To Canstruct: Please reconsider taking on Nauru

My Email to Canstruct

Hi Folks,

Disappointed you are considering becoming further complicit in the Australian Governments continuing abuse of our Human Rights obligations.

Until we all tell the Government the majority of Australians want no business in abuse they will continue with this trainwreck of a policy.

I see from your website you have a history of carrying out projects of impact on the well-being of communities by the provision of much needed infrastructure.

Taking on the Nauru contract appears to be moving the company in exactly the opposite direction.

As a QLDer, I hope you reconsider this contract – Australia needs to be better than the actions of our current ethically challenged federal Government.

Regards,
Brian Hobby

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Time for more Collusion on Tax?

I don’t mind paying tax

That might sound odd to many, but living in Australia I like the benefits paying my tax brings.

I have public health that works – when my son had a nasty attack of croup when young we had paramedics arrive within minutes and the hospital was exceptional in their care and attention.

All courtesy of Tax.

In a society that historically looks after the less fortunate as one would look after your mate, tax is the thing that allows that to happen.

Think of it as distributed “mateship” 😀

We also benefit from a public school system that on the whole does an excellent job of education – my son attends the local public High School and it is doing a fine job of making him learn, and more importantly think.

Businesses and Tax

Businesses and Global companies currently seem to be doing a great job of avoiding paying any tax at all – and complaining bitterly if they do.

Most of them claim they want “political stability” an “educated workforce” with the “skills to grow their business” as key to where they will locate their operations.

Hmmmm, know what provides those things they want? Generally Governments via funding supported by taxable income. I see very few companies running universities training the graduates they require for engineering, commerce, PR or HR.

So to me it seems like businesses appear that they do not want to contribute to help provide the things they say that they want? I have a sneaking suspicion that you would hear Facebook, Apple, Google and similar screaming very loudly if they suddenly couldn’t find any programmers because none were trained as the Universities folded due to lack of funding.

Why is it happening

It’s my very simplistic view it’s because currently global laws are different country to country and smart lawyers and accountants have found ways to let the companies “shop around” to find the lowest (or no) tax approach.

Secondly in some countries they literally buy the government – looking at you America at present and Australia’s policical donations policies.

It appears that the big finance advisors are doing a great job of informing many how to minimise tax with “Double Irish Dutch sandwich” double speak and similar – it almost looks like their could be collusion… surely not.

Is More Collusion the answer?

I was having a random thought while walking the dog, as you do, and wondered what if all Governments took a leaf out of the “Companies Book” and globally colluded on minimum Tax Rates and approaches.

Something simple like 25% of all profits made by any entity in any country is paid in tax in that country – doesn’t matter if it is an arm of a multinational, you pay locally on what you make locally.

And a few riders on inter business entity loan interest rates while we are at it along the lines of loans to be sourced from local finance institutions if possible in the first instance. If not, then there better be a VERY good reason for interest rates to be higher than best current global commercial rates…..

Not suggesting for a moment that anyone drop tax rates if they are higher (go Norway) but that Governments collude and put a brick under the minimum rate globally so we (and companies) get the services, stability, skills and societies we say we want.

If it’s the same minimum everywhere it would have the potential to stop the shopping around and many of the constant complaints of “it’s lower in Singapore, Ireland, Holland, Panama, etc”

Nothing comes for free, and tax is what we currently choose to fund those things that keep society functioning, so how about more companies actually contribute to help support those things they say they want delivered.

Hunting an Electric Vehicle in Australia

In search of my electric car

I’ve wanted to own an electric vehicle for many years now. The one I really want no one makes yet and is potentially going to be as rare as a unicorn.

It’s a 5 seat fully electric convertible with over 200km of range

(it also needs to be “cool” enough that my teenage son will consent to being dropped off at school in it occasionally.)

Why do I want one?

I’m an engineer, electric cars make sense to me and I’ve wanted one for a long time. I’m also rather passionate about my personal footprint on the planet and an EV makes sense for that.

But, it needs to meet a few fairly specific conditions to make it into our house:

  • We are hot hatch fans (current cars VW Golf hatch and Golf Cabriolet)
  • Needs to seat 5 (family plus school friends / grandparents)
  • Needs over 200km range, because Australia, or PHEV with 50km EV range for  zero emission commute
  • Can probably stretch to $70k ish as we can trade in

I’ve been following Fully Charged on Youtube and am rather envious of many cars that would almost meet our needs, problem is, we can’t get them in Australia.

So what can I get?

So what has crossed my radar and why don’t I have one yet?

  • BMW i3, test drove, son won’t be seen dead in it – sorry design folks, missed with the cool kids
  • VW Golf GTE, would do the trick, I’ve been asking VW Australia for 3 years when it’s coming in – crickets! Would prefer a Polo GTE but that’s not in the wild yet
  • Nissan Leaf – Range and see the i3 😀
  • GM Volt – 4 seats and can’t buy here anymore
  • GM Bolt – currently not going to be available here
  • Renault Zoe ZE 40 – would probably buy tomorrow if they had a red one and imported into Australia – I asked and they don’t intend bringing it in
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV – see the i3 and teenage son
  • Mitsubishi Outlander – I must be the only male I know that doesn’t want an SUV, and neither does my wife
  • Tesla – the 3 might do it for me, but 2 years away minimum at this point. Rest of the range is too big to fit in my garage or my budget
  • Audi A3 e-tron – hmmm this one has potential………… drives well and the teenager doesn’t hate it…………….

Decision time

I’m going to give it a few months to see if VW, Renault or GM bring something in that I can compare the A3 e-tron to – I don’t hold out much hope given their poor record so far.

I am early adopter in the sustainability space, my first solar panels went up in 2008 and I’ve been attempting to get my family into a zero/low emission car since they’ve been on the market.

I’ve been let down badly by Australia’s political lack of vision in addressing emission reduction. A few appropriate policy levers could have seen Australia at the front of the “innovation” pack and still having a car industry.

I suspect that later this year you may well find me commuting fossil free – either by A3 e-tron or my Smart Motion electric bike.

Someone has to start the ball rolling to convince the rest 😀

piccy of Audi A3 e-tron

Higher education needs to be accessible to all

My submission to the Senate….

Dear Senators,

I was the first of my family and the only one of 3 kids in the house to go to university; it was several years back now when it was almost free for anyone to maximise their academic potential.

I have an Electrical engineering degree and I hope that as a result I’ve made a positive difference to our society that more than repays the investment that it made in my education.

If fees were at the levels they are today I have a strong suspicion that I would not have bothered with university and potentially become a tradesman like my father; if fees rise to the level they are anticipated to then I definitely would not have been attending.

My view is that investing in education from schools through to tertiary is an investment in the country’s future that more than repays itself over time.

I think the reasons that countries like Germany continue to perform well is that they understand that a society that easily allows everyone to achieve what they are capable of helps all of society.

Recently Germany started down the path of fees and are in the process of rescinding that decision for the most part http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/germanys-great-tuition-fees-u-turn/2011168.article.

I believe that the proposed fee changes to higher education will stop many people gaining the knowledge and skills that could assist our society in adapting to a changing planet and changing global world.

Please ensure these changes do not occur and if possible look at ways of making education more accessible for all that wish to pursue it.

Brian Hobby

My child asks why, Why, WHY? WHY!

By Brian Hobby

Do your offspring drive you batty with the “why?” question?

This was our approach with the boy of many, many, many, many questions……

As our boy got to the 3 to 4 year old inquisitive stage his thirst for knowledge sent him down the why,why,why,why,why path.

I think it is even worse than the “are we there yet?” question as that is confined to the car and was easily diverted with I spy at that age.

The nominal adults in the house were discussing the shift at length and my wife said “why don’t we try what my parents did to me?” I asked her to tell me more….

Well it turns out that it was no more than explaining to the lad that “why?” was not a valid question and that neither parent would be answering it from now on! If he wanted an answer then he needed to think about what it was that he “actually” wanted to know and ask exactly that. Starting with why was OK but there needed to be more words to follow it.

As with all things parenting, we both applied it consistently, when we got a why, we would go “that’s not a real question, what do you actually want to know?” In fairly short order we had interesting discussions on why the sky was blue, why there are so many different types of cars, what are clouds and where did the earth planet come from. The trick was to start with a simple explanation and see if that answered it, if not then get slightly more detailed and check again. Often once he knew the simple answer he was happy and went back to thinking up the next real question!

For us it worked a treat! Interestingly talking to his 1st year teacher at the parent teacher interview she commented that “your son asks such interesting and well thought out questions” we looked at each other, grinned, and told her why.

Payback is sweet, not long ago the lad was explaining something to us as we were traveling in the car and I asked why? He explained, I asked why again – to which he retorted, Dad “why isn’t a proper question” I think we taught him well!

 

The Blank Slate, scarier than public speaking?

by Brian Hobby

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The empty page, inviting the first words…….

I think I find it scarier and more difficult than public speaking.

We’ve all been there, “I’d like a report on……” that comes from your manager, in my role as an engineer “I need to design something that………” or in my spare time as a community theatre tech “We’ve found a really good play, bit technically challenging though, thought you might have some ideas……”

Where do you start?

I know where I usually go – is there some prior art I can steal shamelessly from, ah reuse appropriately with permission. Works well for reports in large companies, usually someone has done it before and it at least gives you an approach. There’s lots of report writing advice out there as well that you can benefit from. But something that no one has done before, a clean unblemished sheet of paper waiting for your thoughts and ideas to flow across it’s surface? That’s intimidating!

Engineers generally have standards to work to, but they are what I term “current best accepted practice” and they are continually updated (slowly and deliberately) as technology changes and new materials are created for us to fiddle with and understand – concrete and electricity were new fangled things once. Where do these ideas come from?

I think it is my theatre technical design that gives me the most insight into ideas and the generation of something new and unique.

For me it goes like this, I get handed a script, I read it – several times usually, with a notepad by my side to jot down what passages make me feel; if I get glimpses of what I think may work on stage, note those too. Then put it all aside, let the subconscious work on it. I’m a great believer in letting the subconscious do it’s work, it’s not for nothing that we say “let’s sleep on it”.

I then discuss with the director and creative team what they have in their head as a vision of what they would like to see on stage, and what glimpses and thoughts have fleetingly occurred to me; then I re-read the script and make copious notes about lighting and sound; all in pencil as they will change! I generally find at this point I have lots of ideas as my subconscious has been brewing on it for sometime.

The rest is as with many things the 99% perspiration that  goes into many of our endeavours, the sheer grunt work of making it happen.

I find a similar process works for me in the reports and engineering space, do the initial reading / research / background, ask your subconscious some questions and park it for a while. Sometimes that can be be over lunch while I get away from my desk (you do get away from your desk I hope?) and do something else; if time permits it may be a few days. I usually find when I come back to the blank sheet it is crying out for my thoughts and ideas.

So yes a blank sheet is a very scary proposition for me, partly because I often have no idea where to start; and partly because I have no idea what journey it may take me on…….

Climate Change, Politics, and 9 year olds……

by Brian Hobby

Driving home from burning sausages for the intermission nibbles at my community theatre of choice my son and I were chatting as you do – about the weather – and that led to the topic of climate change; followed closely by politics.

Warning; the lad is the progeny of an engineer and a chemist so he leans in the maths/science direction.

His immediate statements were “what do the scientists say?” followed closely by “What is the government doing to solve it, because science says it’s occurring so it’s the government’s job to act on what the scientists say ……” (very evidence based is my son and not big on religion either)

His view is that the evidence is in so we should all act on it, and as the government is charged with doing the correct thing for the people it governs it is their “job” to get on with it.

Sometimes I wish I could see things with the clarity of a 9 year old!

I had to disappoint him with the fact that the current government didn’t even have a minister for science, let alone have a decent plan to deal with climate change. His response was pretty much “WHAT!” Followed closely by so what do the government actually care about? That got me thinking, how to break the major parties down into chunks digestible by a 9 year old……..

So I went, the Liberal party tends to be about letting business get on with it and letting the market sort things out. Unfortunately this often means it’s about the money, and some people think that money is only important thing. He quickly said what about friends and the environment, if you don’t have them money isn’t much use!

Then I said, the usual opposition party is Labor, they came originally from the trades areas – you know builders and all the people that helped extend the house. They tend to be about a fair society, making sure there is medical care for everyone and that no one gets left out; oh and they did an ok job of starting on the climate change problem. Hmmm he went.

Ok I said, then we get to the smaller parties like the Greens, their main areas of interest tend to be looking after the environment, but they also want to look after all the people like Labor and encourage more cycling and thinking about how to do things smarter; oh they are also for making sure everyone gets a good education and acting on what science tells us.

The discussion ranged far and wide across what it all meant and what can we do about it, how does voting work and could 1 vote make a difference. In the current Senate election I said it has literally come to 1 vote deciding the outcome – WOW he responded.

As we closed on home and the impending bath and bedtime stories, he confided quietly to me “I think I like the Greens the best

 

What to Eat?

by Brian Hobby

It’s an interesting question, and one that gets discussed a lot in our house. Our son has an intolerance to Azo dye food colourings which are allowed in Australia and New Zealand but not in many other places. As a result much of our food is prepared from scratch using fresh ingredients; it wasn’t unusual in our house anyway as we both enjoying our cooking.

But it begs the question what else is in our food that isn’t particularly good for us?

I heard a fascinating comment a while ago “if your Grandmother wouldn’t recognise it as food then it probably isn’t” and that cuts to the heart of it really.

I was in the greengrocer today topping up on fruit and vege and the owner commented that many customers don’t understand why there aren’t strawberries all year and get slightly peeved at her as a result. In a society that is divorced from the food chain by the agricultural industrial complex it is very easy to forget that what we put in our mouths came from somewhere beyond the shop. In some instances the product came from what is basically a chemical refinery and only has the vaguest hint of food about it.

There have been some pretty interesting things coming to the surface about sugar as well, and it seems that most manufacturers are in a race to see who can make the sweetest product to tempt us. Case in point, our usual tomato sauce brand changed it’s label. This caused me to check old against new – sure enough 2% more sugar. The next supermarket trip the boy and I had fun choosing the new brand that was as low sugar as we could find (and as little everything else as well!)

So my thoughts in no particular order:

  • Fresh first and foremost, we cook from scratch much of the time
  • When in the supermarket I’m not a label pedant but will always check a new item or do a comparison against similar occasionally
  • Pick the lowest sugar option, that often means the full fat better tasting option. If it’s  low fat it’s usually low taste due to how our taste-buds work so they add sugar to cover it up
  •  If we are out for dinner don’t worry too much as the occasional treat means you don’t binge. I find myself tending toward the salads though……
  • Try and eat a range of things, variety is good – convincing the 9 year old can take some doing though

So our approach tends to be everything in moderation; including the glasses of red!

 

A Path Through Redundancy

By Brian Hobby

After many years working for the same company “my role became redundant“.

Pay attention to the exact words, they are important; as words always are. I’m a believer in the power of words to influence how we see things and in an emotionally charged environment like redundancy discussions words are particularly important.

The important distinction here is “role“; you are not redundant.

Many people I know have had at least 1, if not more, roles become redundant on them – all of them are excellent and skilled folks at the leading edge of competency in what they do.

It’s not about you, it’s very seldom if ever actually about you. My view is that if more people stepped back and realised that it would make it far more pleasant for everybody.

So what was my reaction to that? Well, I’d been partly expecting it but it still comes as a shock, even if you are prepared. I’ve done various courses thanks to work over my many varied roles so I took a deep breath and applied some of it.

One of the things I’ve learnt is that all events are just that, events. We can choose how to react to them. So after taking that deep breath I chose to see it as positive, and an opportunity.

Having been at the organisation for a while the payout was reasonable. I also had some leave plus long service owing so was in no immediate need of finding paying work. I am forever grateful to my wife who pushed me to take the leave and figure out what I really wanted to do next; the condition was the house renovations got finished. This wasn’t a bad thing as the physical work freed the mind somewhat to drift and think about what next…..

Part of the redundancy package was support from Lee Hecht Harrison whom I can thoroughly recommend. This drove me to look hard at what I really wanted to do and what roles may appeal; as well as examining how I work and what is important to me in the workplace. It also triggered much thinking about what is important to me in life.

My short list of priorities:

  • Health – without that you have nothing
  • My Son and not missing him growing up (meaning you need to YouTube don’t you know)
  • My Wife and my relationship with her
  • Community and Environment
  • Live Theatre (my Brisbane theatre home CTG and a recent review of why I do this)

Interesting to note that work doesn’t feature there at all! From my discussions with others through my life thus far I’ve had several conversations with parents of “grown up” children who have expressed regret that they “missed their kids growing up” because they were working too much. An article that crossed my various info feeds confirmed as much from the palliative care perspective.

So with much thinking and personal development under my belt many discussions were had about what would work for us as a family. My wife regularly travels in her job so I’m the primary carer of our son. Given all the other constraints the major simple gauge for if something would work for us was “did it let me extract the boy from school at 1500hrs every day”.

Over the time I was finishing the renovations several roles piqued my interest, could have had several of them, but even with most companies paying lip service to “flexible working hours” they weren’t prepared to allow me to extract the boy daily. I found that when you interview for a job if you have a set of criteria that you know you must meet for it to work for your family the decision on taking the role or not becomes much simpler. The other freeing factor was that we as a family didn’t “need” me to be bringing in extra money. We are both financially conservative and generally try to function so that only one of us needs a job.

There is nothing so empowering when you interview for a job as knowing you don’t have to take it!

My other tip is if you are looking for work don’t be afraid to let your circles know about it. You never know what will turn up in a conversation – for example it turns out my neighbour worked for a recruiting company and a fellow theatre tech remote lectured for the Engineering Institute of Technology.

So where am I now? Well keep your networks alive because as a result of conversations over coffee with a contractor who worked for me I got a phone call that went “are you bored being at home yet? I’ve got a casual role piloting what we were talking about over coffee all those months ago, are you interested?” Well the answer was yes and it lets me extract the boy at 1500hrs every day. It turns out that EIT needed some of my technical teaching skills as well so I’m a contract lecturer for them too which means some early mornings and not too late evenings which fit nicely with the family needs.

I still maintain that any decade now I’ll actually know what I really want to do!

if you could have a super power which one would it be and why?

While out walking the dog in the forest my son and I were chatting about many random things as you do.

He then asked “if you could have a super power which one would it be and why”

The discussion got very interesting from that point, what would being super strong help you do? how about flying? what would spidermans tools let you do?

Then he said “what about reading minds?” This led to “wouldn’t it be great to know when someone was going to do something bad so you could stop it”; followed closely by the “just because you think it you may not actually do it” – how many people have you thought about killing? (several spring to my mind)

We then discussed what is bad/good and who says so and drifted out into cultural differences on the globe and how what is acceptable one place may not be acceptable in others.

All in all a good way to pass time while enjoying being out it the greenery, and a small step on the path to turning the lad into a useful member of society.