t been given any?
“No, about 10 minutes ago, Eli delivered something which I have to go into. I couldn’t give you a reply to what Eli has just said, because I didn’t understand half of it. So, I’ll ask for a copy, have a look at it.”
What about what was said a fortnight ago?
“Nothing was delivered to us.”
For the record, Cr Melky has prepared an application to the Minister; it is currently being assessed by a barrister.
The walkout was but the start of last night’s turmoil.
Not long afterwards, Cr Marli Banks said she had questions about the budgeting for council’s reception for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week, but first she was going to raise possible conflicts of interest by councillors, whether personal or financial.
Cr Jacinta Price was the first to be challenged. Cr Price confirmed she had organised part of the PM’s function. Cr Banks said she believed therefore that Cr Price had a conflict of interest. Cr Price looked furious but left the room without comment.
Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni was next, as vice-president of the CLP. Given Cr Price is the party’s candidate for Lingiari in the next federal election, he too had a conflict of interest, said Cr Banks.
“No problems,” said Cr de Brenni and left the room.
p2550 ASTC Banks & Ryan 430The third challenge went less smoothly. Cr Banks turned to Mayor Ryan, raising a “perceived” conflict of interest that he has as the father-in-law of Joshua Burgoyne, second Senate candidate for the CLP.
Left: Cr Marli Banks challenging Mayor Damien Ryan on his conflict of interest. 
Mayor Ryan said he saw no conflict of interest in “welcoming the Prime Minister of this country to a function there were community members at”.
Cr Banks argued her point: while she had “little to no understanding” of the nature of that reception as she received her invitation to it after it began and she did not attend, the Mayor had a perceived conflict of interest participating in a discussion of the issue.
This was due, she repeated, to his relationship with a CLP candidate and the apparent use of the function to endorse the party’s candidate for Lingiari.
Mayor Ryan countered that he did not recall the PM saying “anything about Josh Burgoyne whatsoever”.
Cr Banks again reiterated her position: that the endorsement of Cr Price was effectively an endorsement of the party and therein, because of his relationship with Mr Burgoyne, lay the perceived conflict of interest for the Mayor.
Cr Melky backed Cr Banks’ position: The Liberal Party Prime Minister came here “promoting Cr Price as a great candidate” and because of the Mayor’s “direct link” to another candidate, he was in conflict.  It would be best for him to leave the room, to “allow us to talk openly”.
The Mayor still did not accept that he was in conflict but said he would take direction from the chair.
It was a concern, said Cr Cocking, he would like to see council discuss openly the use of council facilities and resources for an election campaign, the Mayor was not directly involved, rather his son-in-law; he didn’t want to eject him from the room, but given the perception of conflict it might be in the best interest of council for him to choose to leave the room.
The Mayor stood up to go, but said he would not sign a conflict of interest document from the CEO: “I’m not declaring one, I‘m taking your direction.”
Cr Melky raised a procedural issue: if the Mayor was not prepared to sign a conflict of interest, he should remain in the room.
CEO Rex Mooney said codes of conduct and conflicts of interest “boil down to the individual elected member”: “On that basis, if the Mayor chose to leave the room, to go to the bathroom or whatever, the Mayor’s entitled to do so.”
That did not seem to reflect what had just happened, but the discussion moved on, with five councillors in the room and Cr Glen Auricht on the phone.
Cr Banks said she had not raised the conflict of interest issues lightly. Her questions about the reception went to costs for council and whether additional staff, or hours, were involved, given that the invitation was through Nigel Scullion’s office and the topic of conversation seems to have been mainly around endorsement of the candidate for Lingiari.
She also expressed surprise at the late notice of the invitation and noted that her name had been “offered as an apology at the event” although she had not offered an apology.
Mr Mooney’s reply only seemed to confirm the murkiness of council’s involvement: information of the PM’s visit had been provided by Cr Price; it’s not unusual for council to organise a mayoral reception or a civic reception, especially for a Prime Minister; initially council prepared an invitation list; subsequently that was taken over by Senator Scullion’s office; final invitations went out through that office; attendance was by invitation only.
“Following that there was information provided as to who would meet, from council, with the Prime Minister,” he said, without specifying who did the providing and who did the meeting.
Council paid for the catering, he said, in the same way it does for other events, such as a Senior Citizens’ morning tea; he would provide the invoice; there were no additional staff costs as the function took place in working hours.
Cr Melky said he understood he had been announced as present at the reception although he did not attend. He was more concerned to understand, however, given the use of council resources, what benefit the reception had provided to council.
He understood that the PM did not make any particular announcement related to local government.
Had there been a resolution by council or any discussion involving other elected members on the matter?
No, said Mr Mooney.
There was also the matter of the roundtable discussion with the Prime Minister, which “excluded all but three persons elected by this council.”
How were councillors excluded, what was the nature of discussions, what benefit comes back to council? asked Cr Melky, before answering the last question himself.
“Unfortunately  I know the answer: there was no benefit to council, there were personal gains in that room.”
The gains, he said, came from being a member of this council, enjoying that privilege to host the Prime Minister whilst being a candidate in the upcoming Federal election.
In what capacity was the Mayor there? he asked. Whom was he representing, given the absence of a resolution and any prior information?
p2550 ASTC Cocking & Paterson 430At this point Cr Matt Paterson said he was losing the direction of the conversation, he couldn’t see what the outcome would be. He thought the media the town got from the PM’s visit was “fantastic”: “It was all over the news channels.”
Left: Cr Paterson chats with Cr Cocking after his election to the position of Deputy Mayor, a lighter moment in last night’s proceedings. Also pictured Crs Satour and Melky. 
It was fantastic that he was invited, it was a privilege to meet the PM, it was fantastic to see 12 school kids there as well, the captains of the senior schools, and students from Yirara and Clontarf: “I’m sure you can go and ask them if they received any benefit.”
He asked the chair for an action item or recommendation to be identified, otherwise they were going round in circles.
Mr Mooney then tried to deliver “some perspective” into the discussion, repeating that it was not unusual for a civic reception to be held for a visiting Prime Minister. He said council was invited to meet with the PM, “albeit to have a small number”, to go over council matters. The Arunta Room (in the Civic Centre) was then available for other deputations to meet with the PM. That in itself was quite proper.
Cr Melky took up Cr Paterson’s comment: yes, the media was fantastic, “If I was a candidate and my Prime Minister came and gave me a rousing applause, I would think that was a good thing.” Otherwise, it was a missed opportunity for the majority on council, who were excluded from the roundtable discussion.
Cr Cocking then asked Cr Banks if she had an action item so the meeting could move on.
She answered by going over the reasons for her concern, which in summary were that she as a councillor and also as a member of the Regional Economic Development Committee felt doubly excluded from the proceedings and left guessing at what might have been discussed around, for example, a possible Regional Deal.
Yes, it was an honour to have the Prime Minister visit the town but she would have hoped for far more in outcomes from the occasion, like the Barkly region had managed to win from their recent prime ministerial visit.
She had seen one announcement of a small amount of funding for landcare to come out of the visit; what she saw otherwise was endorsement of the candidate for Lingiari, Cr Price.
Cr Cocking summed up, asking the CEO for clarification of costs, which Mr Mooney said he would give, no problem, and for some information to come back to council on the outcome of the roundtable discussion. Earlier, Mr Mooney had said he had taken a few notes from that discussion, so presumably these will be reported to council.
p2550 ASTC Ryan reading 400With that, Mayor Ryan and Crs Price and de Brenni returned to the room and soon Cr Price took the chair of the Corporate and Community Services committee.
Right: Mayor Ryan, during the debate on attendance procedures he has introduced into council, getting on with a bit of reading.  
Councillors got on with business. They elected a new Deputy Mayor, Matt Paterson, astutely nominated by Cr Jimmy Cocking, as a candidate acceptable to both sides of the split – that he can occupy this position reflects credit on the young councillor. They also filled all the various committee positions (which come up for election every year).
Other business was discussed, the most important of it being support for the formation of a working group to develop council’s own stand-alone youth division and explore how it can best contribute to youth services in town.
However, the ugly rift on council again surfaced when Cr Melky brought up two related matters: the new procedure for putting to a vote councillors’ apologies for non-attendance of a meeting; and the new reporting of attendance records for all committees, in published charts full of ticks and crosses, just like a school roll, a point made by Cr Satour. Volunteer community members of the committees are included in these records, similarly with ticks and crosses against their names.
In the interest of bringing this already lengthy report to a conclusion, the grievance over these measures was down, in the main, to them having been introduced without any consultation or notice.
The decision to do so was taken by Mr Mooney and Mayor Ryan. There was no necessity in it, given that council has gotten on well enough without them for years; and the intervention from the department on the subject was in the form of “a suggestion or request”, as Mr Mooney explained, it was not a directive.
Introducing the measures at a time when there were already significant tensions within the council, related to the Codes of Conduct complaints, has only served to increase the tensions and division. That can’t be good for council and it’s no way to lead.
The debate, which came after the meeting had already been going for about three hours, degenerated into a slanging match between Cr Melky and Mayor Ryan. Cr Price, in the chair, eventually brought it to a close, directing a comment to Cr Melky about bringing council into disrepute.
Clearly, he should not bear sole responsibility for that.
UPDATE, 2.30pm, 15 August 2018:
Council CEO Rex Mooney has provided the following information on request from Alice Springs News Online.
The catering invoice for the civic reception of the Prime Minister was $1409.91, to be met from Council’s General Fund for Civic Activities.
The final invitation list with contact details for the function was managed and decided by the office of Senator Nigel Scullion.

The Alice Springs Town Council had no control over who was ultimately invited, including media to the function.


Further, the Prime Minister’s Office coordinated the media who attended.

Note: The Alice Springs News Online was not invited to the function.

UPDATE, 2.30pm, 16 August 2018:
The media section of the Office of the Prime Minister has expressed regret to have inadvertently omitted our email address from its media alert.


  1. Lots of important people were also excluded in the Tennant Creek Prime Ministerial visit. It was another hand-picked affair and decidedly looked like electioneering, not just for Jacinta Price, but it also raised the possibility of Edgington campaigning for Barkly in the NT Parliament.

  2. Price, De Brenni are libbers. Eli u are right [CONFLICT] with the visit of Mal. They should have taken leave on those days and of all things us Rate payers forking out the money.[RATES UP]. Front page Advocate and other shots, not a single Aboriginal in sight. This was the purpose of his visit to meet the people who might get her into Lingiari. Just wondering who or if any Western Yuendumu or Papunya Traditional Aborigines apart from mommy got an invite by Price and Scullion who should have paid the bill.

  3. Just after midnight last night I was returning home from a shift stocking shelves, and I decided to travel up Gap Road. Suddenly, WHOOSH!, a wagon wheel passed me.
    And I thought to myself, ‘Self, I wonder what wagon that wheel has just come off of?’

  4. Who invite should pay the bill:if the Town Council invited the PM the ratepayers should pay; if Jacinta Price invited him she should pay. I do not give her the title of councillor, because in my opinion political parties are infiltrating local government and pushing their agendas to the detriment of local issues. She was elected as a representative of the whole community not as a CLP candidate
    Councillors are supposed to be there for community issues, so unless the PM came with solutions for our problems we should not fork out for the bill.
    POLITICAL parties should be banned from local government.

  5. How is Cr Price allowed to get away with this? She is using her platform as a councillor to get elected to federal politics. This stinks in every way. Thanks to Cr Banks for tenacity to follow this through.

  6. Great!
    More taxpayers money wasted so that greaseball wannabe politicans can promote themselves at our expense while our rates continue to go up and up.
    Bloody typical! Stay in Canberra [Turnbull] and keep politics out of the council!

  7. Councillor Matt Paterson was nominated by Jamie de Brenni for the position of Deputy Mayor, which was seconded by Jimmy Cocking. Matt Patterson has stated this on ABC radio.

  8. Can’t believe this …..
    Councillor Price has just made us the local rate payer pay for her private political campaign launch and to rub shoulders with that two faced [PM] on camera. This wreaks of dodgeyness and she sure as hell shouldn’t be doing it with our bloody dollars…
    That half day tour with [the PM] was bloody shameful and they spoke with nobody local who wasn’t in the usual circle of elite families who “apparently” represent us all Alice Springs locals.
    Already see your true colours [Cr Price] and guess what, you ain’t getting my vote again!

  9. @ Alex Nelson. Councillor Paterson is mistaken. I have checked the audio of the meeting: he was clearly nominated by Cr Cocking and Cr de Brenni seconded the nomination.

  10. Party politics have always been a part of the town council, and to pretend otherwise because the allegiances are not in the open is to fool yourself.
    It would be much easier for all if the allegiances were declared.
    What is interesting in this Council is that for once the CLP-aligned members are being given a run for their money!

  11. What a bunch of ‘little kids’! This lot are supposed to be representing the community.
    There are a lot of ‘Big Egos’ on council. Grow up and do the job you were put there to do. Get over your bitching at each other.
    Leadership is what is needed, not Big Egos and Ryan and Mooney are running the council like it is their own classroom ie marking the roll for attendance. Do council members have to produce a note as to why they are absent? What a joke!
    Of course they were behind Malcolm Turnbull’s reception along with Price and deBrenni. Well,the CLP should be paying for that function not the ratepayers.
    Bringing the council into disrepute, says Price, well she and Satour had done that already a while ago. Maybe it is time for a clean up and let’s have a new election. Scrub this council and get some new ones in. Couldn’t be any worse than what we have now.

  12. @ Alex Nelson: I was mistaken – I was nominated by Cr Cocking and seconded by Deputy Mayor De Brenni.
    I have spoken to Cr Cocking since to apologise for the mistake this morning.

  13. @ Alex Hope (Posted August 15, 2018 at 11:43 am): You may not be aware just how true is your remark “party politics have always been a part of the town council.”
    Here is the slogan for one candidate in the first town council by-election (for two vacancies) for March 24, 1973: “THIS IS YOUR … ALP CANDIDATE IN SATURDAY’S COUNCIL ELECTION. VOTE 1 HADDON, D.J.”
    As it turned out, Dennis Haddon came third in the poll on that occasion; however, when Alderman Paul Everingham resigned from the town council in early July 1973, instead of going to another by-election it was decided to appoint Dennis Haddon to replace him.
    Anybody who knows the history of Territory politics will appreciate the irony – but wait, there’s more: When Paul Everingham stood as a candidate for the first town council election campaign in June 1971, his election advertisements were authorised by “Peter Edward John Gunner, Stuart Highway, Alice Springs”. Yes, it was current CM Michael Gunner’s grandfather.

  14. JP and DR are out of control. The Mayor has lost the confidence of the community and must be STOOD DOWN immediately.
    JP – well any logical thinking person can figure out that its all about daddy’s little girl and no one else.
    Eli, keep on going and rid the council of these town destroying persons!

  15. Cr Matt Paterson, do you really believe that the attitude of our PM, Jacinta Price and Senator Scullion are a good role model for our youths?
    In my eyes they are three snobs in the real sense of the term: “Peacocks with no breeding.”
    Where did they learn their manners and diplomacy?
    Of course the whole town could not have be on the guests list, but the rightful custodians of the town and the councillors representatives of the community should have been on it.
    Jacinta, so proud to be Warlpiri / Irish, should have shown respect of protocols and sensitivities.
    As an educator I always believe that children should be taught tact: It encompasses many things, including emotional intelligence, respect, discretion, self-awareness, thoughtfulness, compassion, subtlety, honesty, diplomacy, and courtesy.
    I did not see any of those elements in the PM visit.
    Tact is strongly influenced by culture and because we are a multicultural society tact is important.

  16. Can’t wait for Prime Minister Shorten and his union frontbencher backbencher entourage to hit town after the next Federal election.
    If this circus is any indication, the Council Labor lads and girls will probably declare a public holiday and bedeck Todd Street with a carpet of red roses.
    However, for all of their silly shenanigans, Alice Councillors are Sunday School picnickers compared with the fruitcakes that infest my next door Darebin Council down here in Melbourne Town.
    As an old Feddy, I ask fellow Feddy Mayor Damo – is the aggro of the Perpetually Outraged worth it these days?

  17. What a bunch of pathetic losers we have managed to inflict upon ourselves – Shame, Shame Shame.
    We get it, people are in it for themselves. And there are conflicts of interest – but there always will be conflicts. At the end of the day, we had the Prime Minister visit the town and we want to bitch about the cost of the reception? Give me a break.
    If you want to bitch about the costs to the town, let’s have a look around at the number of businesses that are being driven out of the town.
    You have councillors running charities that are elbowing full tax paying businesses out of operation, you have council awarding work to out of town businesses, and meanwhile the Alice Springs based businesses are wondering how they can afford to pay their damned rates.
    The vitriol that is directed at an Aboriginal woman who wants to put her hand up to try to make a difference.
    I can’t figure out if the insults are directed at Ms Price herself or because she has the gumption to choose to run for a different side of politics.
    We wonder why our kids are out of control when this is the example that you mob set. Grow up and do the damned job that you are paid to do!

  18. I sincerely cannot believe that people are so surprised that such shenanigans were going to take place when the divisions are so obvious.
    Half the sitting Town councillors are current or former CLP members and there are no Greens or Labor councillors at all on it (although Jimmy could be argued as being Green inclined).
    Which basically translates to the CLP crowd versus a bunch of increasingly united independents from the Town (and across the spectrum) saying no to this bullshit.
    There was no way that that council was going to willingly agree to use ratepayers money to pay for a defacto campaign launch for Jacinta (Jeez even Robyn Lambley said it was awkward) nor would it have optionally agreed to have Nigel Scullion’s office doing all the invites for a Town Council EVENT or to the Prime Minister’s office vetting what media was allowed in.
    What amateurs…….Would you like some bandages for that bullet hole in your foot?

  19. I love the bigotry of the left! Price is a champion of what is right, not a sheep lost in group think mentality. Price represents oppressed woman and children of this town and the wider concerns of the communities. Why would she not be one of the best people to be part of a Prime Minister’s meeting. First choice really!!
    The trouble makers in the council are the ego driven few, backed by a group that want to divide and conquer this community. It is an effective strategy of the left to cause chaos before sliding into power. Hold tight Damien and those other constructive and stable councillors. You would be surprised by the quiet support you have. AND to Jacinta Price, you are the future of strong representative politics and look forward to seeing you make a difference.

  20. The bigotry of the left?
    For what? Calling out the misappropriation of public funds for a private political campaign.
    As for divide and conquer tactics, what could be more divisive than a minority on the council (one of whom is the deputy president of said political party and the other the father in law of one of the candidates) paying for a hijacked council event with public money for a Political campaign launch and giving an actual political figure from that Party (Nigel Scullion) the ability to pick who can and can’t come to the Council event and then giving guest (Malcolm Turnbull) the right to pick what media attend to question him at a supposedly local public event?
    The definition of bigotry is “intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself.” By tossing your toys about or being called out for foul play and not allowing anybody to ask any real questions rather than have a whitewashed and sterile event, you are in fact demonstrating the behavioural tendencies of ab.

  21. The four Councillors who stood up and walked out must of done so for a reason that we the ratepayer and community dont know yet. We as the community should hold judgement until we know all the details as it seems to be the causing the division. As for Cr Price what has she actually done beside post demeaning facebook posts daily of her own people? I would not be suprised if she is the common denominator in the code of conducts saga.

  22. @I’m here for Funzies. If Funzies is correct, and it is a case of independent no-party councillors uniting against “the CLP crowd”, then this represents an ironic twist in Australia’s political landscape since Federation, albeit at the lowest local council level of government.
    At Federation in 1901, the Parliament had only one party – the Labour party. The other members were independents simply repesenting their constituencies of the little people, people in remote communities, small businesses et al.
    Realising that Labour would always retain power in this situation, the independents got together, gradually morphing into the Liberal Party under Menzies, then the CLP.
    Labour was Americanised in 1913 when its leader King O’Malley – a Yank – changed the spelling to the American way, dropping the ‘u’.
    It has stayed that way, despite Labor’s history of animosity to the US post-WW2.
    One hundred years on and now in Alice there are apparently now no Laborites on council, just a bunch of no name Independents coming together against the CLP monolith.
    Who needs Hollywood or Bollywood when we have our very own political melodramatic entertainment with its amusing and bemusing twists and turns, playing out right before our very eyes. We have it all.

  23. @ Melissa: Is your head so far in the sand that you actually believe Jacinta Price stands for oppressed women and not her own ego and narcissism?
    Do you really believe an elected Price will sort out social issues in this town?
    Heck, even the most conservative know she’s a rogue with no answers, no track record and will yield no results.

  24. @ Smithy. If Jacinta does not have the answers to divisive social questions confronting the community, then it is quite obvious from the mess Alice is in right now that no one else on council has any answers either.
    Regardless of her perceived merits or shortcomings, the vile personal abuse aimed at her recently on social media is quite shocking and very disturbing.
    Smithy, are you saying that it is Jacinta’s fault that she is copping this vile abuse, a lot of which is coming from males from different ethnic backgrounds?
    No female, regardless of race, ethnic background or political opinion should be subjected to such vile, cowardly and frightening threats of physical and sexual attack.
    It is worrying in the extreme to justify it with the rationalisation that such verbal attacks are common in Alice. If such postings on Facebook or Twitter were to occur against certain young women or councillors of politicians down here in the Big Smoke, it would be prime time news and police action would be taken.
    It is very sad that Alice appears so conditioned to such attacks now that blaming the victim is acceptable.


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