Jul 24
I’m not a lobbyist yet
Posted by Colin in Writing on 07 24th, 2014| | Comments Off

Hi there. I’m back from 3 years as a political staffer, working for Senator Richard Di Natale in the federal parliament. It was an amazing experience, working under high pressure but for an amazing boss and as part of a dedicated and united team. I will have more to say on it later on. For now, I wrote about some of what I learned from Canberra’s lobbyists in Crikey last week:

As the 12 new senators who took their seats last week are finding out, being a member of Parliament brings with it both perks and liabilities. Along with the comcar, a plush seat inside the chamber and the discreet lapel pin (red for senators, green for reps) that all 226 MPs receive comes another certainty: a steady stream of lobbyists through the door. I witnessed this during three years as a political staffer dealing with lobbyists of all stripes.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

Feb 14
Value for NBN Money
Posted by Colin in Opinion, Politics, Writing on 02 14th, 2011| | Comments Off

In the last few days I’ve found myself agreeing with Stephen Conroy again – always an unsettling experience. This time it was over the Economist Intelligence Unit’s recent ranking of Government broadband policies. They are pretty biased towards free market solutions, and so a massive government intervention like the NBN is unlikely to get top marks. (3.4/5 ain’t that bad, really.)

I wrote about this for New Matilda which you can read here: Actually, We’re Not Paying More For Less

Jan 14
Jobs rant; and I’m a dirty bastion
Posted by Colin in Opinion, Writing on 01 14th, 2011| | 1 Comment »

Nothing sets my bullshit detector off like an industry lobbyist talking about saving jobs. The harder the industry works to keep labor costs down by cutting pay and benefits, the louder they will yell about protecting workers when policy heads in a direction they don’t like. I sound off on this in a piece over at The Punch today:

There are a lot of tricks and short cuts taken in modern discourse, with its short attention span and abundance of professional spin doctors. In particular, when discussing policy there is a certain word which is often uttered as if it was magic spells that can silence one’s detractors…

Keep reading over at their site. Now, to get to work on a piece about the use of the word “security” by governments.

I also appeared on the 7PM Project again this week, where I am now a pretty regular contributor. This time I was talking about Vodafone’s privacy fiasco which was revealed last weekend. This appearance prompted an article at Delimiter entitled “Colin Jacobs, you bastion of common sense.” It’s nice to know somebody is watching and appreciates the work – thanks!

Dec 25
Recent writing
Posted by Colin in Writing on 12 25th, 2010| | Comments Off

I hope to have a productive January with writing, including finishing my most bizarre project, a short children’s book in Mandarin. In the meantime, here are two articles I recently wrote for the web:

Politicians struggling to cope with that interwebby thing in The Punch

Free speech is sexy again for New Matilda, who thankfully will be continue publishing in 2011.

I also made another appearance on Mike Jeffrey’s show on 2UE this week. Have a listen below.

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Have a chill week.

Oct 13
North Korea first impressions
Posted by Colin in Writing on 10 13th, 2010| | 1 Comment »

Note: I also wrote a short piece for Crikey on the subject yesterday.

I returned to China a few days ago after a week in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Every minute of the trip was fascinating, and I have many new insights into the place that I would never have gotten reading the news media. I saw things and experienced many incidents which were funny, disturbing and impressive. It was certainly unlike any place I have ever visited.

Here are a few brief initial thoughts, which I will expand on in the coming days.

Impressions of Pyongyang and the countryside

Pyongyang is a city of some 3 million people, and is well built-up at least in comparison to a typical Australian city. Apartment buildings are everywhere, uniform in style and often topped with a gigantic propaganda message reminding the populace of some crucial fact or duty – “Korea will prevail!”.

The city has an extraordinary number of enormous monuments and monumental buildings – political assemblies, museums, squares, memorials. The size and scale of these was impressive. However, the city did not feel crowded. It certainly did not feel like a bustling Asian capital. The main freeway out of town, at parts a 10-lane road, had only the occasional vehicle ambling along, dwarfed by the enormous thoroughfare. The scale of all this highly unnecessary construction would be impressive in any country, but is staggering in a nation as poor as North Korea. Much of the main construction, such as the mausoleum, was constructed during years of famine.

The central district of the city is reasonably small – though there are hundreds of apartment buildings and dozens of enormous national monuments, it felt like we only had to drive 10 minutes in any direction to reach the countryside. There, every square inch of flat land was given over to cultivation.

I only noticed one brief power outage while I was there, though at night the city was pretty dimly lit by our standards.

Life in North Korea

Most of what one reads about North Korea is very negative. This doesn’t mean it’s true, or necessarily even one-sided, but it can distort one’s view of what the daily life must be like. For instance, I didn’t expect to go to an amusement park in Pyongyang that had lots of happy families enjoying the rides. (I went on a few and they were excellent, better than what Luna Park has to offer.) North Koreans focus on their daily lives and family relationships as much as anybody, and the whole day isn’t given over to ceaseless labor and political brainwashing.

With that qualification, I can say that the DPRK is an incredibly regimented society. Almost everybody I saw was in uniform. The city didn’t look crowded, except when a rally was in progress, and I saw quite a few of those. The city is gearing up for celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers’ Party, and rehearsals, exhortations and meetings were constantly in progress, with thousands upon thousands of city residents lined up in ranks and files to listen or practice.

Outside the city, red flags marked the locations where work units were working in the fields or on constructions sites. Every North Korean has a place in a work unit, which makes one wonder how an enemy spy could possibly infiltrate the country. In the DPRK everybody has a place and knows it.

The DPRK worldview

The convention wisdom would have it that North Koreans are told they live in the most prosperous nation on earth, thanks to the wisdom of their great leaders. This is not the case – they know they are doing it hard, and that Westerners and South Koreans are doing much better. The rationing, shortages and hard work North Koreans experience is of course not attributed to mismanagement, but to the country’s wartime footing.

North Korea is like Blitz-era Britain; a country under siege, with a well-defined enemy, marshalling all its resources to hang on. Blame the U.S. Imperialists for the tough conditions – but we can take it! For a small nation to stand up to the combined might of the world’s superpower, a few sacrifices are necessary, but at least we are free.

Of course, the North Koreans are still largely ignorant of life in the outside world. But it’s hard not to have a grudging respect for the “live free or die” mentality, even if it’s based on lies.

The cult of personality

In the West, we like to make fun of the cult of personality surrounding the Great Leader Kim Il Sung and the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. The reality was probably even more bizarre than this mockery would suggest.

North Koreans take their leaders very seriously – every citizen over the age of 15 constantly sports a pin depicting Kim Il Sung on their left breast, no matter what they are wearing. Almost every room one enters, save the bathrooms, sports the portraits of the leaders, and of course Pyongyang sports a 20m-high statue of Kim Il Sung. The monument itself is dwarfed by the eternal President’s mausoleum, which dwarfs the Vatican in scale and in piety. The leaders are everywhere, and reverence of them is by all accounts entirely sincere. It’s hard to imagine that every citizen is able to suspend disbelief all the time that their leaders are towering geniuses about every aspect of human endeavour, but I was told by several knowledgable outsiders that the topic was entirely out of bounds for humour or skepticism. Just as you would not expect to find a Saudi stand-up comedian specialising in Mohammed gags, to too are the Kims off the menu.

One highlights of the tour, and a great illustration of this, was the Museum of Metro construction. Pyongyang has a small and rather shabby metro system, but a glorious museum dedicated to how the wise and glorious leaders directed every aspect of its construction. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside, but that’s a topic I want to cover in more detail later.

Much more to come. A big thanks to Koryo Tours for making the experience possible.

Sep 7
The narrow view of the federal police
Posted by Colin in Writing on 09 7th, 2010| | Comments Off

I have a piece today in Crikey about a submission by the Australian Federal Police, worrying that the NBN would be a haven for criminals. Today I wrote over at EFA how the AFP are pushing for tough data retention laws. Given how powerful the police are as a lobby group – since no politician wants to be seen to be keeping necessary tools from the hands of police – these are both worrying signs. I’ll be keeping an eye on the data retention issue.

Aug 17
Pick a team and play
Posted by Colin in Opinion, Politics, Writing on 08 17th, 2010| | 1 Comment »

Today I had an op-ed in the National Times (Fairfax) about grassroots participation in party politics. It’s been a long time since politics was a genuine mass movement. That’s not good for the country. Here I do my bit to encourage people to think about giving it a go.

Take a look here.

Jan 25

Recently the trends in Internet freedom have been all bad. China’s censorship regime escalated dramatically over the last 12 months, with a more aggressive Golden Shield, tumultuous events in Iran and of course Australia’s own filtering plan. It is therefore extremely heartening to see the tough new stand on Internet freedom taken by the USA.

The new approach was outlined last week in a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who declared the free access to information online as critical a human right as the freedom of assembly or the right to publish. Although barely mentioning China in her speech, Clinton was clearly setting the stage for a showdown with Beijing, declaring that “countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences.” The Chinese government responded angrily, declaring the Chinese internet “open”, demanding the U.S. “respect the facts” and calling the speech”information imperialism” in an official newspaper.

This is a pretty bad look for the Rudd government. It is my belief that they thought the filtering plan would be relatively uncontroversial, would wedge the opposition, and would allow them to check a few boxes to do with election promises and helping kids. Suddenly, they find themselves swimming against a rapidly accelerating tide.

Senator Conroy, I believe, hates it when Australia is compared to China in these sorts of debates. Conroy has no plan to censor political speech in Australia (I certainly believe this), so he sees any comparison to China or Iran as a cheap shot, dishonest and unfair. I think it simply doesn’t occur to him that the system itself is a danger. If you created a secret police force with the express purpose of weeding out terrorists amongst the population, would that be of concern if that was the extent of their mission? Of course it would. People are people, and regularly exceed their mission or their authority. (It’s happened before here – google “special branch” and “cold war”.)

To borrow a phrase from Bruce Schneier, it’s bad civic hygiene to allow our rights to be eroded without an excellent reason. In a free democracy the default position should always be to preserve openness and transparency. The government needs to make a watertight case if they want to take new powers onto themselves.

That case can’t be made for Internet filtering, and the Government knows it. This explains the amusingly defensive tone of Friday’s media release. It’s pure, panicked spin.

I made similar comments to the ABC on Friday. My full take on the subject can be found over at EFA here, or in today’s Crikey here.

Jan 19
Google article on New Matilda
Posted by Colin in Internet, Writing on 01 19th, 2010| | 1 Comment »

There’s a piece by me today over on New Matilda on the Google/China fight. It’s nice to write about someone else’s filtering problems for once.

Have a read here.

Jan 15

Note: Colin lived in China in 2009 and as EFA’s internet censorship spokesman has previously commented on China’s Internet Censorship regime.

Google’s threat, in the wake of apparent Chinese government espionage, to withdraw from the Chinese market completely has created a storm of comment in the media and blogosphere. Google has been praised for a principled “don’t be evil” stand at the same time they’ve been lambasted for political naivete, opportunism or profit-seeking.The truth is no doubt a mixture between corporate pragmatism and idealism, as one would expect.

Read the rest of this entry »

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