About Polly Chester

Polly is a thinker, writer and social worker with passions for human rights, caring for the environment, social justice, social policy, epistemology, philosophy and psychology

We, all of us, are “the national interest”

The Abbott Government’s new terrorism laws and “the national interest” could mean this might be the last time you hear from the writer formerly known as Polly Chester, who in the future “might” be known as…well…sshhhhh…


On the day the Liberals won the Federal election in 2013, I remember commenting that every day for the following three years would feel like Collingwood had just won an AFL grand final.

Which would be terrible.

Collingwood supporters tend to be a bit meh, and most sensible people would agree that Eddie McGuire has been quite lucky enough – any further triumph will make his ego simply unbearable.

I take it back.

It’s been so much worse than I’d expected.

I would want Collingwood to win everything (not just AFL grand finals) every day and opt to be Eddie McGuire’s personal ego masseuse if it meant that the 2014 Federal budget measures would be scrapped in favour of policies that were fair and equitable, and that the outrageous new terror laws would be canned in favour of upholding our civil liberties.

With the proposed laws in mind, these words may be my last act of public political defiance. I should be writing my final assignment for my undergraduate university degree, but I fear that this article may be the last I can write that mentions the words “policy” or “legislation” without getting me thrown in the clink.

Social activism in the form of written expression in a public forum is my favourite part of social work. Writing intelligent, angry and often humorous analysis that makes people think is a fabulous way of starting conversations about social justice.

These terror laws concer me because I’m not too sure if activism, let alone other social work activities, will be allowed to continue if it is up to the judgment of ASIO to decide whether we are acting in “the national interest”.

The Australian Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics (2010) stipulates that one of the core values underpinning the profession is social justice. A particular phrase that caught my eye this morning was:

 (Social work) promotes community participation in societal processes and decisions in the development and implementation of social policies and services.

The Government has stated that the terror laws, designed to increase security and protect at the price of our freedom and privacy, have been orchestrated in the national interest. In an article for The Conversation, Danielle Chubb, an International Relations lecturer from Deakin University, proposes that there is no such thing as the national interest. As Chubb explains, there is no such objective or undisputable truth that equates to an absolutist definition of the national interest. Sure, safety and security are important. However, they can be managed whilst still protecting the privacy and freedom of ordinary citizens. As Ben Grubb writes, the terror laws could give ASIO the power to monitor the entire Internet, which means that discussion may lead to persecution. The proposed legislation will muzzle public discourse about important issues that affect us all; issues that should be up for debate.

Stating that the national interest exists removes all power from the hands of citizens and nestles it in the lap of the Government of the day, which can then renovate it according to their own ideology and political interests. If anyone argues, I’m sure the old “we have a mandate from the electorate” BS will be wheeled out, as if that were some sort of tenable argument for destroying autonomy, political debate and good, honest journalism.

Social workers have their finger very much on the pulse of what’s happening for the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in society. We, as a profession, along with every other person in Australia, should have been consulted about what is best for the national interest because we all have something valid to contribute to that conversation.

We are the national interest — without people, there is no nation, just a big, old empty island.

Anyway, I’ve decided it’s all going to be fine. After a lengthy discussion on my Facebook page last night, I’ve come up with some code words, so I can keep talking about policy and legislation in articles. I would henceforth like it to be known that “hedgehog” will be code word for policy and “cheesecake” will be code word for legislation.

So if I refer to mental health cheesecake or education hedgehog in any forthcoming articles, it will look like some kind of weird folk tale, but you’ll know exactly what I mean.

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