Vanuatu country brief


Vanuatu is an archipelagic nation of 83 islands, extending over 1000 kilometres in a north-south direction between the equator and the tropic of Capricorn. It lies some 2000 kilometres to the northeast of Brisbane in the Coral Sea, at similar latitudes to Cairns in North Queensland. The population of Vanuatu is approximately 266,000. Port Vila, on the island of Efate, is the capital.

Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu was jointly governed by British and French administrations before attaining independence on 30 July 1980.

Political overview

Vanuatu has a unicameral 52-member parliament, elected to a four-year term by universal adult suffrage. The president of the republic (constitutional head of state) is elected for a five-year term through secret ballot by an electoral college comprising members of parliament and the presidents of Vanuatu's six provincial governments. The prime minister is elected by parliament from among its members by secret ballot.

National elections were last held on 30 October 2012. Since the last elections Vanuatu has had three prime ministers.  Sato Kilman Livtuvanu was Prime Minister from 19 November 2012 to 21 March 2013, Moana Carcasses Kalosil from 23 March 2013 until 15 May 2014. Since 15 May 2014 Joe Natuman has been the prime minister. National elections are next due to be held in late 2016.

Bilateral relations

Australia has a close relationship with Vanuatu. Australia is an important economic partner for Vanuatu, providing the country with the majority of its tourists, foreign direct investment and aid. There is also a significant resident population of Australians (approximately 2000). Australia and Vanuatu enjoy a very broad range of links at government, business and community levels. Australia has a High Commission in Port Vila and the Vanuatu Government established a High Commission in Canberra in March 2012.

Australia is Vanuatu's largest bilateral aid donor. The estimated Australian aid budget for Vanuatu for financial year 2014-15 is $60.4 million.  Australian aid is governed by the Australia–Vanuatu Partnership for Development, which focuses on improving economic governance, infrastructure, education, health and law and justice. We work with a range of partners including the Vanuatu Government, the private sector and community organisations.

The Australian Federal Police provides assistance to the Vanuatu Police Force as part of the Vanuatu Policing and Justice Support Program. Australia also has a Defence Cooperation Program with Vanuatu, which was established in 1983. Australia assists Vanuatu in maintaining and operating its Pacific Patrol Boat (the RVS Tukoro), donated by Australia in 1987.

Economic overview

Most of Vanuatu's population lives in rural areas where subsistence farming, fishing and production of cash crops such as kava, coconut and cocoa are the main sources of livelihood. Goods exports are dominated by agricultural products, particularly kava, coconut products, beef and cocoa. Vanuatu's economic growth has recently been driven largely by tourism and construction. Tourism and tourism-related services sectors (wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants, and transport and communication) account for approximately 40 per cent of GDP and one third of people in formal employment. Construction activity is driven by private-sector retail, residential development and a number of donor-funded construction projects mostly on the island of Efate, particularly in Port Vila. In 2013 Vanuatu’s GDP per capita was US$3,082 and real GDP growth was 2.8 per cent.

Trade and investment

Australian merchandise exports to Vanuatu in 2013 totalled A$67 million.  

Australia is the major source of foreign investment in the Vanuatu economy with a focus on agriculture, tourism, finance and construction. Australian investments in Vanuatu totalled A$177 million in 2013. Two-thirds of long stay tourists to Vanuatu and almost all cruise ship passengers are Australian.

Vanuatu participates in the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP). Under the Program, workers from Pacific countries are recruited to work in Australia in the horticulture sector, and other trial sectors, to meet those sectors’ seasonal harvest needs. Vanuatu is the second highest contributor of workers to the program.

Tropical Cyclone Pam

Tropical Cyclone Pam caused widespread damage to Vanuatu in March 2015. Australia is working closely with the Government of Vanuatu to meet immediate needs and to support Vanuatu’s early and long-term recovery. Australia provided over $10 million in humanitarian assistance to Vanuatu to support the immediate response to the cyclone. A further $5 million is being provided to respond to early recovery priorities. Further details on Australia's contributions through development assistance to Vanuatu

High level visits

March 2014: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, visited Vanuatu following Tropical Cyclone Pam. The Foreign Minister met with the Prime Minister, The Hon Joe Natuman, Foreign Minister, The Hon Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, and Minister of Climate Change Adaptation, Meteorology, Geo-Hazards, Environment and Energy, The Hon James Bule.

August 2014: The Hon Sato Kilman Livtuvanu visited Australia.  He met with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop.

April - May 2014: A delegation from the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade visited Vanuatu. The delegation comprised Senators Ursula Stephens, David Fawcett, Anne McEwen and Helen Kroger.

December 2013: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, led a bipartisan delegation to Vanuatu which included Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brett Mason; , Opposition Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Tanya Plibersek; Opposition Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Matt Thistlethwaite; and Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja AM.

Development assistance

More information on development assistance to Vanuatu.

Last Updated: 16 September 2014