Australia is massively financially profiting from Russia’s war on Ukraine – and not reinvesting any of its unexpected ‘war windfall’ in aid for its ally.

That’s a sad, but true, new reality about a nation previously recognised and respected fighting for global peace and security and Western liberal values.

“The half-hearted nature of our current response is disappointing,” said Australian career diplomat Alastair Walton in the country’s national newspaper today. Internationally renowned Australian retired general Mick Ryan went further and tweeted:

The stark fact is that Australia has accrued huge economic benefits from trade and commodity price increases within international markets as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. For the last eight months, as Ukraine has readied itself for its offensive, this wealthy G20 member has not made any new commitments of military or other aid - in contrast to its strategic partners such as the US, UK, Canada and the EU.

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No matter how many times the Australian Government re-packages its last pledge, made in October 2022, it doesn’t change the fact that there is big fat zero in the column against what it’s provided for Ukraine in the last eight months.

The situation becomes more frustrating and perplexing when the scale of the Government’s unexpected ‘war windfall’ is revealed. A Bloomberg analysis released this week found that “in the 15 months [as at May 2023] since Moscow launched its invasion, the spike in energy and other commodity prices has given Australia around a A$150 billion ($102 billion) export bonanza.”

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This new insight follows the Australian Government’s own Budget figures for May which showed huge export gains from energy and grain trading related to the Ukraine war, which have not been equalled for nearly 20 years. 

Yet, with a total figure for its support for Ukraine of $484 million, the country has provided the equivalent of only 0.5% of that windfall in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, according to Bloomberg.

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“Among the Group of 20 developed nations, Australia is among the smallest contributors to Ukraine despite being a major indirect economic beneficiary of the war,” Bloomberg’s report said.

Also, this week, the Center on Clean Energy and Air, an independent thinktank, showed that Australia has imported more price-capped Russian oil – via the ‘laundromats’ of China and Singapore – than any other single country in the world, including the US. This is despite the fact that it has promised not to import Russian energy products.

This worrisome economic situation comes at the same time as Australia’s embassy in Kyiv remains closed. Adding insult to injury, Australia failed to send any Ministerial representation to the international Ukraine Recovery Conference in London. Its Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, remained in Australia and merely greeted the conference by video while even the  US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, found time to attend. 

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How does the country, that had 38 of its countrymen killed over Ukrainian soil when Putin’s Donbas proxies shot down flight MH17, justify yet again that it had nothing to say and nothing to give, as has been the case at monthly meeting after monthly meeting of the Ramstein Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

Some years ago, a Australian TV commercial campaign trying to attract international tourists featured a beach babe saying: “Where the hell are ya?”.

The same question should be aimed at Australia concerning its support to Ukraine in 2023. Is there anything, beyond willful blindness on the Government’s part, that might explain this situation?

Firstly, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has a left-wing faction with a genetic aversion to military conflict. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister are members of this faction. Additionally, the Government has been pursuing an active policy to improve relations with the People’s Republic of China and could be mindful of sensitivities about Taiwan.

Secondly, defense spending in Australia has recently been under official review and that may have caused bureaucratic hesitancy toward taking on new commitments. However, the transfer of more Hawkei vehicles, that are sitting unused on a carpark in Victoria, to Ukraine, would belie this.

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Thirdly, it has been suggested by commentators and, admittedly, critics of the government that the lack of Ukraine support is about electoral politics. Namely, that the Ukrainian diaspora voting block is insignificant and [wrongly] seen as not aligned with the ALP, and that there is minimal demand from the broader Australian electorate to provide more substantive aid. Even the Defense Minister has described Ukraine as “a long way away” – as if everything else isn’t from Australia.

Perhaps, there’s a cynical view in the government that rhetoric and media opportunities alone are enough; be it new ribbons around the package pledged in October, or rote (and increasingly hollow) repetition of slogans such as “standing with Ukraine for however long it takes”, or sneaky assertions that Australia is the “largest supporter of Ukraine in the Indo-Pacific besides the US”.

The Government seems to have retired its previous public claims about being the “biggest non-NATO supporter of Ukraine” and then “one of the biggest non-NATO supporters” after some media advisor came up with the new alternative spin.

Australia’s Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles told the media in early June that “it’s understood across Europe and understood by Ukraine itself that Australia is punching above its weight in its support of Ukraine.”

 

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Given the Ukrainian government has now resorted to lobbying him for military vehicles by posting YouTube clips on Twitter accompanied by AC/DC soundtracks, Marles’ understanding seems lacking.

In truth, we’re not only just barely punching; we’re not even in the ring. Which frankly isn’t just frustrating for many Australians it’s tragic and out of step with our great history.

Or, as Walton bluntly puts it in his piece, Australia’s strategic interests have been served “through the sacrifice of thousands of Ukrainian men and women who have lost their lives across the past year.

“They had no choice and they died supporting freedom and democracy in the same way Australians sacrificed their lives in Europe for a similar cause during the two world wars,” he wrote.

“It is in our national interest to do all we reasonably can to support Ukraine in resisting Russian aggression,” Walton stated. And so say all of us.

With only weeks to go to the NATO Summit in Vilnius, which Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has now agreed to attend, it’s time to take some of the ‘destruction dividend’ that Australia has reaped and sow it for peace in Ukraine. Not only do Ukrainians deserve it, but Australians deserve to be again proud of their support for democracy.

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