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 200 000. 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.
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 Parliament and the Presidents of Vanuatu's six provincial governments. The current President, HE Iolu Johnson Abbil, was elected on 2 September 2009. The Prime Minister is elected by Parliament from among its members by secret ballot.
National elections were held on 30 October 2012. The first sitting of Parliament, held on 19 November 2012, saw Prime Minister Meltek Sato Kilman Livtunvanu (Sato Kilman) re-elected to the position by 29 votes to 23. Kilman leads a coalition government comprising nine political parties and one independent. On 21 March, Kilman resigned. On 23 March, Moana Carcasses was elected Prime Minister in his place by 34 votes.
Most of Vanuatu's population lives in rural areas where subsistence farming and fishing are the main sources of livelihood. While agriculture, particularly beef cattle, is an important export industry, Vanuatu's economic growth is 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 being driven by private-sector retail, residential and a number of donor-funded government construction projects mostly on the island of Efate, particularly in Port Vila.
Australia has a close relationship with Vanuatu. Australia is the largest aid donor and the main source of tourists (65 per cent) and investment. There is also a significant resident population of Australians (approximately 1300). Australia and Vanuatu enjoy a very broad range of links at government, business and community levels. There are regular visits in both directions between Australia and Vanuatu. Most recently, Foreign Minister Senator Carr visited Vanuatu in February 2013. Former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles has visited Vanuatu a number of times, most recently in February 2012. Australia has a High Commission in Port Vila and the Vanuatu Government established a High Commission in Canberra in March 2012.
Australia’s aid to Vanuatu is estimated at $59.8 million in 2012-13. Australia is the country’s largest donor. Australian aid is governed by the Australia-Vanuatu Partnership for Development, which focuses on improving education, health, infrastructure, economic governance and law and justice. To improve education access and quality, Australia provides assistance in areas such as school grants, curriculum improvement, teacher training and classroom construction. In the health sector, Australian aid is strengthening health service delivery (for example by upgrading health facilities and training nurses) and is supporting malaria reduction. Other major initiatives include infrastructure (roads, telecommunications, energy) and land management. Australia also provides support to law and justice institutions and to civil society organisations in Vanuatu. Further information can be found on the AusAID website.
Australia's Defence Cooperation Program with Vanuatu was established in 1983. Australia assists Vanuatu in maintaining and operating its Pacific Patrol Boat, donated by Australia in 1987.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Vanuatu remains a modest market for Australia. Australian merchandise exports to Vanuatu in 2011-12 totalled $63.3 million. Australian imports from Vanuatu in the same period totalled $1.29 million.
Australia is the major source of foreign investment in the Vanuatu economy with a focus on agriculture, tourism, finance and construction. Two-thirds of long stay tourists to Vanuatu and almost all cruise ship passengers are Australian.
Vanuatu participated in the Australian Government's Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS) from its inception in 2008. The scheme became permanent on 1 July 2012 as the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP). Under the Program, seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries are recruited by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs.
Australians wishing to visit Vanuatu should consult the Smartraveller travel advice.
Updated March 2013