Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud has called for a consumer boycott after Wesfarmers announced the closure or conversion of up to 167 Target outlets and the loss of up to 1300 jobs.
Target Country has been hardest hit by the decision, with 50 to be axed and 52 to become small-format Kmart outlets.
Wesfarmers will also convert up to 40 Targets into Kmarts and close between 10 and 25 of its large format shops.
In all, up to 167 Target locations will either be converted or shut – about half of the chain’s 284-strong Australian store network.
In a withering spray at the corporate sector, Mr Littleproud accused major companies of turning their backs on regional Australia.
“It just goes to show they don’t give a rat’s about us,” he said in Toowoomba on Friday.
“Australians should vote with their wallets and not go near them.”
He said corporations should be showing social conscience during the coronavirus crisis.
“They make a lot of money. They make billions out of Australians,” Mr Littleproud said.
“If they want to turn their back on the most vulnerable, it just goes to show that corporate Australia has lost its way morally.”
But Labor leader Anthony Albanese said shunning businesses could hurt workers.
“I’m not sure what a boycott of Wesfarmers means, except people not going into stores and further job losses,” he said.
“I am not sure what Mr Littleproud’s comments would result in and how that would be constructive.”
Wesfarmers told the ABC it expects a reduction of at least 1000, and up to 1300, roles in the next 12 months, with most losses in 2021.
That was based on “conservative redeployment assumptions”, and it would work to lower that number.
Staff in Target stores to be converted will be offered Kmart jobs. Those in stores being shut will be considered for new roles across the wider group, including in Bunnings and Officeworks.
Wesfarmers announced the shake-up – which follows a major review of the business – in a notice to the ASX on Friday morning.
“For some time now, the retail sector has seen significant structural change and disruption, and we expect this trend to continue,” Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott said.
He said Wesfarmers’ other retail businesses, including Kmart, were well-positioned to respond to changes in consumer behaviour and competition.
“The actions announced reflect our continued focus on investing in Kmart, a business with a compelling customer offer and strong competitive advantages, while also improving the viability of Target by addressing some of its structural challenges by simplifying the business model.”
Wesfarmers also said it will recognise a $290 million gain on its sale of 10 per cent interest in Coles and one-off pre-tax gain of $221 million on revaluation of the remaining Coles investment.
On Friday, Mr Scott said Wesfarmers would further boost its online offerings after the Target closures.
The conversions and closures are expected to happen within 12 months, most in 2021.