Woolworths is facing the wrath of customers keen on celebrating Australia Day after announcing it would axe merchandise for the controversial celebration.
The supermarket chain confirmed on Wednesday that no additional Australia Day-themed merch would be sold in its supermarkets or Big W stores for this year’s public holiday.
They cited a “gradual decline” in demand for the merchandise over the years and “broader discussion” about the January 26 date and “what it means” to different parts of the community.
“While Australian flags are sold within BIG W all year round, we don’t have any additional themed merchandise available to purchase in-store in our Supermarkets or BIG W ahead of Australia Day,” a spokesperson said.
“We know many people like to use this day as a time to get together and we offer a huge variety of products to help customers mark the day as they choose.”
That choice has drawn the ire of right-wing politicians, with shadow treasurer Angus Taylor saying it was “disappointing”, adding he didn’t “understand what it is with this constant desire to divide us”.
He pointed to last year’s Voice referendum defeat as a sign Australia was a “united nation” proud of its identity.
“Australians are proud of their country for the most part and proud of our identity, and they want to see us as a united nation,” he told Channel 9.
“I think that was a clear message from last year.”
He said corporations like Woolworths “need to get on with it”.
“In terms of their bottom line, I’m sure they can handle… selling some great Aussie merchandise,” he said.
He was backed up by the shadow minister for education Senator Sarah Henderson, who said the decision was “not good enough”.
“If gouging customers on fruit and vegetable prices is not enough, Woolworths is now withdrawing from sale Australia Day merchandise,” she tweeted.
“Australia Day is a day for celebrating our freedoms, our values, and our unique Australian way of life.”
The decision by Woolworths follows a campaign in recent years to change the January 26 date of Australia Day, which commemorates the arrival of Captain Cook in Sydney and the arrival of the British.
Indigenous groups often refer to January 26 as Invasion Day, signifying their belief that the arrival of colonisation on Australian shores also accompanied the deaths and oppression of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
University of Newcastle historian Professor Lyndall Ryan estimates that more than 10,000 Indigenous lives were lost in more than 400 massacres by settlers and British forces, with thousands more dying from diseases introduced by the new arrivals.
Conservative commentators lined up to criticise Woolworths over its decision, with Prue MacSween calling for a boycott of the brand.
“It’s time to voice our opinion of woke corporates who are offending us. Hitting them at the cash register is the best way to do it,” she said.
“They haven’t got a conscience when they rip primary producers and Aussie suppliers off and of course us at the cash register.”