Tuvalu country brief

Overview

Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is located midway between Hawaii and Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. It comprises nine islands (four reef islands and five coral atolls). Tuvalu's population is approximately 11,000, with about half living on the atoll of Funafuti, which is the capital.

Political overview

Tuvalu became independent from the United Kingdom in October 1978. It is a constitutional monarchy with a 15-member unicameral parliament elected every four years. Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister, elected by a majority of the members of parliament, and several ministers. The Prime Minister is the head of government. There are no organised political parties and members usually align with informal groupings. Members of Parliament have very close links with their island constituencies.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State and is represented in Tuvalu by a Governor-General, currently the Hon Sir Iakoba Taeia Italei.

Enele Sopoaga became Prime Minister in August 2013 following a parliamentary motion of no confidence in the previous government, led by Willy Telavi. He was re-elected in March 2015 when Tuvalu last held national elections.

Bilateral Relations

In the 2018 Budget the Government announced that Australia would open a High Commission in Funafuti, Tuvalu. The new High Commission will strengthen relations with this important partner and key member of the Pacific Islands Forum. It will also help maximise the impact of our aid investments in Tuvalu. The new High Commission is expected to open in 2019.

Development Assistance

More information on development assistance to Tuvalu.

People to people links

Australia Awards

Australia is helping Tuvalu to build a skilled workforce by providing scholarships to students to further their education.

Every year the Australia Awards provide opportunities for around 15 Tuvaluan students to study at tertiary institutions in Australia and the Pacific. The awards enable students to gain the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to their country's development.

Australia Awards focus on areas of importance to Tuvalu’s development, including economic and public sector management, commerce, law, education, health, engineering, climate change and the environment.

Labour mobility initiatives

The Pacific Seasonal Worker Programme, led by the Department of Jobs and Small Business, connects Tuvaluan and other Pacific island workers with Australian employers experiencing labour shortages.

The five-year Pacific Microstates – Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program enables up to 250 citizens from Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru to access a multiyear visa to work in northern Australia.

The new Pacific Labour Scheme will also enable citizens of Tuvalu and other Pacific island countries to take up low and semi-skilled work opportunities in rural and regional Australia for up to three years. These initiatives allow workers to build their skills and send remittances home to support their families.

Volunteers

The Australian Volunteers program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region through capacity building in host organisations so as to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes. The program has a one-stop entry point to Australian volunteering. See the Australian Volunteers program page.

Economic overview

Most of Tuvalu's population is involved in subsistence fishing and agriculture. Remittances from seafarers working on overseas vessels are a significant (but declining) source of income for many families. The formal economy is dominated by government activity. Fishing licences and marketing of Tuvalu's internet domain name '.tv' contribute to government revenue.

The Tuvalu Trust Fund

In 1987, the Tuvalu Government established a publicly owned investment fund to provide a safety net against fluctuations in government income. The earnings of the Tuvalu Trust Fund are used to help the government finance the gap between its annual budgeted revenue and expenditure.

The Governments of Australia, New Zealand and the UK have made major contributions to the Tuvalu Trust Fund, with smaller grants coming from Japan and the Republic of Korea. Australia is a member of the Trust Fund Board. Revenue from the Trust Fund has enabled the government to undertake development programs, including upgrading outer island schools and fisheries centres.

Trade and investment

Australian merchandise exports to Tuvalu in 2016-17 totaled $3 million. Australian currency is legal tender in Tuvalu, but Tuvalu also circulates its own coins.

High level visits

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

July 2015: Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, visited Tuvalu.

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Last Updated: 9 May 2018