OPINION: No, the decision to remove Australia Day merchandise isn't woke.

Peter Dutton is mad. Incensed. Outraged.

Yes, he has had a week.

You see, for decades, many Australians have headed to their local supermarket or retail department store to stock up on all things Australiana ahead of January 26

Their shopping carts brimming with cheap paraphernalia - T-shirts, thongs, stubby holders and temporary tattoos all emblazoned with the Australian flag, or painted green and gold. 

But recently, the tides have been slowly but surely evolving. Our public holiday marking all things "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi" is no longer the day of alcohol-fueled celebration that it once was. At least not for all.

This week, Woolworths announced they will no longer be selling 'Australia Day' merchandise following a decline in demand. The reaction was evenly two-sided, with some excited for the change, others not so much.

Then Opposition Leader Peter Dutton entered the chat.

Watch: Changing the date, with Narelda Jacobs. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

It began when Woolworths said Australian flags would remain available at its subsidiary Big W year round, but additional Australia Day-themed merchandise would no longer sit on store shelves in Big W or their grocery stores.


"There has been a gradual decline in demand for Australia Day merchandise from our stores over recent years. At the same time there's been broader discussion about 26 January and what it means to different parts of the community," a Woolworths Group spokesperson said.

Following Woolworths' decision, Aldi also confirmed they are choosing to no longer sell said merchandise. Aldi declined to make a statement about their reasoning. It comes after Kmart made the decision last year to also no longer sell the products ahead of January 26.

Coles has said they will continue to have a "small range of Australian-themed summer entertaining merchandise" throughout January. Fans of the holiday were relieved - it turns out the tap hasn't been turned off at all.

But Dutton was furious. 

He described Woolworths' decision as "peddling woke agendas".

In a 2GB interview on Thursday, Dutton said: "If [customers] don't want to celebrate Australia Day, well that's a decision for them, but I think people should boycott Woolworths."

Describing the move as "against national interest", Dutton continued: "I think until we get common sense out of a company like Woolworths, I don't think they should be supported by the public."

For context, the word 'woke' refers to being attentive to important facts and issues about racial and social justice. It's nothing nefarious. But lately, woke is thrown around as a threatening new perspective that runs the risk of destabilising the 'good ol' days'.

But is 'woke pedal pushing' actually how businesses run nowadays? If you look at business bottom lines, the answer is a hard no... and Dutton should know that. 


Dutton has been accused of trying to incite 'culture wars'. Image: AAP.

Jana Bowden is an experienced marketer and consumer psychologist at the Macquarie University Business School. Speaking with Mamamia, she notes that according to Roy Morgan research, a large percentage of Aussies are still in favour of January 26 being called "Australia Day", and that percentage increases among the older demographic. Overwhelmingly, Australian consumers still support the idea of a national public holiday as well.


Bowden feels this research casts doubt on the big supermarkets' decision to cull merchandise due to a "lack of consumer demand".

"Aussies should be given the power to make the decision themselves as to whether they want to buy Australia Day merchandise or not," she tells Mamamia. "The big supermarket chains who have culled their product lines would be better placed by offering at least some merchandise so that consumers have the choice to vote with their wallets."

Yes, choice is important, especially in a democratic country like Australia. 

The reality, however, is that consumers will always have a choice.

There will forever be a plethora of items available to purchase online. If one really wishes to buy a blow-up kangaroo and temporary tattoos, they have the autonomy and means to do so.

But if Woolworths has told us their decision was made based on decreasing consumer interests, shouldn't we take that at face value, coupled with what the research tells us about changing attitudes? (A Guardian Essential poll recently revealed growing support for changing the date.)

Giant corporations aren't exactly known for their "woke" agendas. Their entire focus is on money and profit, and for good reason. Ultimately, money talks. 

If consumers aren't spending big on this sort of merchandise like they used to, and there is growing pushback to the day itself... what is the point in stocking thousands of tacky thongs and stubby holders?

As Business Council of Australia chief executive Bran Black told The Australian, Dutton's boycott call is unjustified.


"Businesses shouldn't be boycotted because they make commercial decisions based on demand for products from their customers," Black said.

Australia's Agriculture Minister Murray Watt agreed, saying Dutton's calls for a boycott point to something far more concerning than a lack of merchandise at one of your local supermarkets. It's an attempt to incite a culture war.

"He's out there fighting yet another culture war, talking about what kind of products that supermarkets sell," Minister Watt told reporters on Thursday.


"I don't think that's the kind of priority that most Australians have right now. They're thinking about how they can pay their supermarket bills rather than what kind of thongs they can buy in a supermarket."

Unfortunately, Dutton has a history of boycotts.

Who could forget the moment he walked out on the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations.

Dutton's actions during the Voice to Parliament last year were also called in criticism by Indigenous 'yes' campaign leaders. They felt support for the referendum collapsed from the moment Liberal and National Party leaders chose to oppose the proposal, after more than a decade of bipartisan support. 

The leaders wrote: "[Peter Dutton and National's leader David Littleproud] preferred wanton political damage over support for some of this country's most disadvantaged people. There was little the Yes campaign could do to countervail this."

Carla Rogers is the co-director of Evolve Communities, a trusted authority for Indigenous Cultural Awareness and Ally Training, alongside co-director Aunty Munya Andrews who is an Aboriginal Elder, author and barrister.

Speaking with Mamamia, Rogers notes that comments like Dutton's only divide us as a nation further.

"Like the Voice Referendum, the conversation around January 26 can be divisive and harmful to First Nations peoples, known as the cultural load or burden. A disproportionate impact on just over three per cent of our population. At Evolve we talk about the 97 per cent - what we as non-Indigenous people can do to support First Nations people. Let's step up and share the load," she explains.


Rogers makes an interesting point as well. Nearly 100 years ago there was a significant protest against 'Australia Day' celebrations, and it was marked as a 'Day of Mourning'. It shows that criticism about January 26 is not new. It's just louder. 

"Australia is the only nation on the planet that takes the beginning of colonisation as its national day," she explains.

"What unites us? How do we celebrate that in a respectful way? Let's have a national conversation through this lens, rather than what divides us. There are a diverse range of perspectives on 26 January. How do we work with that diversity to come up with a solution that is authentic and inclusive?"

Often in conversations like these, we forget that behind the debate and vitriol, is a group who feel deep pain at this time of year

Dutton said Woolworths' merchandise decision was "against the national interest, against the national spirit".

Perhaps what screams "national interest" and "national spirit" the most is being mindful that January 26 isn't a day of celebration for everyone. It's a day of conflicted feelings and yearnings for a more inclusive future for all.

Australia is shifting. Our views are evolving. If every step towards some form of progress is lazily labelled 'woke', then the climb is going to be even steeper. And that's a pity.

Feature Image: Getty/Canva.