Overview of Australia's aid program to Tonga

How we are helping

2014/15 Bilateral Outcome
$16.3 million

2015/16 Bilateral Budget Estimate
$17.6 million

2015/16 Total Australian ODA Estimate
$30.2 million

The Australian Government will provide an estimated $30.2 million in total Official Development Assistance to Tonga in 2015–16. This will include an estimated $17.6 million in bilateral funding to Tonga managed by DFAT.

Australia has a longstanding, cooperative relationship with Tonga. Australia implements an integrated set of foreign, trade and development policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and enhance stability across the Pacific.  It is in Australia’s interest to support Tonga’s development and help strengthen its economic and environmental resilience. 

Tonga graduated to upper middle-income status in 2012, However, it continues to face development challenges.  In 2014, Tonga was ranked third on the World Risk Index due to its exposure to natural hazards and its capacity to respond1. Tonga has a geographically isolated population of around 100,000 people, significant subsistence agriculture and a narrow resource, production and export base. It imports substantially more than it exports and has a relatively low level of private sector activity. Approximately one quarter of Tongan households find it difficult to meet their basic needs, especially those on outer islands and those who are not in receipt of overseas remittances2. Remittances from Tongans working overseas are an important element of the economy representing an estimated 21 per cent of gross national disposable income in 20123.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are endemic in Tonga. They will present an increasing economic drain over coming years, due to higher costs to the health sector, lost labour productivity due to caring responsibilities, high rates of morbidity and premature mortality. With support from Australia, Tonga has successfully accelerated action on combatting NCD risk factors but this remains a key challenge to Tonga’s development.

As in other parts of the world, gender inequality in Tonga undermines economic growth, human development and poverty reduction. Women in the Pacific continue to be under-represented in Parliament—Tonga currently has no female parliamentarians compared to the global average of 21.7 per cent4.  Rates of domestic violence are also particularly concerning.

Australia will continue to work with Tonga and its development partners to address these challenges, building on important reforms and investments made to date. In line with Australia’s aid policy and Tonga’s Strategic Development Framework II, Australia is working with the Tongan Government and other development partners to pursue the following strategic priorities.

Objective 1: Governance, economic and private sector development

Australia and other donors are jointly supporting the Tonga Economic Reform Program, which drives reforms to strengthen revenue, effectively manage government expenditure, manage debt and promote private sector growth. Donors link aid payments to agreed reform benchmarks and provide technical assistance to support implementation. Australia is also funding pilot projects to support Tonga’s vanilla industry and supporting regional initiatives that promote Tonga’s private sector, such as the Pacific Horticultural Agricultural Market Access Program (PHAMA), and the Asian Development Bank’s Private Sector Development Initiative.  

Investments for supporting economic, governance and private sector development reforms

Objective 2: More effective, efficient and equitable health system

Australia is promoting a more effective, efficient and equitable health system in Tonga, with a focus on reducing the health and economic burden of NCDs. Our new phase of the Tonga Health Systems Support Program focuses on strengthening the management of NCDs through preventative health services, NCD health promotion, and support for mental health and disability services. This work is complemented by infrastructure investments to improve environmental health through the Nuku’alofa Urban Development Project, which is increasing access to clean water supply, sanitation and solid waste services, particularly in low income residential areas.

Investments for promoting a more effective, efficient and equitable health system

Objective 3: Skills development in support of economic opportunities for Tongan workers

Australia is supporting a range of training opportunities in Tonga, regionally and internationally, to ensure Tongans are skilled to meet priority areas of labour demand. OurInterim Skills Development Facility is providing young Tongans with the skills and qualifications needed by the private sector, both in Tonga and overseas. We are expanding Australia’s investments in technical and vocational skills development, with a particular focus on opportunities for women and those with a disability. Through our education assistance, we are improving the quality of basic and early childhood education in Tonga. 

Investments for improving economic opportunities for Tongan workers through skills development

Cross cutting issues

Australia is seeking to address the cross-cutting issues of disaster resilience and preparedness, gender equality and supporting the needs of people with a disability across all our investments. Tonga Women Shaping Development is a key initiative by Australia that aims to strengthen the national response to violence against women, research the impacts of the seasonal migrant worker scheme on women and men, strengthen the organisational and technical capacity of women’s organisations and support the Government of Tonga to organise key women’s events.  This work is a sub-set of the region-wide Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program (see also Related links: Pacific Regional aid program).

Regional programs

Through programs delivered regionally and globally by DFAT, Australia is also helping to strengthen fisheries management, disaster resilience, health and education systems across the Pacific and in Tonga. Programs delivered through other Australian government departments enhance local Tongan policing capacity and legal systems. We are working to further enhance the development impacts of the Seasonal Workers Programme and will continue to provide Australia Awards to Tongans to support local skills development.

Our results

In 2014–15, Australia's aid program contributed to the following results.

Governance, economic and private sector development

  • With assistance from Australia and other donors, Tonga has introduced economic and financial management reforms that have returned the budget to balance, reduced new debt, and increased revenue performance.
  • Australian assistance for road maintenance helped with the creation of a locally-owned, private road contracting industry. Between April 2013 and March 2014, 12 Tongan companies bid for and undertook road maintenance activities in Tonga. Approximately 468km of road was maintained by these companies and  through the efforts of the project some 200 jobs have been created.


  • A strong partnership between Australia and Tonga to implement an integrated health program has contributed to a halt in the rise of obesity, a decrease in smoking rates, and a decrease in physical inactivity—all key risk factors of NCDs.   
  • Thanks in part to the Australia-Tonga health program, obesity risk factor and smoking rates are lowering. A 2014 World Health Organisation survey indicated:
    • approximately one thousand Tongans have reduced their risk of obesity over the last three years
    • smoking rates are gradually decreasing, particularly amongst women.
  • Tongans are becoming more active, with close to one-quarter of women (22 per cent) increasing their levels of physical activity.
  • Australia has helped to refurbish seven community health centres, developed an innovative ‘Diploma in NCD Nursing Practice’ and trained 20 registered specialist NCD nurses who now work at community health centres to screen, diagnose, treat and support patients. 
  • Australian support has helped improve Tonga’s environmental health infrastructure.  The upgrade of the Nuku’alofa waste facility will add an additional 8-10 years to the lifespan of the waste management site, which provides essential services to Nuku’alofa’s urban areas.

Skills development

  • In 2015, 44 Tongans received an Australia Award scholarship to study at tertiary institutions in Australia and the Pacific.  Since 1985, 675 Tongan Australia Award alumni (47 per cent women) have graduated with relevant qualifications to address human resource gaps in the workforce and enhanced the strong people-to-people links between our two countries.
  • In 2015, the Interim Skills Development Facility supported 54 places for women in new horticulture courses and a further 25 places for women and men in agriculture courses.
  • Since 2008, more than 4,200 Tongans have participated in the Seasonal Workers Programme.

Our changing program

Australia’s proposed aid objectives are guided by shared priorities with the Tongan Government and an assessment of key constraints to economic growth and poverty reduction.  They reflect an understanding of where our aid can most effectively support Tonga’s development and strengthen its economic and environmental resilience.

Accordingly, we will work with Government of Tonga to consolidate our aid investments and increase our focus on investments that support economic growth. We will increase the proportion of the program allocated to aid for trade activities. We will look for opportunities for Tonga to fully benefit from the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus, when finalised. Our infrastructure investments will be re-oriented to better enable achievement of our strategic priorities.

We will expand support for technical and vocational skills development, with a particular focus on opportunities for women and those with disability. We will strengthen our focus on our Tonga Women Shaping Development and prevention of violence against women initiatives.  We will also improve synergies between Australian-supported bilateral and regional initiatives.



1. http://i.unu.edu/media/ehs.unu.edu/news/4070/11896.pdf   The World Risk Index consists of indicators in four components: (a) exposure towards natural hazards such as earthquakes, cyclones, flooding, drought and sea level rise, (b) susceptibility depending on infrastructure, food, housing and economic framework conditions, (c) coping capacities depending on governance, risk reduction, early warning, healthcare, social and material coverage and (d) adaptive capacities related to future natural hazards and the impacts of climate change.  Source: http://i.unu.edu/media/ehs.unu.edu/news/4070/11895.pdf

2. Tonga Department of Statistics Data (2009) in the Social Protection Issues Paper prepared for the Government of Tonga’s Ministry of Finance and National Planning, cited in  AusAID (June 2013). Tonga Annual Performance Report 2012-13, 3.

3. Government of Tonga Budget Statement 2014-15, p13

4. Inter-parliamentary Union, Women in National Parliaments – World Average.

Last Updated: 9 February 2015
Detailed records of Tongan customs kept at the Nuku'alofa port office (credit: DFAT).
Members of a road works team repair roads around the main island of Tongaptu, Tonga (credit: DFAT).
Students with a disability take part in activities at Ngele'ia Primary School in Nuku'alofa, Tonga (credit: DFAT).
Lola Koloa'Matangi, a counsellor at Tonga National Centre for Women and Children, talks with a woman who has been the victim of abuse by her partner (credit: DFAT).