Stepping-up in Vanuatu
Australia and Vanuatu share a strong connection as members of the Pacific family. Our relationship over the last 40 years demonstrates our long-standing and enduring ties, including through shared values, church and community links, and mutual respect. Our strong partnerships enable us to work closely together – in good times and in times of crises.
Australia is Vanuatu's largest bilateral development partner, providing over $66.2 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.
Australia has provided a $17 million package of immediate support to help Vanuatu respond to the health and economic challenges of COVID-19. This included support for Vanuatu’s economic stimulus package, health preparedness and response and school and community grants. Australia is funding critical upgrades to health infrastructure, providing medical equipment and supplies to protect frontline health workers, and funding new staff critical to COVID-19 planning and operations. Australia also supported the Ministry of Education and Training with its home schooling programs including funding a thrice weekly national home-schooling radio program which reaches children across Vanuatu.
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. 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, Alex Hawke, visited for the Pacific Wastewater Ministers meeting.
February 2019: The then 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 then Assistant Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston.
June 2019: Then Prime Minister of Vanuatu, the Hon Charlot Salwai MP, 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: Ambassador for Women and Girls, Sharman Stone, visited Vanuatu to attend the Pacific Women's Advisory Board Meeting.
July 2017: The then 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.