Vanuatu flag

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 250,000. 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 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) elected Prime Minister for the second time. On 21 March 2013, Kilman resigned pre-empting a motion of no confidence. On 23 March 2013, Moana Carcasses Kalosil was elected Prime Minister. Moana Carcasses himself faced a motion of no confidence on 15 May 2014 and lost the prime ministership. Joe Natuman was then sworn in as Prime Minster.

Economic overview

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.

Bilateral relationship

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. Australia has a High Commission in Port Vila and the Vanuatu Government established a High Commission in Canberra in March 2012.

There are regular visits in both directions between Australia and Vanuatu. In December 2013, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, led a parliamentary delegation to Vanuatu, accompanied by Senator Brett Mason, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Members of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek and Matt Thistlethwaite, and Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja AM.

Australia is Vanuatu's largest bilateral aid 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.

More information on Australia's development assistance to Vanuatu

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

Australian merchandise exports to Vanuatu in 2012-13 totalled $65.6 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.

Updated March 2014