If the Morrison government really wants us to believe it will ship 70,000 tonnes of Australian coal straight by the Russian navy in the Black Sea, bang through a war zone, it is proving very reluctant to share even the slightest detail of how it might accomplish this feat of ridiculousness. Callum Foote and Michael West report.
Typically, there are three kinds of announcements which the Coalition makes: real ones, reheated old ones and totally fake ones. Coal to Ukraine would appear to be in the latter category.
The prime minister once famously brandished a lump of coal in Parliament and told us, “Don’t be afraid”. He might well dispense this same helpful advice to the poor sods who are supposedly going to sail right by the Russian fleet in Sevastopol.
Admiral Igor Vladimirovich Osipov, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, is unlikely to be impressed when Scott’s captain – assuming he can get through the Suez Canal, up past the Russian port of Tartus in Syria, past the Turks in the Bosphorus and to the only conceivable place to dock, Odessa – tells him he was sent by Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, to help the Ukrainians.
No plan, not even a roadmap
It may be that Scott has a roadmap, or a plan perhaps, to make the world’s largest detour up through Spain and into the Baltic to deliver the black stuff to the Polish. Then of course, somebody would have to cart it overland past Vladimir Putin’s army. Either way, the shipment would need bothersome things like insurance.
So it was that the department of Industry spokesperson was hard to pin down on the details of the madcap adventure:
“Whitehaven was chosen as it is able to meet Ukraine’s thermal coal quality specifications and deliver the quantity required in a short timeframe, without impacting on its other contractual obligations.
This is important to ensure Ukraine receives coal its generators can use as quickly as the market situation allows. It also reduces the potential impact on Australian domestic energy prices”.
As noted by The Australia Institute, Ukraine’s neighbour Poland is the ninth largest producer of coal in the world so if ensuring that Ukraine receives coal for its generators as quickly as possible, why wouldn’t Australia donate the money so that the war-torn country can purchase Polish coal which will arrive by train sooner than a boatload of Australian coal can reach Europe?
Some sort of “coal swap” with Poland is possible. The reality is that Odessa is likely to fall by the time Scott’s coal gets from the Port of Newcastle to the Persian Gulf, if it ever leaves any port anywhere that is, or is even loaded on to the fateful, imaginary ship.
Department spokesperson: “Transportation details are being determined taking into account any logistical issues.”
In other words, there is no plan to get the coal to Ukraine.
The department also failed to respond to questions regarding a time frame for the coal shipment, and who would ensure the crew transporting 70,000 tons of coal through the Black Sea war zone.
Instead, the spokesperson again: “Transportation details remain confidential”. Not just the mythical transportation details either. Under whose authority might these determinations be made, and under what legislation had this confidentiality been imposed?
According to navigational warnings published by the Turkish Naval Forces Office of Navigation, Hydrography and Oceanography cargo ships are stuck in the northern Black Sea due to Russian navy blockades and mines around Ukrainian Ports.
Access between the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea (via the Turkish Bosporus and Dardanelles) currently has restrictions under Montreux Convention.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has reminded the world what a laggard Australia is on cutting emissions. In remarks to the Economic Sustainability Summit on March 21, Guterres called Australia a holdout on emissions reduction by 2030.
Whitehaven Coal’s chairman, Mark Vaile, was leader of the National Party and deputy prime minister between 2005 and 2007 under John Howard.
Whitehaven is a member of the Minerals Council of Australia paying $765,629 to the lobbying body in 2020-21. It also paid $884,968 to coal lobbying group Low Emissions Technology Australia the same year.
Whitehaven Coal has donated $140,000 to the Liberal Party since the 2013-14 financial year. The Liberal Party has only disclosed $47,000 in donations. It might be a big spender on lobbying and public relations but it is a perennial non-taxpayer.
Another fossil subsidy
So we have a yet another transfer of taxpayer wealth from the Coalition to fossil fuel mates but nothing, not a scintilla of detail or credibility for the coal to Ukraine plan, for that matter apparently no plan either.
Is there a moral to the story? Yes, the usual moral; don’t believe a word. This is merely another “announceable”. It’s not even in the league of the usual announcements, the sort which make promises but don’t deliver; such as the “we are planting a billion trees in Tasmania”, which turned out to be a few million, then three years later the same announcement again but this time it was 150 million trees.
They are coming thick and fast now. The splash on an mRNA vaccines hub dropped to the media this morning, and the day before it was the $6bn spend on Hells Gate dam for north Queensland.
Dutifully, the media trotted out the wild claim that this would create 7000 jobs and deliver a $6bn economic output.
Really, 7000 dam jobs? Do they have a roadmap to make this the global capital of the water-skiing industry? Nothing nearly as inventive as that. They are just makin’ stuff up again.