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Factba.se: Australia DFAT Country Briefs - Kiribati
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COUNTRY BRIEFS


INTRODUCTION

Kiribati comprises 33 small atolls which straddle the equator in the mid-Pacific ocean. The atolls are split into three island groups (the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands) plus the phosphate-island of Banaba.  Kiribati is spread out over 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean – the size of Western Australia and South Australia put together. Its population is just over 100,000. Tarawa is the capital, and the most populous atoll. Most of the rest of the population lives in the Gilbert Islands. The Phoenix Islands are uninhabited. Kiribati achieved independence from the United Kingdom on 12 July 1979. Kiribati is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and rising sea levels, with an average elevation of less than two metres above sea level.

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POLITICAL OVERVIEW

Government

The 46-member unicameral parliament is known as the Maneaba ni Maungatabu. Forty-four MPs are elected for a four-year term by non-compulsory universal adult suffrage. Another seat is reserved for former Banaban islanders now living on Rabi island in Fiji and the Attorney-General sits (ex officio) as a non-elected member. Both of these have full voting rights in the Parliament. The Speaker is elected to office by Members of Parliament but is not a Member of Parliament. The Speaker has neither an original nor a casting vote in Parliamentary decisions.

In Kiribati, the President (te Beretitenti) is both Head of Government and Head of State. Once parliamentary elections are completed, the Maneaba ni Maungatabu meets and members nominate presidential candidates. The Constitution requires that there be at least three and no more than four candidates. Presidents are then elected by popular vote, on a first‑past‑the‑post basis.

The President appoints his/her own Cabinet, comprising a Vice President, Attorney-General and no more than ten ministers selected from members of the Maneaba ni Maungatabu.

Presidential elections were last held on 13 January 2012. Anote Tong of the ruling Boutokaan te Koaua (Supporting the Truth) party was re-elected for a third term as President. Tong has been in office since 2003. As mandated by Kiribati’s constitution, this will be Tong’s final term as President.

Economic overview

Kiribati's economy faces significant constraints common to other island atoll states. These include its small size, remoteness and geographical fragmentation, a harsh natural environment with infertile soils, limited exploitable resources and the need to create jobs and promote growth for an expanding population. Kiribati relies heavily on licence fees from distant water fishing nations and remittances from Kiribati citizens employed abroad, mainly as seafarers.

Notwithstanding the limited range of economic assets, Kiribati has largely had a solid record of financial stability since independence in 1979. Governments have traditionally adopted a cautious approach to domestic spending combined with a deliberate policy of accumulating offshore investments. A major distinctive feature of national resources is the Revenue Equalisation Reserve Fund (RERF), a sovereign wealth fund initially established in 1956 by the British administration, which stores earnings from phosphate mining in in Banaba.

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FOREIGN RELATIONS

Kiribati maintains close relations with its Pacific neighbours, including Australia and New Zealand, and is an active member of the Pacific Islands Forum (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/spacific/index.html) and other regional organisations (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/spacific/index.html). A member of the Commonwealth since independence, Kiribati became a member of the United Nations on 14 September 1999 (http://www.foreignminister.gov.au/releases/1999/fa101_99.html) , and operates one overseas diplomatic mission, its High Commission in Suva, as well as Honorary Consulates in Sydney, Rhydderch (UK), Honolulu, Tokyo, Hamburg, Auckland and Hong Kong. Kiribati is also a member of the Asian Development Bank, IMF, World Bank, and some UN Organisations including UNESCO, WHO, ILO and FAO.

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BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

Australia and Kiribati enjoy close and longstanding relations based on regional and international cooperation, trade and investment links, a substantial development assistance program, support for maritime surveillance and broader security cooperation and extensive people to people exchanges over many years.

Australia is the largest donor to Kiribati, providing an estimated $28.2 million in official development assistance in 2011‑12, of which $18.3 million will be delivered through the bilateral aid program. Under the Australia-Kiribati Partnership for Development (signed in January 2009), Australian aid is focused on improving basic education standards, developing workforce skills in areas of industry demand both domestically and abroad, and strengthening economic governance. The major aid initiatives include: training of nurses through the Kiribati Australia Nursing Initiative; strengthening technical and vocational training institutes in Kiribati to deliver courses of an international-standard; and working with primary schools to improve the literacy and numeracy of school-aged children, as well as enrolment rates. The aid program also supports Kiribati to improve the performance of its public enterprises and sustainably and effectively manage its public finances. Australia also provides support to other sectors (including climate change adaptation, health, infrastructure and eliminating gender-based violence). This includes supporting the World Bank’s Kiribati Adaptation Project which aims to reduce Kiribati's vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise.

Support through regional programs includes strengthening the Kiribati Police Service through the Pacific Police Development Program (PPDP) and its forerunner, the Pacific Regional Policing Initiative (PRPI), reducing vulnerability to and impact of HIV and STIs through the Pacific HIV and STI Response Fund, working with UNICEF to improve immunisation coverage and with UNFPA to improve adolescent reproductive health and access to basic emergency obstetric care. Further information is on the AusAID (http://www.ausaid.gov.au/) website.

Australia's Defence Cooperation Program provides ongoing training and other support to the Police Maritime Unit of the Kiribati Police Service for its operation of the patrol boat, the RKS Teanoai, with two Royal Australian Navy personnel based permanently in Tarawa. The Australia-Kiribati Security Partnership, signed at the 2010 Pacific Islands Forum in Port Vila, Vanuatu, is further strengthening security cooperation between the two countries.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles visited Kiribati in November 2010 and July 2011, and in September 2011 with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

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BILATERAL ECONOMIC AND TRADE RELATIONSHIP

Australian exports to Kiribati in 2010-11 totalled $22 million (principally sugars, molasses and honey, wheat flour and meat (excl beef)). Australian imports from Kiribati in the same period totalled $1 million (principally ships and boats and flat-rolled alloy steel). Australian currency is legal tender in Kiribati. The ANZ Bank is the majority owner of the Bank of Kiribati which provides both central and retail banking services and is the only banking operation in the country.

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VISITOR INFORMATION

Australians travelling to Kiribati are advised to consult the Smartraveller (http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/) travel advice.

The Kiribati Honorary Consul-General in Sydney (http://protocol.dfat.gov.au/Consulate/view.rails?id=103) can provide travel information and visa information for nationals of other countries.

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Last Updated: January 2012

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