Australia bans exports of aluminium ores to Russia over ‘illegal’ aggression towards Ukraine

Australia has banned the sale of alumina and aluminium ores to Russia in response to what it described as “unrelenting and illegal aggression” towards Ukraine.

Also on Sunday, prime minister Scott Morrison announced Australia would donate coal and further military equipment to Ukraine to “support the brave and courageous resistance”.

“Russia must pay a very high price for its brutality. It must pay that price economically, it must pay the price … in diplomatic terms as well,” Morrison said.

The federal government has been under pressure to stop the export of alumina to Russia, with critics warning it was potentially allowing Australian resources to be used in munitions manufacturing.

The government overnight announced it was ceasing all exports of alumina and aluminum ores, including bauxite, to limit Russia’s ability to produce aluminium, a major Russian export and a critical component in arms and munitions.

Russia relies on Australia for 20% of its alumina needs.

The government said it would work with “exporters and peak bodies that will be affected by the ban to find new [markets] and expand existing markets”.

The sanctions are likely to impact Queensland Alumina Ltd (QAL), majority owned by Rio Tinto in a joint venture with Russia’s Rusal International, the second biggest aluminium producer in the world.

Rio Tinto has been approached for comment.

QAL was affected by sanctions announced last week, which targeted two Russian businessmen, Viktor Vekselberg and Oleg Deripaska.

A company founded by Deripaska owns 20% of the QAL, which is a major employer in Gladstone.

After the sanctions on Deripaska, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, an advocacy organisation, called for a complete ban on Rusal exporting Australian alumina to Russia.

On Sunday, the centre’s climate and environment director, Dan Gocher, said the ban addressed the concern over Australian alumina being used in Russian arms manufacturing.

“The secondary concern is that Deripaska and Vekselberg still stand to profit from Queensland Alumina,” he said. “If the government doesn’t sanction Rusal, then Rio Tinto must ensure any profits are quarantined.”

The Australian government also announced a new major aid and assistance package to Ukraine. The package included a donation of 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal to assist Ukraine with energy security.

The coal will be sourced from Whitehaven Coal, which has arranged the shipment. Australia is working with Ukraine and Poland to deliver the supplies.

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“The assistance will help keep the country’s coal-fired power generators operating and supplying electricity to the country’s power grid, supporting the Ukrainian people by keeping lights on, homes heated and factories running at this very difficult time,” the government said in a statement.

The aid package also includes $30m in additional emergency humanitarian assistance and a new humanitarian visa, which will be temporarily available to Ukrainians fleeing the war. The visa allows work, study and access to Medicare for three years.

“Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the Morrison government has issued almost 4,500 visas to Ukrainians,” the government said. “Over 600 Ukrainians with these visas have arrived and more are coming every day.”

Donations to approved charities and not-for-profits supporting Ukrainian refugees will be made tax deductible and Australia will give $10m to the World Food Program to help address food shortages.

Australia has also boosted its military assistance to Ukraine by $21m, taking the total military funding to $91m. The new assistance will include “additional material from Australian Defence Force stocks”.