Can Dutton wage culture wars and chew gum at the same time?

Jan 24, 2024
Shopping basket with Australian flag, market basket or purchasing power concept. 3D rendering isolated on white background.

As Australia Day looms it’s not surprising that Peter Dutton has yet again found another culture war to prosecute – this time against Woolworths’ decision not to stock Australia Day themed goods.

The approach worked with the Voice campaign but if this is going to be his main tactic in the year or so to the next election, he might need to get his advisors to look beyond US Republican tactics and have a closer look at what concerns the majority of voters.

According to a YouGov survey only 20% support his call to boycott Woolworths and Big W. Admittedly this is a bit more than the 15% who express positive support for the Woolworth’s decision but a staggering 65% get most people’s real priorities right saying their main concern was excessive price rises, not Australia Day merchandise.

Kmart abandoned Australia Day merchandise last year according to an interview Kmart MD, Ian Bailey, gave to The New Daily. He also said they wouldn’t bring back the merchandise even if they changed the day.

There is no record of Peter Dutton raising the issue back then and one wonders why he is suddenly concerned about the issue and not then. Of course, back then he was more concerned about Voice referendum disinformation and misinformation than Australia Day culture wars.

Dutton’s other problems are that he is, according to the Morgan Trust and Distrust report, Australia’s most distrusted politician plus having a massive problem among the female voters who helped vote Scott Morrison out and win a range of formerly safe Liberal suburban seats.

This is an unlikely way to win them all back.

Moreover, while the Albanese Government is not travelling well it looks certain, as a result, to try to tackle the excessive price rises respondents to the YouGov survey highlighted as a greater priority than Australia Day merchandise.

Dutton then has to decide whether to support the plans to stop predatory pricing; say he would support them if they went further or didn’t go so far; claim this will throw people out of jobs; or all of the above at once.

One thing he won’t do is butt into the current arguments about the causes of inflation – whether they be based on the interest rate tools which obsess central banks or the reality that increasing oligopoly is reducing competition and giving companies pricing power which translates into super profits and huge salary gains for executives.

At the same time a casualised work force is deprived of real wage increases and condemned to increasing job insecurity.

Dutton’s argument will most likely be that inflation is all Albanese’s fault exacerbated by his failure to send ships to the Middle East – overlooking that the state of our defence preparedness is rather underweight after successive LNP governments made some very poor and costly choices on defence capabilities.

The media must also share much of the blame, as exemplified by The Age, giving Dutton front page coverage claiming Albanese was ‘weak’ for not sending ships to the region rather than analysing what role Australia could actually play most effectively. It also ignored the fact that Australia actually already has defence forces there and had been thanked by the US for this contribution.

Additionally, a bit of extra Australian gunboat activity would probably do little to help given the scale of other forces being deployed and our sorry defence procurement record.

But then Australian conservative governments can’t help themselves when it comes to committing troops to wars anywhere in the world whether it be South Africa, Russia in 1918 or Vietnam and Iraq – none of them markedly successful to say the least.

Australian politicians and governments also currently face some wicked problems, some intractable ones and some absolutely existential ones such as climate change. Sadly, there is rather less emphasis on these in either Australian media or political discourse when it comes to sending in the troops or the gunboats.

…on the other hand, Australia Day could be an ideal time to ponder counter-factual Australian futures. If the Dutch had stopped, found the iron ore in what is now WA, and stayed would we have by now have won the soccer World Cup? If it was the French, would we have fought with them against the British and sent troops to Waterloo? Would we have avoided stodgy English food and developed a taste for snails?

At a time when excess alcoholic-intake is frowned upon what would we do about the drunken orgy which followed disembarkation?

However, whether the original inhabitants of the country the British invaded would have fared any better than they have is another question.

…and lest we forget. Australians have only been celebrating this day with a public holiday since 1994. Why did the previous 24 Australian Prime Ministers before that think it was not important enough for a day off work for us all? Will Peter Dutton now retrospectively condemn them all for their wokeness and lack of patriotism?

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