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Senate FAQs

  1. 1. How many senators are there and how long do they serve?

    There are seventy-six senators—twelve for each state and two each for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Senators are elected by a system of proportional representation for a period of six years. A system of rotation, however, ensures that half the Senate retires every three years. The four senators who represent the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are elected concurrently with members of the House of Representatives and the duration of their terms of office coincide with those for that House (a maximum of three years).
    [ Senate Brief No. 1, Electing Australia's Senators ]

  2. 2. Why are the minor parties more successful in having candidates elected to the Senate than the House of Representative?

    Independents and members of minority parties have a better chance of election to the Senate than the House of Representatives because a different electoral system is used. In Senate elections, a system called proportional representation voting secures the election of a number of candidates, each of whom has obtained a required quota or proportion of votes necessary for election. The quota is worked out by dividing the total number of formal votes in the election by one more than the number of places available for election No one candidate needs to obtain a majority of votes, as is the case in House of Representative elections.

    Votes received in excess of the quota by successful candidates are redistributed to those candidates who have been ranked second by the voters on the excess ballot papers. If insufficient candidates reach a quota after this distribution, the preferences of voters for the least successful candidates are progressively distributed until enough candidates reach a quota to fill the available seats. Independents and members of minority parties, who would not hope to receive enough first votes to achieve a quota, are usually elected on the preferences of voters who gave their first vote to another candidate.

    This method of electing senators to the Australian Parliament results in a representation which more closely reflects the wishes of voters than that used by the House of Representatives. In the 1996 election for example, the Australian Democrats received 10.8% of the vote and secured 12.5% (or 5 ) of the 40 available seats in the Senate. They received 6.8% of the vote for the House of Representatives, but were not successful in having a candidate elected. Proportional representation is designed to ensure that the number of seats won is in proportion to the number of votes received.
    [Senate Brief No. 1, Electing Australia's Senators]

  3. 3. What happens if a senator resigns or dies before his or her term expires?

    When a casual vacancy occurs in the Senate, on the resignation or death of a senator, a new senator is appointed by the parliament of the state which the former senator represented. If the state or territory parliament is not sitting, an appointment can be made by the Governor of the state ( or in the case of an Australian Capital Territory senator, the Governor-General, or the Administrator in the case of the Northern Territory) and the appointment is confirmed by the parliament when next it assembles.

    In order that the Senate continue to preserve the representation of parties in the Senate as determined by the electors, the new senator must be of the same political party or group as the senator he is replacing. It is a matter of contention whether this means that the appointee must be the nominee of the political party or whether it suffices that he or she is a member of that party.
    [Senate Brief No. 1, Electing Australia's Senators]

  4. 4. How is the President of the Senate elected?

    When the position of President of the Senate becomes vacant, the election of a President is given priority over other Senate business. It begins with a senator proposing to the Clerk, who acts as chairman, that a senator who is present be President of the Senate. If no other senator is proposed, that Senator is called to the chair and becomes President. When two or more senators are proposed as President, a secret ballot is conducted. Each senator is provided with a ballot paper on which to write the name of a candidate, and if one candidate receives a majority of the votes of the senators present he or she is declared elected.

    If, in the case of two candidates, the vote is tied, the vote is taken again; and if they are still tied, the Clerk determines by lot which candidate should be withdrawn. Where there are more than two candidates and no-one receives a majority of votes on the first count, the candidate having the smallest number of votes withdraws and a fresh vote is taken.

    The office of President of the Senate is conventionally taken by a member of the party which holds a majority in the House of Representatives (the government), while the Deputy President is a member of the largest opposition party. [Senate Brief No. 6, The President of the Senate].

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House of Representatives FAQs

  1. How can I contact my local Member?

    The List of Members provides contact details including postal addresses, telephone, facsimile and email (if the Member has a parliamentary email account) information for all Members of the House including Ministers. You can also email your local Member via a Feedback Form (available for those Members with email accounts) which is located on the Member's Home Pages .

  2. How do I find out about the work of the House?

    The Votes and Proceedings is the official record (or minutes) of the proceedings of the House of Representatives. It records in concise form the decisions made by the House, papers presented, legislation presented or considered, motions moved, the attendance of Members and any other business which takes place. 

    The parliamentary debates, often referred to as Hansard, record what was said in the House. The debates are available in HTML.

    The Work of the Session is a periodic summary of the business completed by the House of Representatives and House and joint committees. It is usually published twice each year. The most recent issue and back issues from 1990 are available in PDF.

  3. How do I get my petition before the House and what will happen to it after it is presented?

     

    The House has established a Standing Committee on Petitions to ensure that all petitions presented to the House are considered and responded to appropriately.  Petitions may be sent directly to the Committee or to a Member to pass on to the Committee.  There are a number of rules regarding the form and content of petitions and it is the Committee’s role to check that all petitions conform to these rules before they are presented to the House of Representatives.  Information on how to prepare a petition to meet the House’s requirements is available on the Committee’s website.

     

    Most petitions are presented to the House by the Chair of the Petitions Committee on sitting Mondays, but any Member may present a petition.  In all cases, petitions must first be assessed by the Petitions Committee.  Once presented, the text of the petition is included in the Hansard (official transcript) and published to the Petition Committee’s website.  After presentation, the terms of a petition may be referred by the Petitions Committee to the relevant Minister/s for comment.  The response is later published on the Committee’s website.

  4. How is the Ministry selected?

    Ministers are selected by the Prime Minister who also allocates portfolios.  The Cabinet, consisting of senior Ministers presided over the Prime Minister, is the Government’s pre-eminent policy-making body.  Major policy and legislative proposals are decided by the Cabinet.  However, as far as the proceedings of the House are concerned, no differentiation is made between Cabinet Ministers and other Ministers.

  5. What are the sitting times of the House?

    The regular sitting times of the House of Representatives are set out in its standing orders. These provide for it to meet at the following times: Mondays - from 12:30pm to 9:30pm Tuesdays - from 2pm to 9:30pm Wednesdays - from 9:00am to 8pm. Thursdays - from 9:00am to 5pm. Occasionally circumstances require some change to these times.

  6. What are the standing and sessional orders?

    The standing orders are the continuing rules of procedure adopted by the House; the sessional orders are temporary rules which, in most cases, expire at the end of a session - usually when the House is dissolved for a general election. The current version available:

  7. What is a quorum?

    A quorum is the minimum number of Members required to be present in the House to constitute a meeting of the House. It is set by law to be one-fifth of the total membership. With 150 Members, this makes a quorum of thirty, including the occupant of the Chair.

    The House may, and often does, operate with fewer than 30 Members present. Because of the demands placed on Members it is necessary that they spend a large amount of time on other duties outside the Chamber.

    At any time during a sitting any Member may draw the lack of a quorum (the state of the House) to the Chair's attention, and a count must be made. If a quorum is not present, the bells are rung until enough Members are present to form a quorum. If, after 4 minutes, a quorum still isn't present, the Chair may adjourn the House until the next sitting day, or suspend the sitting for a short period, in which case, if there is not a quorum when the Chair resumes, the House is adjourned to another day.

  8. What is the House doing?

    The routine of business description shows the categories of business the House of Representatives and the Main Committee normally deal with on each day of a sitting week.

    The Notice Paper is the House's formal agenda and lists in order of priority all of the government business, private Members' business and business before the Main Committee awaiting the House's consideration. The Notice Paper also includes details of the questions lodged by Members for written answers by Ministers and the membership of, and inquiries currently being conducted by, the House of Representatives and joint committees.

    The Daily Program provides in more detail the proposed business of the House of Representatives for a particular sitting.

  9. When is the House sitting?

    A schedule (or calendar) of proposed parliamentary sittings is published in advance of the sittings.

    The actual sittings of the House of Representatives adhere very closely to the schedule. Occasionally circumstances require some departure from it. Nevertheless, the schedule is a very useful guide to the sittings.

  10. Where can I find information about Inter-Parliamentary Relations?

    The International and Community Relations Office (ICRO) provides advice and support relevant to the conduct of the Parliament's international and regional affairs. It provides general support for inter-parliamentary conferences and incoming and outgoing parliamentary delegations; training support for other parliaments, particularly the smaller parliaments in our region; and advice to the Presiding Officers and members on international parliamentary matters.

    The ICRO's objective is to support external relations for the Parliament with a view to achieving productive and amicable international and regional relationships with other parliaments and parliamentary bodies and organisations.

  11. Where can I find more information about the House of Representatives and the Parliament?

    You can refer to our list of Infosheets and to House of Representatives Practice. The site map for the Parliament site provides a general guide to information on the website. The site's search engine may be more useful for locating specific items of information.

    The Department of the House of Representatives conducts seminars and workshops on the operations of the House which are open to anyone on payment of a fee.

  12. Where can I get a copy of legislation?

    The text of most bills before the Parliament is available at Bills and Legislation page. Explanatory memoranda and amendments proposed in connection with the bills are also available at this site. Acts of the Commonwealth Parliament (bills after they have been passed by both Houses and become law) can be found at the Australian Government's ComLaw page.

  13. Where can I look at a copy of the Constitution?

    The text of the Australian Constitution is available in HTML and PDF format. A summary of issues covered and other information about the Constitution is available in Infosheet 13.

  14. Who is my local Member?

    If you know the name of the federal electoral division in which you live, refer to the List of Members by electoral division.

    If you do not know the name of the electoral division in which you live the Australian Electoral Commission should be able to help. It is responsible for providing electoral information and can be contacted for information on divisional boundaries. A map of Australian electoral divisions is available online from the AEC site.

    Biographical information on each Member is also available on the Members' Home Pages.

  15. Who is the Clerk and what does he or she do?

    The Clerk of the House of Representatives is responsible for advising the Speaker and Members on parliamentary procedure. The Clerk's position in the Chamber is seated at the Table, in front of the Speaker. He or she is assisted in the Chamber by the Deputy Clerk, who sits at the Table to the left of the Clerk.

    The Clerk is appointed by the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Speaker, and serves all Members of the House equally. He or she administers the Department of the House of Representatives, which provides support services to the House, its committees and Members.

  16. Why is the House of Representatives Chamber green?

    Green is the colour traditionally used by the British House of Commons, and the Australian House of Representatives followed that tradition when the old Parliament House was being built and furnished in 1926-7. The shades of green selected in the present Chamber represent the grey-green tones of native eucalypts.

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Other FAQs

  1. Does the Governor-General have a home page?

    For information about the Governor-General of Australia

    • Biographical information on the current Governor-General, information on the role of the Governor-General, the Vice-Regal News, and selected speeches and media releases are available on the web-site.
      Information is also available regarding the official residences and previous Governors-General since 1901.

    • General information about the Australian Honours Secretariat is available - this website provides comprehensive information.

    • The website also hosts information for the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General which provides the Governor-General with the necessary support to enable constitutional, statutory, ceremonial and public duties to be carried out.

  2. How can I contact the Prime Minister

    The Prime Ministers Website contact page includes a form for you to ask the Prime Minister a question, give advice and pass on well-wishes.

    If you wish to send invitations, meeting requests or correspondence requiring supporting attachments such as photos or documents, please send them via Australia Post mail to:

    Prime Minister
    Parliament House
    CANBERRA ACT 2600

     

     

  3. How can I find subject information on politics or on political issues

  4. How do I address a member of Parliament

    Prime Minister

    Envelope

    The Hon. Tony Abbott, MP Prime Minister of Australia

    Salutation

    Dear Prime Minister

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Prime Minister or Mr Abbott

     

    President of the Senate (when writing formally)

    Envelope

    Senator the Hon. John Hogg President of the Senate

    Salutation

    Dear Mr President

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Mr President or Senator Hogg

     

    President of the Senate (when writing to the President in their electoral capacity)

    Envelope

    Senator the Hon. John Hogg

    Salutation

    Dear Senator or Senator Hogg

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Senator

     

    Speaker of the House of Representatives (when writing formally)

    Envelope

    The Hon Mrs Bishop, MP Speaker of the House of Representatives

    Salutation

    Dear Madam Speaker

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Madam Speaker

     

    Speaker of the House of Representatives (when writing to the Speaker in their electoral capacity)

    Envelope

    The Hon Mrs Bishop, MP Speaker of the House of Representatives

    Salutation

    Dear Mrs Bishop

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Madam Speaker

     

    Minister (Senate)

    Envelope

    Senator the Hon. Eric Abetz, Minister for Employment

    Salutation

    Dear Minister

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Minister or Senator

       

    Minister (House of Representatives)

    Envelope

    The Hon. Christopher Pyne, MP Minister for Education

    Salutation

    Dear Minister

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Minister or Mr Pyne

       

    Assistant Treasurer (Senate)

    Envelope

    Senator the Hon. Arthur Sinodinos AO, Assistant Treasurer

    Salutation

    Dear Assistant Treasurer

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Minister or Senator

       

    Assistant Minister (House of Representatives)

    Envelope

    The Hon. Sussan Ley, Assistant Minister for Education

    Salutation

    Dear Assistant Minister

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Minister or Ms Ley

       

    Parliamentary Secretary (Senate)

    Envelope

    Senator the Hon. Scott Ryan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education

    Salutation

    Dear Senator Ryan

    Conculsion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Senator Ryan

       

    Parliamentary Secretary (House of Representatives)

    Envelope

    The Hon. Darren Chester, MP Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence

    Salutation

    Dear Mr Chester

    Conculsion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Mr Chester

       

    Senator

    Envelope

    Senator Richard Di Natale, Senator for Victoria

    Salutation

    Dear Senator

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Senator

       

    Member (House of Representatives)

    Envelope

    Mr Michael Danby, MP

    Salutation

    Dear Sir

    Conclusion

    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Mr Danby

    Who can use the title Honourable?

    A Member or Senator who becomes a Minister is appointed to the Executive Council and thus has the title ‘Honourable’ while they remain Executive Councillors. It rests with the Governor-General to continue or terminate membership of the Executive Council and consequently the right to the title. With one exception, Ministers appointed to the Executive Council have not in the past had their appointment to the Council terminated upon termination of their commission and hence have retained the title ‘Honourable’ for life. Parliamentary Secretaries also have the title ‘Honourable’ when, as has been the recent practice, they have been appointed to the Executive Council. It is established custom for a Member who is elected Speaker to use the title ‘Honourable’ during his or her period of office and to be granted the privilege of retaining the title for life if he or she serves in the office for three or more years. Source: House of Representatives Practice (5th edition)

  5. How do I find the names of Opposition Leaders or Ministers or Prime Ministers since 1901?

    This information can be found in the historical Parliamentary information contained in the Parliamentary Handbook.

    As well as Opposition Leaders since 1901, from this page you will also find information such as Governors-General since 1901, Senators and Members since 1901, Prime Ministers since 1901, Ministries since 1901, and much more.

  6. How do I make a reference to a second reading speech?

    An example of how to reference a second reading speech is shown below:

    Mr Billson, Second Reading speech: Competition and Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, 7 July 2011, accessible in Parlinfo Search .

  7. How do I request a copy of Parliamentary proceedings?

    The proceedings of the House of Representatives, the Senate, parliamentary committees and parliamentary events are recorded and available to Members, Senators, general public, media and other organisations upon request.

    You can request a copy of parliamentary proceedings by contacting the DPS Broadcasting Content section, providing the following information:

    Name of event, chamber or committee
    Date
    Start and end time
    Your contact details
    Tape/file format

    Then email, fax or mail your request to

    DPS Broadcasting Content
    c/o Production Office, SB011
    PO Box 6000, Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600
    broadcasting@aph.gov.au,
    Fax 02 6277 8389

    Please note not all committee hearings are televised.

    Stock and dubbing charges apply and are available upon request.

    Many different formats are available such as VHS, DVD, media files and broadcast quality media.

    For more information please contact Client Support on 02 6277 2020.

  8. How to contact Senators and Members of Parliament

    You can contact a Senator or Member in a number of ways:
    • by phone
    • by fax
    • by post
    • by email (if a Senator or Member has an email address) or by using the contact form which some Senators and Members prefer to use.

    The Parliament site provides a number of contact lists for both Senators and Members which you can print out, download or quickly browse.

    For contact information on Senators.

    For contact information on Members.

    If you would like to email messages to either a Senator or Member, click on the Home Pages option where you will find an email address or a feedback form.

    Please do not send mail for Senators or Members of Parliament to the Web Manager's mail box . This Web Manager's mailbox is for problems or comments regarding the site and the mail sent here does not reach Senators or Members.

  9. How to I find out information about Committees or get Committee transcripts?

    There are links to all current Committees from the list of Committees.

    Committee transcripts are found by searching Hansard under the name of the Committee. Please note that there are sometimes delays in making transcripts available as they are proofed.

  10. Is Hansard up on the Internet?

    Yes, Hansard is available on the Internet.

    You can also search Hansard by using the search facility on the Parliament site.

    The daily Hansard is available on the Internet by 9am of the next working day.

  11. Is there an overview of Parliament

    OurAbout Parliament pages provides you with a variety of information.

  12. Some Hansard information and bills information is in PDF format.

    Hansard is the name given to transcripts of parliamentary proceedings. The Senate and House of Representatives Hansards are available on the Internet each morning following a sitting day. Hansards of Committee hearings are also available online. These transcripts are published shortly after the committee meets.

    To view the current transcript production status of Senate legislation committees considering estimates see the estimates transcript schedule

    Hansards are available online from 8 May 1901, the day of the first sitting of the parliament. They can be accessed here

  13. What Australian and overseas political parties have home pages?

    A list of political parties which have homepages can be found from the Key Internet links on Politicical Parties page. Under Political Parties you will find links to parties arranged by country.

  14. What election and referendum information is available?

    Election information on this site is primarily Australian. From the Key Internet links on elections link on the Parliamentary Library's home page various election statistics can be found, such as election dates since 1901, the origins of present electoral names, and a comparison of electoral divisions, by area, and by number of electors.

    The Australian Electoral Commission's website has a wealth of information.

    Information on referendums on alterations to the Constitution of the Commonwealth is also available from the Parliamentary Handbook.

  15. What is the Cabinet?

    The Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister and senior Ministers, and decides on all major government policy matters.

  16. What legislation is before the current Parliament?

    For details on legislation, see:

    • Bills Page

    • Bills Digests produced by the Parliamentary Library. This is a brief, plain-language digest of the Bill produced as soon as possible after its introduction, which generally includes sections on the purpose, background and main provisions of the Bill.

  17. What time is Question Time?

    Question Time is held at 2pm in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

  18. When is Parliament sitting

    The sitting calendar shows when Parliament is sitting.

  19. Where can I find information about Inter-Parliamentary Relations?

    About the International and Community Relations Office

    The International and Community Relations Office (ICRO) provides advice and support relevant to the conduct of the Parliament's international and regional affairs. It provides general support for inter-parliamentary conferences and incoming and outgoing parliamentary delegations; training support for other parliaments, particularly the smaller parliaments in our region; and advice to the Presiding Officers and members on international parliamentary matters.

    The ICRO's objective is to support external relations for the Parliament with a view to achieving productive and amicable international and regional relationships with other parliaments and parliamentary bodies and organisations.

    Inter-Parliamentary relations web page

     

  20. Where can I find information on government departments and agencies?

    The Parliament's site contains information pertaining to the Parliament. 

    Key Internet Links on Government and Public Administration links to relevant sites.

    For contact information and links to commonwealth government departments and agencies see the Australian Government Directory.

  21. Which other Parliaments are on the Internet?

    For a list of government sites, consult the Library's Key Internet links on Parliaments resources page.

    The Parliamentary Handbook contains a wealth of current and historical parliamentary information.

    Australia

    Parliaments of Australian States and Territories

    Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly
    Hansard

    New South Wales Parliament
    Hansard

    Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
    Hansard

    Queensland Parliament
    Hansard

    South Australian Parliament
    Hansard

    Tasmanian Parliament
    Parliamentary Documents Index Page

    Victorian Parliament
    Hansard 

    Western Australian Parliament
    Hansard

    World

    Selection of Links to Legislatures

    Islamic State of Afghanistan
    Brazil: Camara Dos Deputados | Senado Federal
    Cambodia: National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia | Senate of the Kingdom of Cambodia
    Canadian Parliament
    People's Republic of China: The National People's Congress
    Cook Island Parliament
    Denmark Folketinget
    Europarl: European Parliament
    Fiji. Parliament
    France: Assemblee Nationale | Senate
    Germany. Deutscher Bundestag
    Indian Parliament
    Indonesia: House of People's Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia (DPR) | People's Consultative Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia (MPR)
    Iran. Majlis ye-Shura-ye-Eslami (Islamic Consultative Assembly) Research Centre
    Iraq. Transitional National Assembly. See IPU listing
    Ireland Oireachtas
    Parlamento Italiano
    Japan: House of Councillors | House of Representatives
    Kiribati Parliament
    Lebanese Parliament
    New Zealand: Parliament | New Zealand Parliamentary Business: includes Hansard, parliamentary papers, select committee reports
    Northern Ireland Assembly
    National Parliament of Papua New Guinea
    Nauru Parliament
    Philippines Congress
    Russia: Duma | Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation
    The Scottish Parliament
    Thailand. National Assembly of the Kingdom of Thailand: House of Representatives and Senate
    Tonga Parliament
    United Arab Emirates: Federal National Council
    United Kingdom | House of Lords | House of Commons | Hansard | Hansard Archive 1802-2004
    United States of America: House of Representatives | Senate | Congressional Record | THOMAS | Library of Congress
    Vanuatu Parliament
    Vietnam. National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
    The National Assembly for Wales

    Directories

    Use one of these directories to find national parliaments not listed above...

    Web Sites of Parliaments: AGORA
    Web Sites of National Parliaments: IPU
    Parline Database: IPU
    Worldlii: Parliaments database
    Parliaments: part of Gunnar Anzinger's Governments on the WWW
    Web sites of National Parliaments: Washington University in St Louis
    World Parliaments: the Knesset

    Parliamentary Organisations

    Australasian Study of Parliament Group (ASPG): ASPG was formed "to encourage and stimulate research, writing and teaching about parliamentary institutions in Australia and the South Pacific"
    Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government (UK): independent educational charity "promoting effective parliamentary democracy"
    National Association of Parliamentarians: US based association with international membership
    Parliamentarians for Global Action
    Study of Parliament Group (Canada): "a non-profit organization that brings together individuals with an interest in the role, function and reform of parliamentary institutions"
    Study of Parliament Group (UK): "to study the working of Parliament and Parliamentary institutions, and other related aspects of Parliamentary government and political science, and to advance public knowledge of these subjects"
    United States Association of Former Members of Congress

    Inter-Parliamentary Assemblies, Associations, Organisations

    For other links see Useful links on the IPU site

    Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union
    Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF)
    Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA)
    Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly
    Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
    Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas (FIPA)
    NATO Parliamentary Assembly: formerly North Atlantic Assembly
    Norden: Nordic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers
    OSCE Parliamentary Assembly: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
    Assembly of the Western European Union (WEU): the Interparliamentary European Security and Defence Assembly

  22. Who do I contact about art works in Parliament House?

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