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Development assistance in Tonga

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Overview of Australia's aid program to Tonga

Overview of Australia's aid program to Tonga

How we are helping

2018-19 Total Australian ODA Estimated Outcome
$28.9 million

2019-20 Bilateral Budget Estimate
$17.6 million

2019-20 Total Australian ODA Estimate
$26.6 million

Australia has a longstanding, cooperative relationship with Tonga. Australia implements an integrated set of foreign, trade and development policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and enhance stability across the Pacific. It is in Australia's interest to support Tonga's development and help strengthen its economic and environmental resilience.

Under the Australia-Tonga Aid Partnership (2016-19), the Australian Government will provide an estimated $26.6 million in total Official Development Assistance to Tonga in 2019-20. This will include an estimated $17.6 million in bilateral funding to Tonga managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Australia-Tonga Aid Partnership will continue to focus on economic reform, private sector development, health and skills development.

Infographic, link to text version below
Tonga and Australia: standing strong together infographic. Larger version [PDF 470 KB] | Text version

Tonga continues to face development challenges. In 2016, Tonga was ranked second on the World Risk Index due to its exposure to natural hazards and its capacity to respond 1. Tonga has a geographically isolated population of around 100,000 people, significant subsistence agriculture and a narrow resource, production and export base. It imports substantially more than it exports and has a relatively low level of private sector activity. Approximately one quarter of Tongan households find it difficult to meet their basic needs, especially those on outer islands and those who are not in receipt of overseas remittances 2. Remittances from Tongans working overseas are an important element of the economy representing an estimated 26 per cent of Gross Domestic Product in 2015 3.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are endemic in Tonga and will present an increasing economic drain over coming years. With support from Australia, Tonga has successfully accelerated action on combatting NCD risk factors but this remains a key challenge to Tonga's development.

Gender inequality in Tonga undermines economic growth, human development and poverty reduction. Women in the Pacific continue to be under-represented in Parliament – Tonga currently has one female parliamentarian (4 per cent of total parliamentarians) compared to the global average of 21.7 per cent 4. Rates of domestic violence are particularly concerning.

Australia will continue to work with Tonga and its development partners to address these challenges, building on important reforms and investments made to date. In line with the Australia-Tonga Aid Partnership, Australia is working with the Tongan Government and other development partners to pursue the following strategic priorities.

Objective 1: Governance, economic and private sector development

Australia and other donors are jointly supporting the Tonga Economic Reform Program, which drives reforms to strengthen revenue, effectively manage government expenditure, manage debt and promote private sector growth. Donors link aid payments to agreed reform benchmarks and provide technical assistance to support implementation. Australia recently funded a pilot project to support Tonga's vanilla industry. Australia is also supporting regional initiatives that promote Tonga's private sector, such as the Pacific Horticultural Agricultural Market Access Program (PHAMA), and the Asian Development Bank's Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative.

Investments for supporting economic, governance and private sector development reforms

Objective 2: More effective, efficient and equitable health system

Australia is promoting a more effective, efficient and equitable health system in Tonga, with a focus on reducing the health and economic burden of NCDs. Our new phase of the Tonga Health Systems Support Program focuses on strengthening the management of NCDs through preventative health services, NCD health promotion, and support for mental health and disability services. This work is complemented by infrastructure investments to improve environmental health through the Nuku'alofa Urban Development Project, which is increasing access to clean water supply, sanitation and solid waste services, particularly in low-income residential areas.

Investments for promoting a more effective, efficient and equitable health system

Objective 3: Skills development in support of economic opportunities for Tongan workers

Australia is supporting a range of local, regional and international training opportunities to ensure Tongans are skilled to meet priority areas of labour demand. Our Tonga Skills program is providing young Tongans with the skills and qualifications needed by the private sector, both in Tonga and overseas. We are expanding Australia's investments in technical and vocational skills development, with a particular focus on opportunities for women and those with disability. Through our education assistance, we are improving the quality of basic and early childhood education in Tonga.

Investments for improving economic opportunities for Tongan workers through skills development

Cross cutting issues

Australia is seeking to address the cross-cutting issues of disaster resilience and preparedness, gender equality and supporting the needs of people with a disability across all our investments. Tonga Women Shaping Development [PDF 443 KB] is a key initiative by Australia that aims to strengthen the national response to violence against women, research the impacts of the seasonal migrant worker scheme on women and men, strengthen the organisational and technical capacity of women's organisations and support the Government of Tonga to organise key women's events. This work is part of the region-wide Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program.

Tonga is particularly prone to natural disasters. We are supporting Tonga's capacity to prepare for and respond to emergencies, including through the deployment of Australian Civilian Corps personnel to the National Emergency Management Office, and funding the Australian Red Cross and Tonga Red Cross. Through Australia's Defence Cooperation Program and Australian Federal Police presence, Tonga has valuable marine assets that may be used to assist in a response as required. These assets include three patrol boats and a landing craft through the Defence Cooperation Program, and three police search and rescue boats to assist in a response.

Regional programs

Australia is helping to strengthen fisheries management, disaster resilience, health and education systems across the Pacific and in Tonga. Programs delivered through other Australian government departments enhance local Tongan policing capacity and legal systems. We are working to further enhance the development impacts of the Seasonal Worker Programme and will continue to provide Australia Award scholarships and Australia Award Pacific scholarships to Tongans to support local skills development.

Our results

Australia's aid program has contributed to the following results.

Governance, economic and private sector development

  • With assistance from Australia and other donors, Tonga has continued to implement economic and financial management reforms that returned the budget to balance, reduced new debt, and increased revenue performance.
  • Australian assistance supported the ongoing implementation of the Tonga Procurement Reform Strategy. This has led to improved procurement compliance in the public sector and increased engagement with the private sector.


  • A strong partnership between Australia and Tonga to implement an integrated health program has contributed to a halt in the rise of obesity, a decrease in smoking rates, and a decrease in physical inactivity – all key risk factors of NCDs.
  • A new five year National Non-Communicable Diseases Strategy was launched in February 2016, coinciding with the signing of a five year grant agreement with the Tonga Health Promotion Foundation.
  • The introduction of higher excise duty on Tabaco and unhealthy food, and the introduction of legislation for 'smoke free' areas in public places.
  • Screening of rheumatic disease throughout Tonga for approximately 6,351 school children, with follow up treatment for 236 children.
  • Supporting the exchange of skills and training through the twinning arrangement between Tonga's Vaiola Hospital and the St John of God Hospital in Ballarat.

Skills development

  • In 2017, 42 Tongans received Australia Award scholarships or fellowships to study at tertiary institutions in Australia and the Pacific.
  • In 2016, 185 Tongans (46 per cent women) completed training supported by the Interim Skills Development Facility, in response to labour market demand.
  • Since 2008, more than 10,189 Tongans have participated in the Seasonal Worker Programme under our Memorandum of Understanding.

Our changing program

Australia's aid objectives are guided by the Australia-Tonga Aid Partnership. The Aid Partnership reflects an understanding of where our aid can most effectively support Tonga's development and strengthen its economic and environmental resilience.

Accordingly, we will work with Government of Tonga to consolidate our aid investments and increase our focus on investments that support economic growth. We will increase the proportion of the program allocated to aid for trade activities. We will look for opportunities for Tonga to fully benefit from the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus. Our infrastructure investments will be re-oriented to better enable achievement of our strategic priorities.

We will expand support for technical and vocational skills development, with a particular focus on opportunities for women and those with disability. We will strengthen our focus on the Tonga Plan for Pacific Women and prevention of violence against women initiatives. We will also improve synergies between Australian-supported bilateral and regional initiatives.

1World Risk Report 2016 [PDF 7.7 MB] The World Risk Index consists of indicators in four components: (a) exposure towards natural hazards such as earthquakes, cyclones, flooding, drought and sea level rise, (b) susceptibility depending on infrastructure, food, housing and economic framework conditions, (c) coping capacities depending on governance, risk reduction, early warning, healthcare, social and material coverage and (d) adaptive capacities related to future natural hazards and the impacts of climate change.

2 Tonga Department of Statistics Data (2009) in the Social Protection Issues Paper prepared for the Government of Tonga's Ministry of Finance and National Planning, cited in AusAID (June 2013). Tonga Annual Performance Report 2012-13, 3.

3 Government of Tonga Budget Statement 2014-15, p13

4 Inter-parliamentary Union, Women in National Parliaments - World Average.

Last Updated: 7 January 2019
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