Tonga flag

Kingdom of Tonga country brief

Introduction

The Kingdom of Tonga is a Polynesian country located twenty degrees south of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. The islands lie to the south of Samoa, and southeast of Fiji. The Tongan archipelago is comprised of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. The islands are divided into three main groups – Tongatapu, Ha'apai and Vav'u. The capital Nuku'alofa is located on the main island of Tongatapu. Tonga's population is approximately 103,000.

Political overview

Tonga is a constitutional monarchy, making it unique in the Pacific. Following the death of King George Tupou V in March 2012, his younger brother became king and took the title King Tupou VI. As Head of State the King is Commander-in-Chief of the Tonga Defence Services (TDS). The King is advised by a Privy Council whose members he appoints.

The governing structure comprises the Executive (Cabinet), Legislature and Judiciary. A reformed constitution was agreed by the Legislative Assembly in December 2009 and implemented through legislation passed in April 2010. The new constitution considerably reduced the King's power, which was devolved to the Cabinet. Cabinet now answers to the Legislative Assembly. However, the King retains the right to veto legislation. Under the new arrangements, the Legislative Assembly comprises 17 People's Representatives (PRs), nine Noble Representatives elected from among the holders of Tonga's 33 noble titles, and up to four other members appointed by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister. The King appoints the Prime Minister on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly.

Tonga's first elections under these new arrangements took place on 25 November 2010. The Human Rights and Democracy Party won 12 of the 17 PRs' seats. But its leader, 'Akilisi Pohiva, failed to be elected Prime Minister when the other five PRs' teamed with the nine nobles to elect Lord Tu'ivakano on 21 December 2010. Lord Tu'ivakano also holds ministerial portfolios for Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Information and Communication.

Economic overview

Tonga's economy is heavily reliant on remittances from Tongans working overseas, and foreign aid. The US is the main source of remittances, followed by New Zealand and Australia. Foreign development assistance in the form of loans, grants and direct aid is an important component of the Tongan economy. Construction and infrastructure projects funded by donor grants and soft loans are sources of growth.

Agriculture is the leading productive sector, while the manufacturing sector is very small. Tourism is modest but with potential for expansion. Tonga's main trading partners are New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, the United States and Japan. Most Tongan exports are agricultural produce while imports cover the full range of consumer and industrial goods.

Bilateral relationship

Australia and Tonga enjoy a close bilateral relationship, supported by our aid, defence cooperation, the Tonga Police Development Program (TPDP) and people-to-people links. Tonga was the first country to send workers to Australia under the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (now the Seasonal Worker Program).

The Australia–Tonga Partnership for Development guides Australian aid to Tonga. The Partnership focuses on developing the public sector, improving health and education services and outcomes and improving infrastructure.

More information on Australian development assistance to Tonga

As the major defence partner, Australia has provided long-term security assistance to Tonga. The Tonga Defence Services (TDS) has a navy which includes three patrol boats provided by Australia and supported by Australia's Pacific Patrol Boat Program. Australia also participates in the TPDP, a joint undertaking between Tonga, Australia and New Zealand, which aims to build police capacity.

Regular high-level visits enhance the bilateral relationship. The former Governor-General, Quentin Bryce AC CVO, visited Tonga in March 2012 to attend the funeral of the late King George Tupou V. She had previously visited in July 2011 for the King’s birthday celebrations. The Former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles visited Tonga a number of times, most recently in December 2012.

Australia is an important focus for Tongans seeking education, travel and business opportunities. The largest communities of Tongans in Australia are in Victoria and NSW, with smaller groups in the ACT and Queensland. Approximately 25 000 Australians identify themselves as of Tongan ancestry. Tongans have achieved notable success in sport, with Tongan athletes contributing to the Australian Rugby Union and Rugby League teams and the Australian Football League.

In August 2008, the Tongan Government established a High Commission in Canberra.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Australia's (merchandise) exports to Tonga totalled $7 million in 2012-13 (primarily meat and liquefied propane and butane).  

Visitor information

Australians travelling to Tonga are advised to consult the Smartraveller travel advice.

Updated March 2014