Improving the evidence base
In its 2009 report, Time for Action, The National Council to
Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (National Council), described
the data relating to violence against women and their children in Australia as
Throughout the inquiry the committee received evidence emphasising the lack of
data available on the prevalence and impact of domestic and family violence.
For example, the Women's Centre for Health Matters stated:
Despite the existence of large-scale data collection
mechanisms like the [Personal Safety Survey] and [Australian Institute of
Criminology], it's evident that there are still major gaps in our understanding
about the prevalence and impacts of domestic and family violence.
As was discussed in Chapter 4, the Australian Bureau of Statistics'
(ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS) provides national data on domestic violence,
however it was criticised for its failure to adequately sample from subgroups
within the population, such as women with disabilities, women from culturally
and linguistically diverse backgrounds, immigrant and refugee women and
The National Council highlighted the need for robust data collection
systems to support prevention and early intervention services.
In the course of this inquiry, Women's Health Victoria noted the
importance of continued collection and analysis of data about the impact of family
It is important that data about the impact of domestic
violence...continue to be collected and analysed so that we can maintain an
accurate picture of its prevalence, and its health and social impact.
Effective data collection can illustrate whether the systems
are meeting the needs of victims and further identify and highlight gaps in
policy and services.
Similarly, the Aboriginal Family Law Services (WA) emphasised the need
for the 'development of a more coherent data collection system and evidence
From a foundation of reliable and consistent data, we will
gain a more accurate picture of how broadly this issue impacts on communities,
particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the remedies
we can employ to eliminate and prevent violence.
Barriers to data collection
The National Council summarised why collecting and analysing data on domestic
and family violence has been difficult:
Data on services sought by, and provided to, victims is not
readily available, and the way in which information is reported is generally
inconsistent and does not allow for a comprehensive understanding of violence
against women. Variations in data estimates across Australia are affected by
differences in what is captured, counted and reported across States and
There are also personal and institutional barriers in decision
making within and across systems that reduce the extent to which sexual assault
and domestic and family violence is disclosed and reported. This affects the
capacity of data to accurately reflect the real numbers of women and children
who experience this violence. The difficulty in measuring the true extent of
sexual assault and domestic and family violence in the community has been
These issues are discussed further below under two broad categories,
reporting domestic and family violence; and
the uniformity and consistency of data collected.
Reporting domestic and family
Evidence to the committee highlighted that the data available on the prevalence
of domestic and family violence is generally an underestimate because many
occurrences go unreported. For example, Professor Donna Chung, in a paper for
White Ribbon Australia – Understanding the Statistics about Male Violence
Against Women, emphasised that all statistics will underestimate the actual
extent of the problem:
At the outset, it is important to note that all statistics
about [male violence against women], regardless of their source, will be a
conservative or under-estimate of the actual extent of the problem. This is
because there will always be women who are understandably distressed or
embarrassed about having been subjected to such violence, and as such, do not
disclose or report it.
Mr John Paterson, Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Medical Services
Alliance Northern Territory, also noted the true extent of violence is
Aboriginal people may not report violent incidents if doing
so will result in a family member being removed from the community or
incarcerated. Women may also not be willing to report violence out of fear of
having their children removed from their care by child protection authorities.
The evidence to the committee indicates that it is difficult to assess
the extent of this underreporting. For example, the Australian Women Against
Violence Alliance (AWAVA) cited research from 2011 that estimated 90 per cent of
cases of domestic violence in Australia went unreported. Furthermore, AWAVA
A 2005 report found that in the twelve months preceding the
research period only 5% of women who had experienced violence from a current partner
had reported the last incident to police. This demonstrates that current
domestic violence statistics are a conservative estimation of the prevalence of
intimate partner violence and that actual rates of violence are estimated to be
The Redfern Legal Centre referred to 2012 research suggesting that only
50 per cent of victims of domestic violence report the abuse to the
The ABS observed that rates of reporting domestic and family violence
have improved over the last decade; however, estimates still suggest many
incidents still go unreported.
The ABS outlined some of the barriers that may prevent a victim from disclosing
an incident of domestic and family violence and seeking help:
fear of retaliation;
economic dependence on the perpetrator;
children or other family members suffering if the relationship
fear of not being believed;
fear/uncertainty of the criminal justice system;
fear of the perpetrator;
lack of access to support networks due to age, culture or
language barriers; and
not being able to frame the assault as criminal where the victim
does not understand that they are entitled to protection from sexual violence
even when in a relationship with the perpetrator.
A few submissions also referred to 'hidden reporting', where a victim
seeks assistance from a service but does not disclose domestic and family
violence as the reason for making contact with a service provider.
Uniformity and consistency of data
The National Plan explains why the problem of a lack of uniformity and
consistency in data occurs:
Jurisdictions collect and report different administrative
data on experience and perpetration of violence against women and their
children. This data is collected through systems such as policing, justice,
corrections, health and community services. These systems are often not
'linked-up', meaning the individual pathways of women and their children
experiencing violence, and of perpetrators, cannot be tracked across systems.
This presents a considerable barrier in determining which interventions are
most effective in supporting and protecting women.
Data is also often not comparable across jurisdictions, due
to different data definitions and collections. Making data consistent, and
developing a national picture around administrative data, is important in better
understanding the incidence and experience of violence against women and
Mr John Hinchey, the ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner, described this
problem as 'we get what we can rather than define what we want' in terms of data
Because there is no uniformity around data collection we are
reliant on each individual agency's data collection capacity. Therefore, we
seem to be approaching things from the wrong end. We get what we can rather
than define what we want. We are uncertain what this is telling us...We are at a
little bit of a loss at times as to what it is we are actually wanting to find
out, and how to find that out.
The National Plan
The National Council explained how, in its view, the deficiency in data
collection needs to be addressed through the National Plan:
A national minimum data set needs to be developed (including
a data dictionary and standard protocols) to enable consistent and standardised
data collection methods and analysis for sexual assault and domestic and family
violence. The development of common on-line databases that have the ability to
monitor individuals across the service sector and across jurisdictions (with,
for example, the use of a unique identifier) will also support accurate and meaningful
national data collection.
The National Council also proposed the establishment of a 'National
Centre of Excellence for the Prevention of Violence against Women':
A centralised, independent, and expert capability is needed
to coordinate evidence building and sharing through research, data collection,
data analysis, monitoring, evaluation and review...This body would:
provide a central point for
monitoring and reporting on the effects of the [National Plan];
provide a national resource for
the development of policy and benchmarks;
develop and promote
"gold-standard" practice to reduce violence against women and their
children across Australia;
create an international primary
point of contact for Australia's response to sexual assault, and domestic and family
establish alliances with
international observatories to grow and expand the nation's knowledge base.
To this end, one of the 'foundations for change' in each of the Action
Plans making up the National Plan will improve the evidence base.
This will be done through:
establishing a National Centre of Excellence to bring together
existing research, as well as undertake new research under an agreed National Research
Agenda that will reflect the research priorities of the Commonwealth, states
developing nationally consistent data definitions and collection
methods as part of a National Data Collection and Reporting Framework to be
operational by 2022, including mapping how data on violence against women and
their children can be improved; and
continuing to build the evidence base through conducting the
Personal Safety Survey and the National Community Attitudes Survey on a
four-yearly rolling basis.
The National Data Collection and Reporting Framework and the National
Centre of Excellence – now known as Australia's National Research Organisation
for Women's Safety (ANROWS) – are discussed below.
National Data Collection and
The National Plan states:
[T]he evidence base for work in domestic violence and sexual
assault will be improved through all jurisdictions' commitment to a national
data collection and reporting framework. In the long term, the aim is to create
nationally consistent data definitions and collection methods.
The data framework will be operational by 2022.
Under the First Action Plan, the ABS has worked with governments in the
early stages of developing the National Data Collection and Reporting
Framework. The ABS has also released two documents looking into certain aspects
of data collection:
Defining the data challenge for family, domestic and sexual
violence, which defines and describes family, domestic and sexual violence
and aims to put it into a statistically measurable context; and
Bridging the Data Gaps for Family, Domestic and Sexual
Violence, to analyse existing data to identify possible data gaps,
definitions and priorities.
However, the Implementation Plan for the First National Plan cautions
'it is unrealistic to expect consistent data within the first three-to-four
years of the National Plan'.
The Second Action Plan continues the work to develop the National Data
and Collection Reporting Framework:
The framework will work with existing national data collected
from state and territory systems and lay the foundation for building a common
language and a coordinated and consolidated approach to data collection.
It is envisaged that over the period of the Third Action Plan,
governments will have use of the improved data:
The Third Action Plan will deliver solid and continuing
progress in best practice policies, with governments using data of far greater
detail, accuracy and depth due to the improvements made in data collection and
The Department of Social Services stated in its submission:
The Commonwealth Government has allocated more than $100
million over the next four years to support the Second Action Plan...[and] around
$200 million has been committed to address violence against women and their
children between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2017.
This funding includes the following...$1.7 million to take the
next steps in developing a national data collection and reporting framework,
including $300,000 for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to augment data sets
on victims and offenders.
Support for the National Data
Collection and Reporting Framework
There was support for the development of a National Data Collection and
Reporting Framework. For example, Destroy the Joint stated:
The proposed National Data Collection and Reporting Framework
and related research efforts from the Australian National Research Organisation
for Women's Safety (ANROWS) is critical not only to ensure the safety of women
and children and others impacted by domestic violence in the community, but
also to communicating the true prevalence and impact of domestic violence in
Australia. In relation to the issue of reporting, recording and monitoring
data, we specifically commend Priority 5 in The Plan [continuing to build the
Challenges to establishing a
National Data Collection and Reporting Framework
Although there was support for the National Data Collection and
Reporting Framework, a number of challenges to its establishment were
identified. For example, the South Australian Government noted that the National
Data Collection and Reporting Framework will require commitment at all levels
The committee also received evidence expressing concern about the
resourcing of data collection. For example, Ms Marcia Williams, Chair of the
ACT Domestic Violence Prevention Council, referred to the importance of the
data collection and also to the difficulty it poses in terms of resources:
For us, the evidence collection in the second plan is really
critical. We do not have the capacity to get a lot of data. It is a hard thing
to do at a local, ACT level, even though we are small and we should be able to
do it. For us it is making sure that the national approach actually supports
all of the local jurisdictions as well, so we can get that data to understand
the real situation and influence it.
Mr John Hinchey, the ACT Victims of Crime Commission, expressed concern
that a lack of resources generally hampers efforts to coordinate data
I think the agencies are currently collecting data. They are
not going to be able to come together and reach agreement around benchmark data
collection and data sets and then move forward on that, because they are not
resourced to do it. No-one is resourced to pull this together to coordinate it,
to do a literature search, to work with the ABS, to come up with a framework of
data collection and then to monitor it, ensure that the data is collected and
then reported on quickly. I do not like harping about the lack of resources,
because it is a disempowering position to be in and it prevents people from
getting things done.
Improving data collection
The committee received suggestions for potential improvements to the categories
of data to be collected. For example, Our Watch suggested that the data
collection methodologies could be adapted for use at a local level:
Local governments have expressed interest in undertaking
surveys to establish their own baseline for prevention of violence against
women and their children and gender equality strategies. A system and tools to
make survey questions, and support for their delivery and analysis, available
to local governments and regions would provide enormous benefits to being able
to demonstrate progress in prevention as a result of local action.
The committee received a number of submissions calling for the
disaggregation of data, particularly in respect to vulnerable groups.
For example, the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia
Disaggregated data and research on the prevalence of domestic
and family violence within culturally and linguistically diverse communities
should be collated at a national level to determine the rates of violence and
the different variables and factors that influence it, including cultural or
ethnic background, economic status, level of education, religious/cultural
beliefs and location. The collected data and research should subsequently
inform the development of a targeted national strategy to tackle violence across
Similarly, the Inner City Legal Centre contended:
Data collection and reporting, disaggregated for gender and LGBTIQ
status, should be a priority for the judicial system and service providers at a
state and national level to enable research to be undertaken on the prevalence
and impact of domestic violence in LGBTIQ communities.
Women's Centre for Health Matters expressed the view:
Until these mechanisms [for large-scale data collection, such
as the PSS] are complemented by more detailed, cross-tabulated data from
sources that capture vulnerable, isolated population groups and people who
unlikely to report violence to authorities—data that is able to be
disaggregated by data items such as locality, disability status, gender
identity, and so on—then our understanding of the prevalence and impact of
domestic and family violence remains limited.
The ACT Women's Services Network called on the Commonwealth Government to
ensure that the ABS was adequately funded and resourced:
[T]o provide the gender-disaggregated and cross-tabulated
State/Territory data that is necessary for us to have meaningful data and to
establish the rates of violence including against vulnerable groups like women
with disabilities, women from culturally and linguistically diverse
backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and gay, lesbian,
transgender and intersex people.
Destroy the Joint called for 'an official information page [to] be
established where Australians can access accurate, unbiased data and facts on domestic
and family violence in a format which is easily understood'.
Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety
The National Plan states that '[a]ll governments recognise that outcomes
for women and their children could be improved by governments working more
collaboratively through building the evidence base, sharing information and
The role and function of ANROWS, as articulated in the National Plan, is to:
[B]ring together existing research, as well as undertake new
research under an agreed national research agenda. Through pursuing research in
a cohesive national way there will be greater opportunities to support research
which is more responsive to policy makers' and service providers' needs.
National research will fill gaps in knowledge and help increase the
understanding of issues across different sectors such as health, justice,
education and housing.
ANROWS was officially launched in May 2014 as an independent, not-for-profit
organisation, jointly funded by the Commonwealth and all state and territory
In its submission ANROWS described its mission as:
[T]o deliver relevant and translatable research evidence
which drives policy and practice leading to a reduction in the incidence and
impacts of violence against women and their children by 2022.
National Research Agenda
One of the priorities of the Second Action Plan is continuing to build
the evidence base, including expanding the quality and quantity of national
research on violence against women and their children through the
implementation of the National Research Agenda:
In the second half of 2013, ANROWS conducted considerable
consultation across sectors to inform the development of the National Research
Agenda to shape and guide national research on violence against women and their
The National Research Agenda was endorsed by all Australian
governments and released on 16 May 2014. It will inform the development of
research by a range of institutions, academics, governments and community
The National Research Agenda is organised into four 'Strategic Research
inequality and primary prevention;
responses and interventions;
The Second Action Plan states:
Common across all Strategic Research Themes is the need to
focus research effort on "what works" and on diverse groups and
under-researched populations, including Indigenous women, women from CALD
communities and women with disability.
At the public hearing in Sydney, Dr Mayet Costello, Research Manager, ANROWS,
provided the committee with the following information on work ANROWS is
undertaking to support the National Research Agenda:
[On 31 October 2014 ANROWS] launched our first-ever research
program, which is for the 2015-2016 financial year...We have 20 projects that we
launched [with] a combined total value of approximately $3.5 million, so it is
a very large and ambitious research program. It is probably the biggest in this
area in Australia. We have a really ambitious reach with our research
program—we have sites in every Australian state and territory, including a
number of national projects with sites across the country. We have a spread
focusing on both types of violence—sexual assault and domestic and family
violence—as well as particular priority population groups that have been
identified under the national plan and the national research agenda. We have
particular projects on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women with
disability, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and
women from rural and remote areas; as well as projects on other issues like
younger women and the correlation between mental health and drugs and alcohol
and violence against women. We are currently in the process of establishing a
perpetrator interventions research stream with dedicated funding from the
Commonwealth government, which is $1 million per annum over a three year program.
Dr Costello also noted ANROWS has a number of potential further research
projects which are currently unfunded:
We have a waiting list of eight projects, which are very
worthy and very interesting projects, and we are hoping that if funding is identified
throughout the financial year—through savings and other measures within our
organisation—we will be able to fund additional projects. We are planning to
release the second stage of our research program in about the middle of next
year with whatever else we can put together. The remaining eight projects have
an approximate value of $1.8 million.
Funding for ANROWS
In its submission, ANROWS noted that it is only funded for three years, receiving
$3 million per annum for the period 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2016, which means its
funding is due to expire six years before the end of the National Plan.
Dr Costello explained to the committee that the short period of funding
presented some challenges to ANROWS' research work:
The short funding period is a little bit of a challenge for
ANROWS in that building a rigorous, robust and academically credible research
program is a bit of a challenge in the shorter term, particularly given that
longer-term research, such as longitudinal research, is really important for
understanding the effectiveness of programs and service delivery, such as
programs working with men who use violence. Unless we do research before, after
and some time after an intervention it is very hard to actually provide
compelling evidence on effectiveness.
Dr Costello identified two key areas which would benefit from
longitudinal research, namely prevention research and service intervention:
In terms of prevention...the emerging research on prevention
tends to look at process oriented evaluation. Was a program run well? Did
people fill out their evaluation forms? Did people engage? Did people attend?
What is not as well understood and cannot be followed up without longitudinal
research is if those initiatives or programs result in behaviour change and/or
attitude change, and is that sustained over time? Some of the very preliminary
research suggests there are mixed evaluation results at six months and/or two
years post intervention. It is absolutely crucial. Process will only tell you
so much and it will only tell you whether or not something was well run. It
will not actually tell you if something was effective. If we want to make a
change to this issue—if we want attitudinal change and we want behavioural
change—then we need to follow up at longer periods of time post intervention.
Similarly, with men who use violence—and bearing in mind that
our perpetrator interventions research is very much in its nascent stages—there
is the similar issue, particularly for interventions that are court mandated or
socially mandated...What we know is that the closer they are to that mandate,
such as court order, the more likely they are to comply. What we do not know is
post that mandate—and even during that for some men—how effective the
intervention is. How likely are they to repeat or to reoffend in terms of their
violence? So longitudinal research that looks at effectiveness and outcomes is
important. One of the key things for both prevention and interventions with
people who use violence is that we do not have a good quantum of effective
measures for what constitutes success.
Dr Costello indicated that some of ANROWS' projects have research
timeframes beyond ANROWS June 2016 funding:
Again, recognising the need for a very strong research
program, we have determined that two years is the maximum that we can support.
That means that, technically, a number of our two-year programs or projects
will extend beyond the date of our funding agreement. We made it until the end
of December 2016 with the understanding that if we were not funded past that
point then we would be able to transfer; our constitution has provisions for
closure, and we would be able to transfer some of those contracts to a like
organisation and/or to the Commonwealth government potentially to finish those
contracts. So it is an issue.
ANROWS' submission argued for a longer-term funding commitment:
A longer-term funding commitment, at least to the end of the
National Plan in 2022, is necessary to enable ANROWS to fulfil its potential
including support for longer term research projects, which are crucial in
understanding, for example, the effects of perpetrator intervention programs.
To illustrate this point, the recent open grants applications process conducted
by ANROWS, resulted in 50 applications for research projects to address current
gaps in the evidence base with a total value of approximately $15 million.
Support for ANROWS
A number of submissions supported the establishment of ANROWS within the
framework of the National Plan. For example, the Central Australian Women's
Legal Service stated:
We welcome the establishment of national responses to
domestic violence such as the National Plan and its associated Action Plans, as
well as the related initiatives including the establishment of the Foundation
to Prevent Violence Against Women [Our Watch] and the Australian National
Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).
The submission on behalf of the Tasmanian Government stated:
It is important that the National Plan continues to support
its flagship activities including the Foundation to Prevent Violence Against
Women and their Children [Our Watch] and [ANROWS] to build the
evidence and best practice in primary prevention that will support the needs of
women living with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
While there was support for ANROWS, there were also reservations
expressed about its work. Associate Professor Dea Delaney-Thiele, Chief
Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's
Alliance (NATSIWA), argued that NATSIWA should be involved in ANROWS' work on
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities:
If not [NATSIWA], it needs to involve the communities. The
community needs to be part of a process...I only make the comments about it
because I believe that research needs to be separate from government and be an
I really believe that there needs to be Aboriginal governance
and control over the health research agenda.
The Multicultural Centre for Women's Health cautioned that ANROWS' work
was only part of the necessary research required:
Comprehensive and detailed research is needed so that violence
prevention initiatives may be evidence based. There has...never been any
comprehensive nationally-focused research that investigates the specific
experiences of violence of immigrant and refugee women as a group in Australia.
While [ANROWS] recently called for submissions from researchers and community
groups to conduct research into the incidence and prevalence of violence
against immigrant and refugee women, the findings of only one research project
will not provide the evidence base needed to inform response, early
intervention and prevention programs and strategies across Australia. Further
and more diverse research, providing both qualitative and quantitative data,
and exploring the full range of issues, across the full diversity of women as
they vary according to geography, culture, migration status, age, ethnicity and
The committee also received recommendations for specific areas on which
ANROWS should focus its research. For example, Women with Disabilities Victoria
That the Australian Government and ANROWS [should] support
research into people who choose to use violence against women with disabilities
across the range of domestic settings they live in, in particular with regard
to residential care settings. Research can inform practice guidelines for
services, violence responses and preventions.
Women's Centre for Health Matters identified two areas for further
research by ANROWS:
undertake research to create a national definition of gender
equality, a vision of what success would look like, and strategies for
achieving it; and
undertake research that enhances our understanding of which
aspects of gender inequality have the greatest impact on the prevalence of
The committee strongly agrees with witnesses as to the importance of
effective national data collection and research in order to determine
appropriate policies to address domestic and family violence. The committee
notes the limitations on data regarding the prevalence and impact of domestic
and family violence, and supports the measures in the National Plan to improve
the evidence base.
National Data Collection and
The committee understands that the development of the National Data Collection
and Recording Framework is in its preliminary stages. The committee appreciates
that under the National Plan jurisdictions have agreed to have the framework
fully operational by 2022 and notes that, realistically, consistent data under
the framework is unlikely to start to be generated and used until the period of
the Third Action Plan, that is 2016-2019.
The committee is supportive of the initiative to collect nationally
consistent data, however, the committee shares the concerns of witnesses that a
lack of resources could, potentially, be a constraint on agencies ability to
collect and collate data pursuant to the framework.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government lead and
coordinate the work to facilitate data collection pursuant to the National Data
Collection and Reporting Framework.
In the committee's view, Our Watch's suggestion that a system and tools
for making survey questions, delivery and data analysis available to
organisations such as local governments appears reasonable. Given the strong
emphasis on developing a consistent data collection framework in the National
Plan, and the work already carried out by the ABS, it seems sensible to enable
organisations to undertake the collection of data on domestic and family
violence where they are willing and have the resources to do so.
The committee recommends that the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and
other relevant organisations, investigate the feasibility of developing systems
and tools which would enable survey questions, delivery and data analysis
developed pursuant to the National Data Collection and Reporting Framework to
be modified and made available for organisations to use on a local level.
The committee received a number of submissions calling for the
disaggregation of data on domestic and family violence according to specific
categories of information. Given that the National Plan envisages governments
'using data of greater detail, accuracy and depth'
by the period of the Third Action Plan, the committee assumes that the work
currently being done by the ABS to develop the National Data Collection
Reporting Framework would ensure that the data identified for collection is
able to be disaggregated in a wide variety ways. However, for the record, the
committee encourages the ABS to work with interested stakeholders to address
their needs in terms of the disaggregation of data.
Australia's National Research
Organisation for Women's Safety
In the committee's opinion, the establishment of ANROWS is a key
initiative under the National Plan. The committee believes that the results and
findings from ANROWS' research program will make a significant contribution to 'fill[ing]
gaps in knowledge and help increase the understanding of issues'.
The committee is pleased to note the ANROWS research program which includes
projects on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women with disability,
women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and women from
rural and remote areas.
However, in the committee's view, the fact that ANROWS only has funding
until June 2016 is disappointing. Especially considering that this timeframe
for funding means that some projects in ANROWS' current (and first) research
round do not even have funding certainty for the entirety of a two-year
project. The committee also believes that there is a strong case for funding
longitudinal research into prevention and intervention initiatives.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government provide
necessary secure funding to ANROWS until at least the end of the implementation
of the National Plan in 2022 to provide for the continuation of its
research work and to enable ANROWS to conduct longitudinal research.
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