New Caledonia country brief


New Caledonia, is a French overseas territory and is one of Australia's nearest neighbours, located 1470 kilometres northeast of Brisbane. It comprises the island of Grande Terre (where the capital, Noumea, is situated), the four Loyalty Islands (Ouvea, Lifou, Tiga and Maré), the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines and some remote islands. New Caledonia is divided administratively into a Northern and Southern province on Grande Terre and an Islands province covering the Loyalty Islands. Some 268 000 people live in New Caledonia. Approximately 44 per cent are indigenous (‘Kanak’). The remainder consist of Caledonians of European, Polynesian and other (including Indochinese, Indonesian and Algerian) origins.

Political overview

New Caledonians are French citizens with the right to live anywhere in France.  They are entitled to vote in national elections, as well as for the local government.

The President of the French Republic is New Caledonia’s Head of State. The French State is represented in New Caledonia by a High Commissioner, currently Vincent Bouvier. The Noumea Accord (1998) and consequent Organic Law (May 1999) provide the constitutional framework under which New Caledonia is governed and define its institutions. The Accord and Organic Law also define New Caledonia's relations with France and set out a timetable for New Caledonia to assume responsibility for most areas of government. Economic affairs, industrial relations and external trade were among the first powers New Caledonia assumed in January 2000. A second group of powers was transferred in 2004 and a third in 2009-10. From 2014, the Congress will have the opportunity (if agreed to by a three fifths majority) to hold up to three referenda on whether New Caledonia should assume the final sovereign powers (justice, public order, defence, monetary and foreign affairs) and become fully independent. If a date has not been proposed by Congress by 2018 then the Noumea Accord commits France to conduct the referendum.

Under the Noumea Accord, the Government of New Caledonia comprises representatives of all major political groupings. There are three Provincial Assemblies, (elected under a proportional representation process with five year terms) – Southern (40 members), Northern (22 members) and Islands provinces (14 members). Fifty-four members of the Provincial Assemblies then become the New Caledonian Congress which in turn elects an executive government of between five and 11 members (from both assembly members and non-members), which is responsible to the Congress.

The Noumea Accord provides for an Economic and Social Council to advise the Government and a Customary Senate comprising representatives from each of New Caledonia's eight customary areas. Both the Government and the French State must consult the Customary Senate on subjects relating to Kanak identity.

The most recent general election was held in New Caledonia on 11 May 2014. Pro-French parties secured 29 seats of 54 and hold the majority. The coalition that formed government dissolved in December 2014 resulting in the fall of government. After three months of caretaker government, Philippe Germain was appointed President of the Government of New Caledonia on 2 April 2015.

As provided for in the Noumea Accord, New Caledonia and France now share responsibility for New Caledonia's regional relations, allowing New Caledonia to join some regional organisations in its own right. New Caledonia became an observer to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in 1999 and in 2006 was welcomed as an associate member. At the 2010 PIF Leaders' Meeting, New Caledonia formally signalled its interest in becoming a full member in the future. New Caledonia is a long-standing member of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), which has its headquarters in Noumea. The Noumea Accord also allows New Caledonia to conclude some international agreements.

Bilateral relations

Relations between Australia and New Caledonia are broad and historic, extending across a range of domains.

Australian and New Caledonia share much in common, foremost our interest in stability in the Pacific region.

Australia supports New Caledonia's increasing autonomy and integration in the Pacific region.

People to people links

Australians and New Caledonians have forged longstanding and enduring people-to people links in the domains of business, education, defence and security, and healthcare.  Australia remains the primary destination for New Caledonians whose medical care cannot be delivered in New Caledonia.

Tourism links are growing with some 380,000 Australians visiting New Caledonia each year on cruise boats and New Caledonians continue to visit and invest in Australia, particularly the Gold Coast.

Australia has awarded more than 100 Australia Awards Scholarships to New Caledonian students over the past two decades as part of a broader program supporting tertiary study in Australia for students from New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna.

Australia has interests in working with the New Caledonian and French authorities in New Caledonia in a range of areas including: promoting greater trade and investment; cooperating on regional natural disaster relief; defence cooperation including visits and joint exercises; combating security threats and transnational crime; and promoting links through sport, tourism and culture.

Economic overview

New Caledonia has a long-established nickel industry and around one-quarter of the world's known nickel deposits. Output increased with the start of production at new nickel plants at Goro and Koniambo in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Financial transfers from France are also an important source of income in New Caledonia – amounting to some $1.5 billion per annum (14 per cent of GDP). Most of this covers expenditure on education and other public service salaries, social security contributions and pensions. The remainder goes to targeted development projects, particularly in the Northern and Islands Provinces, given that most of New Caledonia's wealth is concentrated in the Southern Province, which includes Noumea.

New Caledonians enjoy a GDP per capita higher than most other Pacific Island countries. There is a significant disparity in wealth distribution, with high cost of living partly owing to heavy market protection. In October 2011, a report prepared by a committee comprising representatives from the Congress, unions and the government identified 21 per cent of New Caledonians as living in poverty.

Trade and investment

Australia is New Caledonia’s third largest trading partner after China and France. New Caledonia ranks as one of Australia's top 21 export destinations by number of Australian companies doing business in the location (over 2000). In 2014, Australian merchandise exports to New Caledonia totalled $311 million (mostly coal and civil engineering equipment and parts). New Caledonia’s exports to Australia were valued at $202 million with nickel ores and concentrates by far the largest components. Service exports were valued at $170 million in 2014. 

Two-way investment was valued at $424 million with $374 million of that representing New Caledonian investments in Australia.

The Australia Pacific Islands Business Council organises the annual Australia New Caledonia Business Forum to explore business opportunities. Normally held in Brisbane, it took place in Noumea for the first time in 2015.

Information on doing business and opportunities in New Caledonia

High level visits

September 2015: Visit to by the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, Minister for Education and Training to Noumea.

July 2015: President Philippe Germain attended the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting in Sydney.

April 2012: Then Governor-General, H.E. Quentin Bryce visited New Caledonia. She was accompanied by then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon Richard Marles.

Last Updated: 19 June 2014