The first time political merchandise played a major role in an Australian election was 1972.
A garish orange skivvy with the slogan It’s Time from this campaign is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Australian Democracy.
“The slogan graced badges, posters, clothing and more, and its powerful message resonated with the community, particularly younger voters who were not a traditional support base for Labor,” says researcher Campbell Rhodes.
Other classics of the genre collected by the museum include a Kevin 07 T-shirt, (one of which is also being flogged on ebay for $100) a Not Happy, John T-shirt worn by Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja and the distinctive yellow Vote for Palmer United T-shirt.
Political merchandise is not just about campaign fundraising, it’s a way to project a brand, especially in an era of influencers and memes going viral.
“They transcend that political idea and party and movement and become seen as fashion accessories even,” says Dr Andrew Hughes, a political marketing lecturer at the Australian National University.
But while some candidates and minor parties are producing quirky, irreverent merchandise for the 2022 election campaign, Hughes believes the major parties are playing it too safe.
Liberal merchandise includes a blue Liberal Party cap ($30), a blue Liberal party T-shirt ($35), Liberal Party cufflinks ($30) or the slightly wittier “Cleaning up Labor’s mess since 1949” tea towel.
“You can’t be any more conservative than this: blue, limited range but with the obligatory cufflinks for signalling to like-minded (males) in those all important business meetings,” says Hughes. “Definitely nothing 2022 about this offering.”
Meanwhile, Labor is spruiking Albo 2022 T-shirts ($40), tote bags ($20) and a poster of an earnest, unsmiling Anthony Albanese ($25).
“It’s trying to say there’s not too much change happening, you know what you’re going to get,” says Hughes, who describes the offering as flat. “They don’t really have a lot of fun with their brand and they need to liven it up a fair bit.”
Hughes believes the stand-out political merchandise of the campaign belongs to One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.
“Topical, outspoken and unashamedly Pauline – perfect for the far-right supporter this autumn.”
Hanson’s range spans everything from Flick the United Nations bumper stickers ($3), stubby holders ($10) featuring characters from the South Park-style cartoon series One Nation commissioned, Make Coal Great Again caps ($15) and collector’s edition bottles of Please Explain Aussie Spirit Pineapple Parfait gin ($99).
Her chief of staff, James Ashby, says the 5000 bottles of gin – a collaboration with Queensland distillery Sunshine & Sons – sold out last week.
Meanwhile, the Greens swiftly parlayed Adam Bandt’s bon mot about the wage price index – Google It, Mate – into a $39.95 T-shirt (fairtrade and organic naturally) that has become the party’s best-selling election merchandise.
“It’s not a major funding stream, but the Greens don’t take corporate cash for campaigns … so every little bit helps, including merch,” says Greens national campaign manager Andrew Beaton.
There is also a sea of teal products – including earrings, dog bandanas and tote bags – from the group of independents who are fighting Liberals in inner city seats in Melbourne and Sydney.
Hughes says the choice of colour is deliberate, a nod to Liberal blue in traditionally conservative-held seats mixed with green to reflect their concern for the environment.
Independent MP Zali Steggall says the merchandise has all come from requests from the community and reflects the outdoor lifestyle of people in the Sydney seat of Warringah.
“The most popular items have been the swim caps, the bucket hats and of course the doggy bandanas,” Steggall says.
So what merchandise is likely to represent the 2022 campaign at the Museum of Australian Democracy?
Rhodes, the researcher, is always on the look-out for political merchandise or ephemera that represents a major shift in politics or will live on in popular imagination.
“We haven’t got anything from the independents this election but it’s something that we’ll probably look at down the track.”