Tuvalu flag

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. MPs have very close links with their island constituencies and effort is directed towards balancing island representation in Cabinet.

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. Tuvalu's last national elections were held on 16 September 2010. On 2 August 2013, Enele Sopoaga was elected Prime Minister following a parliamentary motion of no confidence in the previous government, led by Willy Telavi. Prime Minister Sopoaga and his new cabinet of seven were sworn in on 5 August 2013. Tuvalu's next general election is due to be held in early 2015.

Bilateral relations

Australia and Tuvalu have a close and cooperative relationship, based on shared regional interests, our development assistance program and support for maritime surveillance and broader security cooperation.

Australia's Partnership for Development with Tuvalu aims to raise the standard of living of Tuvaluans and build resilience to environmental stresses. Australia is helping to boost Tuvalu's long-term economic prospects by making contributions to the Tuvalu Trust Fund and improving financial management and planning. We are also helping to develop a skilled Tuvalu workforce by providing support for early education and opportunities for tertiary study. Australia will also continue to support Tuvalu to improve water resource management and activities that promote food security. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is a priority across our aid investments in Tuvalu.

Australia and Tuvalu signed a memorandum of understanding for Tuvalu's participation in the Seasonal Worker Program in February 2012. Under the Program, seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries are recruited by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs.

Through the Defence Cooperation Program, Australia provides technical and financial assistance to support maritime surveillance in Tuvalu's Exclusive Economic Zone. In 1994, Australia gifted a patrol boat, the HMTSS Te Mataili, to Tuvalu. As well as maritime surveillance, Te Mataili is also capable of conducting search and rescue operations. Full-time, in-country Royal Australian Navy maritime surveillance and technical advisers provide follow-on support for the vessel, and assistance with the development of indigenous maritime surveillance and response capabilities. The Defence Cooperation Program also supports Tuvalu's Police Maritime Wing's operational ability through the provision of fresh water tanks, marine boarding ladders and a sea anchor.

People to people links

Australia Awards

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

The Australia Awards provide opportunities for 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.

Economic overview

Most of Tuvalu's population is involved in subsistence fishing and agriculture. Remittances from seafarers working on overseas vessels are a significant (if declining) source of income for many families. The money 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 2012-13 totalled $1.6 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.