Elitist Bullies At Woolies

Written by:
25 January 2024
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In this article, Daniel Wild contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into Australians’ attitudes to the involvement of big businesses in politics.

Big Business is way out of touch with ordinary Australians

Entirely missing the lesson from their shellacking in the Voice to parliament referendum, the usual suspects of activists and Australia’s big corporates have continued their assault on our way of life, this time with Australia Day 2024.

Woolworths, chief among the big woke corporates, decided to pull Australia Day-related merchandise from its shelves. In a mealy-mouthed statement, an unnamed spokesperson claimed that it was a commercial decision in response to ‘declining demand’. Of course, no evidence was provided in support of this assertion. And in the very same statement, the supermarket giant admitted the decision was also based on ‘a broader discussion about 26 January and what it means to different parts of the community’.

You can be assured this ‘broader discussion’ is not taking place in the suburbs and regions, where mainstream Australians will gather to celebrate our great nation on 26 January. It is only taking place in boardrooms, the enclaves of elite inner-city dwellers and on our university campuses.

Recent research released by the Institute of Public Affairs bears this out. Some 63 per cent of Australians indicated that they believe Australia Day should be celebrated on 26 January. Just 17 per cent said they wanted to change the date. Encouragingly, the survey also found that 87 per cent are proud to be Australian, while only four per cent are not. And almost 70 per cent agree that Australia has a history to be proud of while only 15 per cent disagree.

I am yet to see a statement from Woolworths explaining how pandering to fewer than one in five customers is a smart commercial decision. That’s because it isn’t. The decision was always a political one, most likely devised by some jumped-up middle manager captivated by the ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ agenda and with an axe to grind about losing the Voice. Worse still, Woolworths’ actions were ultimately condoned by senior management and the board. No doubt it also added to the ‘ESG’ points favoured by woke international investors such as BlackRock and Vanguard.

Woolworths of course has form in this area, having itself donated over $1.5 million to the failed Voice to parliament campaign that 60 per cent of Australians rejected. This included an astonishing 37 per cent of Labor voters.

But it does not end there. A quick inspection of the Woolworths Group board of directors reveals that four out of nine of the directors sit on the boards of other corporates which shelled out shareholders’ money to the Yes campaign, namely Telstra, Qantas, ANZ, and the NAB. One of those directors, Maxine Brenner, sits on the board of three other woke corporations, namely Qantas, Origin Energy, and Telstra, in yet another example of how intertwined our corporate elite is. Woolworths’ board members collectively oversaw the diversion of at least $5 million in shareholders’ money to the Yes campaign.

Shareholders must by now be asking how constantly taking one-sided political decisions, on sensitive and highly contested topics, can be in the interests of shareholders, customers, and suppliers.

Of interest, one of Woolworths’ directors, Kathee Tesija, spent 30 years at US retailer Target, including holding the position of Executive Vice President. Can you imagine the uproar if Target said citizens of the United States of America could not buy patriotic-themed merchandise for the 4th of July? Or that cancelling Independence Day should be part of a ‘broader discussion’ in the community?

This is why Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s call for a boycott of Woolworths was critical. Unlike many other politicians, who shy away from providing leadership on important cultural issues, Dutton was spot-on when he said, ‘to start taking political positions to oppose Australia Day is against the national interest, [and] the national spirit’.

It is quite possible that Dutton’s call for a boycott of a major corporate will be looked back on as a key turning point in the relationship between Australia’s centre-right and big business. For years big business has been pushing a leftist cultural and economic agenda, whether on the Voice, Australia Day, or other key issues such as net zero. Dutton appears to understand this trend, stating in his interview with 2GB, ‘That’s why I’ve said repeatedly that the modern Liberal party is the friend of the worker and the small business owners and employees in that business. We’re not the party of big business, and I don’t pretend that we are.’

Dutton’s position has the potential to resonate with voters. An exit poll conducted at the time of the Voice to parliament referendum, commissioned jointly by the Institute of Public Affairs and Advance Australia, found that 64 per cent of Australians agreed that big businesses’ engagement in political debate did not represent their values. Only four per cent disagreed. This view was shared among Coalition, Labor and Greens voters. But it was Greens voters who were most sympathetic to big business, with only 56 per cent agreeing, compared with 87 per cent of Nationals voters, 70 per cent of Liberals, and 58 per cent of Labor voters.  It says everything you need to know about the changing dynamic of Australia’s political system that Labor and Greens voters are now far more favourably disposed to big business than Coalition voters. Many of Australia’s largest corporations now represent the views of the cosseted, wealthy, inner-city elite, having long ago abandoned any pretence of sharing the interests of mainstream Australians, their customers.

Mainstream Australians have plainly had a gutful of big corporations dividing our nation and devaluing our culture and history. Australia Day is more than just paper plates and straws. It is a day when we can, and should, come together as a nation to celebrate the values which define us: freedom, democracy, tolerance and egalitarianism. These are aspects of our national character which define our way of life, and which have attracted millions of migrants eager to share our journey.

And this is precisely why the Voice to parliament failed. Australians want our nation to be united around our shared values, rather than being divided by a small group of activists who are ashamed of our nation and our way of life.

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