Ukraine has reiterated its request for coal from Australia, saying its need for the energy source is “not a lifestyle decision” but a matter of survival even as fresh barrage of Russian missiles land on Kyiv.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was in “close contact” with the Ukrainian embassy and “partners to ensure we are making the most effective contributions”.
Ukraine’s plea for a regular supply of coal from Australia was first reported by The Australian Financial Review on December 8, alongside news of a fresh request for retired RAAF F/A-18 fighter jets.
Four weeks later, it is understood the government is still to decide on the matter, sources confirmed on Tuesday, raising comparisons with a speedier response under the Morrison government for coal in March 2022. Australia eventually shipped 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal from miner Whitehaven.
The delay has been taken as a sign of political sensitivity within Labor over coal shipments, with the government emphasising that its support for Ukraine has reached about $910 million, including $730 million in military assistance.
Ukrainian ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko told the Financial Review on Tuesday that the need for coal in Ukraine was ongoing, including in six to eight months when the next northern autumn rolls around.
“We made a request, and it’s based on necessity,” he said.
“Coal is not a lifestyle choice. For us, it’s a matter of survival as we see Russia intensifying their attacks on critical infrastructure and power generation and electricity grids.”
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said the Albanese government should have said yes immediately and provided proactive energy support “many, many months ago”.
“Australian coal – providing energy support through a long, deep, dark winter for Ukraine – has been critical to date and the fact that Ukraine had to come asking for it again, rather than the Albanese government offering it, is a shame on Australia’s foreign policy,” Senator Birmingham said.
The criticism comes amid fresh reports late on Tuesday of another barrage of missiles and drones against Kyiv, following a similar assault over the weekend that killed more than two dozen people and damaged critical infrastructure.
Mr Myroshnychenko said he had been given assurances from DFAT “that they’re working with the Department of Natural Resources on considering this request”.
“But it will still have to go up to the minister and the minister will have to decide whether to raise it at the level of the cabinet or not, and then what’s going to be the decision.
“So I don’t really know what’s the timeline of this.”
He added that the traditional Christmas-New Year holiday season was a time when “nothing really operates in Australia”.
“I’m aware of this and this is just the reality of the situation,” he said.
“In a way the campaign for this coal was for Christmas. [But] if the decision is made to … dispatch [coal] we’ll get it closer to the winter next year, which starts pretty much in October. Which will still be good because we’ll have the same issue [of the war].
“We’re deeply grateful for what Australia has provided so far, don’t take me wrong.
“The cost of this war is so high and there’s so much at stake at the moment, and it’s very difficult for us and the Ukrainians in the middle of winter. Imagine you have no electricity.”