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Dutton accused of inflaming Australia Day ‘culture war’

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton will stand in parliament tonight to deliver his federal budget reply.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton will stand in parliament tonight to deliver his federal budget reply. Photo: Getty

Peter Dutton has started 2024 as he spent much of 2023.

This week, he was accused of stoking a “culture war” ahead of Australia Day, with multiple colleagues from opposing parties lambasting his rhetoric.

The Opposition Leader called for a boycott of Woolworths on Thursday, and repeated the call the next day, because the supermarket would no longer sell merchandise for the public holiday.

Dutton’s comments attracted fierce criticism on Friday.

Woolworth’s decision to not stock miniature Australian flags and other merchandise incensed Dutton, who labelled it “a woke agenda” in a Facebook post on Thursday.

“Now it seems that Brad Banducci’s following in the CEO mould of Alan Joyce and doubling down and deciding that they’re not going to stock these materials to celebrate our national day,” Dutton said on The Today Show.

“I think it’s up to the customers whether they want to go in and buy the product or not.”

‘About thongs and flags’

Banducci, Woolworths CEO, said the move was a business decision due to a lack of demand from customers.

Labor frontbencher Murray Watt accused Dutton of using Woolworths as a lightning rod for a “culture war”.

“I think what this week has really shown is that Peter Dutton has just got completely the wrong priorities, especially when it comes to supermarkets,” Watt said.

“Peter Dutton’s just out there starting another culture war about Australia Day, and about thongs and flags.”

foot and mouth

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said Dutton was stoking a culture war. Photo: AAP

Dutton suggested people should take their business to IGA, Coles or Aldi, despite Aldi confirming on Thursday that its stores wouldn’t stock Australia Day flags like in previous years.

Big W, owned by the Woolworths Group, will not be stocking Australian merchandise this year either, but Coles affirmed it will be.

‘Headline grabs’

Dutton’s rhetoric is reminiscent of last year’s boycott of Bud Light by American conservatives, who took issue with the popular beer brand entering a partnership with a transgender influencer.

Zali Steggall, independent MP for Warringah, said Dutton “is focused on creating culture wars for petty headline grabs”.

“I’m calling on Woolworths and Aldi to put on an Australia Day price special for fresh food and veg,” she said in a statement.

“How about worrying about the cost of essential items like food?”

Zali Steggall

Independent MP Zali Steggall said Woolworths and Aldi should offer Australia Day discounts. Photo: AAP

The Opposition Leader has railed against businesses that supported a ‘yes’ vote in the Voice to Parliament referendum and has correctly identified that many Australians are frustrated with institutional businesses like Woolworths and Qantas, but his comments have focused on reigniting the Australia Day debate.

January 26 is sometimes mistaken as the day the First Fleet arrived in Australia in 1788, but it is when Captain Arthur Phillip and his crew first came ashore in Sydney Cove.

The Australia Day public holiday was fixed to the date in 1994, but for many, it is recognised as Survival or Invasion Day.

Australia Day has evolved into a controversial topic, with advocates asking the government to change the date because they believe it is offensive to Indigenous Australians who lost their sovereignty.

Dutton’s argument that businesses should allow consumers to decide their support for Australia Day ignores the fact that they already have, with dwindling sales of merchandise the major reason cited by Banducci.

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