Vanuatu country brief
Stepping-up in Vanuatu: Australia and Vanuatu have a strong and enduring bilateral relationship, based on shared values and interests in a prosperous and stable region.
Australia established a presence in Vanuatu in 1978 and championed the case for Vanuatu's independence in the United Nations and Pacific Forums in the lead up to independence in 1980. Australia opened a Consulate in 1978, followed by a High Commission in Port Vila in 1980 and in 2020 we celebrate 40 years of close diplomatic relations. Australia and Vanuatu enjoy a very broad range of links at government, business and community levels. Australia's engagement aligns with Vanuatu's National Sustainable Development Plan 2030 and Australia's 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper and Pacific Step-up. Australia is proud to be Vanuatu's largest bilateral aid donor and closest security partner.
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 latitude to Cairns in North Queensland. The population of Vanuatu is approximately 281,000 (2017). 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.
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. The current President, His Excellency Obed Moses Tallis, was elected for a five year term on 6 July 2017. Following national elections on 19-20 March 2020, the parliament elected the Hon Bob Loughman Weibur, Prime Minister of Vanuatu on 6 April 2020.
Australia is Vanuatu's largest bilateral development partner, providing over $70 million in grant-based Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Vanuatu in 2019-20. The focus of Australia's aid program is to support the development of effective governance systems and institutions, facilitate economic growth and enable better-educated, healthier and resilient ni-Vanuatu people. Australia actively supports the Vanuatu government to respond to natural disasters, such as Tropical Cyclones Pam (2015) and Harold (2020), and respond to new shared challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Economic and trade 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 been driven largely by tourism and construction. Prior to 2020, tourism and tourism-related services sectors (wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants, and transport and communication) accounted for approximately 40 per cent of GDP and one third of people in formal employment. Two-thirds of long stay tourists to Vanuatu and almost all cruise ship passengers were Australian. Additionally, Australian merchandise exports to Vanuatu in 2018-19 totalled $90.6 million.
Vanuatu is the largest source of Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme workers (4,964 in 2018-19) and has participated strongly in the Pacific Labour Scheme which provides visas for up to three years for semi-skilled work across all sectors in rural and regional Australia.
Australia and Vanuatu continue to deepen our security partnership driven by a shared interest in a safe and secure Pacific region. We are working together to build police capability and improve community safety and resilience. Guided by the Boe Declaration on regional security, we are working together to address the Pacific's unique security interests including transnational crime, health, environmental and cyber security.
Vanuatu will receive a replacement Guardian patrol boat under the Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP). The $2 billion (over 30 years) program consists of replacement Guardian patrol boats, integrated aerial surveillance, and enhancements to regional cooperation.
Australia and Vanuatu share strong people-to-people links across government, business and community. This was demonstrated by Vanuatu’s generous and appreciated support following Australia’s bushfires in January 2020 when the Government of Vanuatu kindly donated $250,000. The private sector and local community groups also undertook fundraising efforts to support Australia’s bushfire recovery.
Prior to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Vanuatu received around 50 Australian Volunteers for International Development each year. These volunteers work in a wide range of sectors to contribute to Vanuatu's development and to build enduring people-to-people links between Australia and Vanuatu.
Vanuatu is the largest source of workers for the Seasonal Worker Programme and engages strongly in the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme. Labour mobility is a win-win for Australia and Vanuatu, helping to fill labour shortages in Australia and provide additional opportunities for workers to earn income and develop skills.
Australia Awards offer the next generation of Vanuatu's leaders an opportunity to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia and the Pacific region. Australia Awards complement development assistance to Vanuatu by building human resources in priority sectors. Through these prestigious scholarships, Australia is supporting ni-Vanuatu students to build the skills and knowledge to drive change and influence economic and social development.
High level visits
October 2019: The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, returned to Vanuatu for further meetings with the Government of Vanuatu and also to visit Luganville, on the island of Santo.
August 2019: Minister for International Development and the Pacific Hawke visited for the Pacific Wastewater Ministers meeting.
February 2019: The Assistant Minister for Trade Tourism and Investment, Mark Coulton, visited Vanuatu to attend the Australia-Vanuatu Business Forum.
February 2019: The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, visited Vanuatu for meetings with the Government of Vanuatu.
January 2019: Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the first bilateral visit to Vanuatu by an Australian Prime Minister, accompanied by the Assistant Minister for International
Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston.
June 2019: The Hon Charlot Salwai MP, Prime Minister of Vanuatu visited Australia as a guest of the Australian Government.
April 2018: The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, accompanied His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales on his visit Vanuatu, as part of His Royal Highness' Australian Tour.
August 2017: Sharman Stone, Ambassador for Women and Girls, visited Vanuatu to attend the Pacific Women's Advisory Board Meeting.
July 2017: The Governor-General, the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), visited Vanuatu (Port Vila) for the late President, His Excellency Reverend Womtelo Baldwin Lonsdale's funeral.
December 2016: A bipartisan delegation visited Vanuatu. The delegation comprised the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, then Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senator Claire Moore, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific.