Australia handed over some military assistance to Ukraine before it was formally approved or without the necessary export permits, an audit has found.
A report published on Thursday also said some grants were made to Nato and the UK defence ministry despite uncertainty around the legislative basis for providing that assistance.
The Australian National Audit Office examined the Department of Defence’s role in providing military assistance to Ukraine, and revealed that the deliveries had been made on 40 flights to date.
The ANAO found the planning, implementation and delivery of the assistance was “largely effective” although it also pointed to “some shortcomings” in the rapid rollout.
“Defence delivered military assistance quickly and in line with Australian government expectations,” the report tabled in parliament said.
“However, not all legislative and administrative requirements were met in the context of this rapid implementation activity.”
Defence, the report said, was “not able to demonstrate” that all Australian government policy approvals were secured for 13.5% of the military assistance dispatched in 2022, valued at $36.4m.
A further 58 items with a value of $38.4m were transferred from Australia to Ukraine without being included in an exchange of letters between the two governments, the report said.
The report also questioned the legal basis for certain Australian grants made shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
This included $4.2m to a Nato trust fund announced on 28 February 2022 and $18m to the UK Ministry of Defence announced on 1 March 2022, both while the Coalition was in power.
The report said Defence had sought urgent advice from the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) on the legislative authority for the grants on 28 February 2022, “with ‘preliminary’ oral advice received within three hours on the same day”.
But the ANAO said this preliminary advice “was not clearcut” and it warned that the risks relating to the sources of legal authority for the payments ranged from “at least medium risk” to “high risk”.
The AGS also suggested that “with more time and background information” its lawyers “may have arrived at a different view”.
A further $20.2m was provided to the Nato fund in August 2022 – after Labor had taken office.
The report said this second payment to the Nato fund was four times the initial value, but Defence did not take any steps in the meantime to update the “preliminary” legal advice “or resolve the issues raised in that advice regarding the sources of legal authority for these payments and the legal risks”.
Defence told the ANAO in March 2023 that it took “the issue of risk seriously” but also noted “there was government direction to provide assistance to Ukraine and high legislative risk in the area of funding is not unusual”.
Defence also argued the risk of challenge to the legislative authority “was seen as remote and so open for a decision maker to accept”.
In a 5 August 2022 briefing to its new minister, Richard Marles, the department advised: “It is possible to accept the [legal] risk, noting the unprecedented nature of the payments.”
Other issues raised by the ANAO report included having Australian defence export permits for all items, securing authorisations for gifting certain items, lodging Australian customs export declarations, and recording gifted assets.
The ANAO recommended two “opportunities for improvement” and Defence agreed.
More broadly, the report revealed that Australian officials were monitoring social media and news reports to work out whether any equipment had been captured by Russia.
“Defence seeks to track battle damage and losses (including capture) involving Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles, M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers and M777 howitzers,” the report said.
“To do this, Defence has used publicly reported information (for example, through social media and news articles), information from international partners and other intelligence sources.”
Source : TheGuardian