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Coalition went ‘straight’ to Whitehaven to buy coal for Ukraine

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The Australian government has publicly pledged to buy 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal from miner Whitehaven to donate to Ukraine before determining the cost to taxpayers, and has not approached at least one other major coal miner to gauge their interest.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Sunday that the federal government would buy coal from Whitehaven to donate to the Ukrainian government, with help from Poland, to help provide energy security to the war-torn nation.

The announcement was welcomed by Ukraine and heralded by the Coalition, which publicly thanked Whitehaven, a liberal donor, for its help.

The government has agreed to pay the full cost of supplying and transporting the coal. The price of coal has risen to unprecedented levels due to Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.

Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt said Wednesday that the cost of acquiring the coal and shipping it to Ukraine was “still being finalized” three days after the government publicly committed to the purchase.

Guardian Australia inquired with a number of major coal miners, two of whom confirmed that they had not been contacted directly.

New Hope Group, an Australian-owned coal miner, said it had “not been contacted by the federal government” regarding the deal to donate thermal coal to Ukraine.

Related: ‘Obsessed by coal’: Former Queensland LNP minister slams Morrison government

Glencore, another major coal miner, declined to comment on whether she had been approached. BHP and Yancoal did not respond to requests for comment.

Pitt said he had contacted Whitehaven management directly. When asked if he reached out to other resource companies at the same time, he said that Whitehaven was “the first company to give a positive response to the request.”

“Given the urgency of the request, I contacted Whitehaven management directly, who indicated that they could provide the coal for Ukraine without disrupting existing contracts despite high international demand,” Pitt said.

Estimates based on current coal prices have suggested that 70,000 tons of thermal coal is worth at least $31 million. The volume of coal would reportedly only power a medium-sized coal-fired generator for three to five days.

Ukraine, which first applied to Australia, says it would welcome any additional coal the government can provide. Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia Volodymyr Shalkivskyi said that Ukraine had not nominated any single amount of coal when it asked the Australian government for help.

“The request was that we would appreciate any amount of assistance, any amount of coal that you find possible and relevant to provide in this situation,” the ambassador said. “So we are grateful for what has been announced and would welcome any further steps in the future if the Australian government feels this is possible.”

Since fiscal year 2013-14, Whitehaven Coal has reported $140,000 in donations, all to the Liberal Party. Guardian Australia does not suggest that these donations played any role in the decision to purchase the coal through Whitehaven.

Pitt dismissed the notion that donations were a factor, stating: “The only motivation was to meet Ukraine’s request to supply coal as quickly as possible to meet the urgent energy needs of the people of the country. Any suggestion to the contrary is rubbish.”

Pitt said he had no contact with Whitehaven’s president, former deputy premier and Nationals leader Mark Vaile, about the deal.

Related: It makes no sense for Angus Taylor to suggest that Australia could face an energy crisis like Europe’s | Temperature control

The minister said the resources department was talking to other coal producers about whether they could supply more coal to Europe.

“The department has also [been] engage with all Australian coal producers who can help bridge any shortfalls between European friends,” he said. “Everyone has indicated that they will help where they can.”

Idemitsu Australia, which owns the Boggabri coal mine, said it had not been contacted directly about the potential supply of coal to Ukraine, but its chief executive, Steve Kovac, said it was working as part of an “industry response to the request for government assistance.

Morrison said on Sunday in announcing the Whitehaven deal that it was difficult to find thermal coal that was not tied to export contracts.

“When we had to put this together, Minister Pitt, who has done an excellent job on this, was able to work with them to access those coal supplies and then be able to work to arrange shipping on very short notice,” the first said. Minister.

“Much of Australia’s coal exports are contracted. And so, this was not a simple matter, and it was resolved fairly quickly.”

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