Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Why, among so many issues, Bronwyn Bishop's helicopter trip gets our attention

By Peter West - posted Thursday, 30 July 2015

Why has the issue of expense claims by House of Representatives Speaker Bronwyn Bishop dominated the news since mid-July? To understand how this one issue, of all the many political issues, has seized public attention, we need to understand how agendas are set.

At any time, many issues are competing to get onto the public agenda. This has been defined as “that set of items explicitly up for the active and serious consideration of authoritative decision makers”.

The media certainly have a role in saying that X or Y is an issue worthy of public concern. Often such issues rise and fall within a day or two. Some issues emerge again and again.


Let’s look at some examples. As Ken Robinson argues, what’s worth knowing is very arguable. Yet the call for schools to “get back to basics” is a perennial one.

In the late 1970s, some fundamentalist Christians centred on Baulkham Hills certainly used it to demand that the NSW Department of Education’s schools do more reading and writing, and drop the “frills”, or unnecessary things, like a course called “Man: A Course of Study”. They argued it was somehow anti-Christian because a comparison of human and animal life implied that evolution had occurred.

It seemed as if the Hills were alive with angry parents, but the various groups – Concerned Parents, Parents in Education – could all be traced back to one post office box. The arguments were powerful and long-lasting, though, because of the underlying concern among all parents that their children were being well prepared for life.

Our next example is the so-called Cronulla riots. Based on the account of a student who witnessed it, we argued that the event happened largely because the media – in particular, one radio commentator – had framed the issue in a certain way. This could be summed up as “Who rules our beaches?”.

We reported that the day progressed uneventfully. Late in the day, affected by too much sun and alcohol, sections of the crowd showed uncontrolled hostility to dark-skinned people. Recorded for TV, these events have been referred to many times since.


Western media and voters have long subscribed to the idea that politicians have their snouts in the trough. Daily Mirror

Violent events occur in various Australian cities: why did this one gain such lasting prominence? Once again, there was an underlying issue: is Australia a free and fair society, or liable to become racist? Once again, a substratum of perennial importance gives events a longer life than would otherwise occur.

And so we turn to the Bronwyn Bishop saga. Australians learnt on July 15 that she had chartered a helicopter flight instead of making the one-hour drive from Melbourne to Geelong. Treasurer Joe Hockey conceded it failed to pass the “sniff test”. It was “not a good look” for the government on whose behalf he had declared the “age of entitlement” was over.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

12 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Peter West

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Peter West
Article Tools
Comment 12 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy