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Scott Morrison uses Ukraine war to push coal agenda

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Scott Morrison has announce the shipment of 70,000 tonnes of coal to Ukraine as Russia continues to attack (Image by Dan Jensen)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is sending coal to war-ravaged Ukraine in a move that appears solely for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

IN A PRESS RELEASE on 20 March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his Government is donating 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal to Ukraine, in response to a ‘direct request’ for the fuel, made through the Polish Prime Minister.

Morrison said: 

And today, in response to a direct request from Ukraine, Australia will donate 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal. This will help Ukraine's power generators operating and supplying electricity to the power grid at this critical time. They need that before the end of May and we have arranged the shipping for that to take place and are working with other countries to ensure it can get to Ukraine. So it's our coal. We dug it up. We've arranged the ship. We've put it on the ship and we're sending it there to Ukraine to help power up their resistance and to give that encouragement.

The fuel will be supplied by Whitehaven Coal and will cost the Government $28 million, plus likely staggeringly high delivery costs.

It is fairly important that Mr Morrison’s gift of coal is examined more closely, for reasons that will quickly become apparent. 

There is considerable public if not media scepticism about the donation, including from Richard Denniss, chief economist at the Australia Institute, who tweeted:

Details of how the Prime Minister will deliver the coal to Ukraine are sketchy and so far, proposed logistics have not been interrogated by the media. Will the coal be shipped to Poland then transported by rail to Ukraine, for example, as Ukraine’s only remaining accessible port, Odessa, is preparing for Russian attack? Is it still possible to transport coal by rail across the Polish border, or is infrastructure too damaged or threatened to function?

Has Morrison bought $28 million of thermal coal from Whitehaven that will not reach its destination? Is this an announcement about notional coal that serves only to funnel public money to a major supplier of fossil fuel?

It’s a measure of the lack of trust in the Morrison Government and its fondness for announcements that these questions even need to be asked.

As Denniss suggests, does it not make more sense to give money rather than incur the costs and risks of transporting the coal ‘we dug up’ to a war zone?

Morrison announced:

‘This was a request that was made of us and Australia is in a position to fulfil that request. It was also made to me through the Polish Prime Minister and we're very pleased to be able to meet that need.’

Why would the Polish Prime Minister ask the Morrison Government to donate coal to Ukraine? Has Poland run out?

Of course, giving money to Ukraine to source Polish coal would not benefit Whitehaven, who have generously agreed to donate $250,000 to the Australian Red Cross Crisis Appeal as part of their contribution to humanitarian assistance.

It would be an immense relief to be living in a country where questions such as those asked above were raised only by fringe dwelling conspiracy theorists. Sadly, that is not the country in which we live today.

The Morrison Government has a history of announcements that have come to naught, not least of which is the mysterious $4 billion disaster relief fund to which we have had occasion recently to refer, after the catastrophic Northern Rivers and South East Queensland floods. None of this money has been released, despite the dire need of many survivors of both bushfire and flood, and it has instead earned some $473 million in interest for the Government.

Given what we know, it is by no means beyond the parameters of reasonable speculation that the Morrison Government could have seen an opportunity to line the pockets of their Whitehaven mates under the guise of organising a notional shipment of notional coal to a stricken Ukraine.

Of course, the intention to assist may well have been present, the awkward reality that the form of assistance and its delivery may not be feasible is hardly the Morrison Government’s fault, is it? 

It would, of course, be a despicable move for the Government to transfer public funds to Whitehaven, disguised as humanitarian relief for a country ravaged by war. Oh, that we lived under the authority of a Government where such speculations were wild and thoroughly dismissable!

But we don’t. We live under the authority of a Government that has a long history of rorting. We live under a Government led by a Prime Minister who is internationally and domestically acknowledged to be a liar, including by his own colleagues. We live under a Government that we cannot trust to act in the interests of its people, but only ever in its own interests and those of its supporters.

So it is important that we demand answers about this gift of coal, because if $28 million of public money has just been donated by this Government to the fossil fuel industry, we deserve to know.

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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