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Factba.se: Australia DFAT Country Briefs - Tonga


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The Kingdom of Tonga is a Polynesian Pacific country located twenty degrees south of the equator. The islands lie to the south of Samoa, and southeast of Fiji. The Tongan archipelago is comprised of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. The islands are divided into three main groups — Tongatapu, Ha'apai and Vav'u. The capital Nuku'alofa is located on the main island of Tongatapu. Tonga’s population is approximately 103 000.

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Tonga is a constitutional monarchy, making it unique in the Pacific. Tonga's Head of State, King George Tupou V, was appointed on 1 August 2008. The King is advised by a Privy Council whose members he appoints. The King is Commander-in-Chief of the Tonga Defence Services (TDS ).

The governing structure comprises the Executive (Cabinet), Legislature and Judiciary. A reformed constitution was agreed by the Legislative Assembly in December 2009 and implemented through legislation passed in April 2010. The new constitution considerably reduced the King of Tonga's power, which was devolved to the Cabinet. Cabinet now answers to the Legislative Assembly. However, the King retains the right to veto legislation. Under the new arrangements, the Legislative Assembly comprises 17 People's Representatives (PRs), nine Noble Representatives elected from among the holders of Tonga's 33 noble titles, and up to four other members appointed by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister. The King, on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly, appoints the Prime Minister.

Tonga's first elections under these new arrangements took place on 25th November 2010. At the election the Human Rights and Democracy Party won 12 of the 17 PRs' seats. But its leader 'Akilisi Pohiva failed to be elected Prime Minister when the other five PRs' teamed with the nine nobles to elect Lord Tu'ivakano on 21December 2010.

Lord Tu'ivakano remains Tonga's Prime Minister and also holds ministerial portfolios for Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Information and Communication.

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Tonga is an active member of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). Tonga has been influential on a number of regional issues including transport, telecommunications and fisheries. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has an office in Nuku'alofa.

Tonga joined the United Nations in 1999 and has been a member of the World Trade Organization since July 2007. In April 2011 Tonga was elected to the council for the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The TDS contributed 200 personnel to Iraq between 2004 and 2009 and has provided a platoon on rotation to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) since 2003. Since December 2010 the TDS has deployed members to Helmand Province in Afghanistan for force protection duties.

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Tonga's economy is heavily reliant on remittances from Tongans working overseas, and foreign aid. The US is the main source of remittances, followed by New Zealand and Australia. Foreign development assistance in the form of loans, grants and direct aid is an important component of the Tongan economy. Construction and infrastructure projects funded by donor grants and soft loans are sources of growth for the economy.

Agriculture is the leading productive sector while the manufacturing sector is very small. Tourism is modest but with potential for expansion. Tonga's main trading partners are New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, the United States and Japan. Most Tongan exports are agricultural produce while imports cover the full range of consumer and industrial goods.

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Australia and Tonga enjoy a close bilateral relationship, supported by our aid, defence cooperation program and the Tonga Police Development Program (TPDP) as well as people-to-people links. Tonga was the first country to send workers to Australia under the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS ).

Australia is Tonga's most important bilateral provider of development assistance. Total Australian overseas development assistance to Tonga in 2011-12 is estimated at $32.1 million, which includes $19million towards a bilateral country program. Tonga signed a Partnership for Development with Australia in August 2009. Under the Partnership, Australian assistance focuses on achieving a more efficient and effective public sector, improved health, improved technical and vocational skills, and the development of Tonga's infrastructure. Further information is on the AusAID website (http://www.ausaid.gov.au/) .

Australia provides long-term security assistance as Tonga's major defence partner. The TDS has a navy which includes three patrol boats provided by Australia and supported through Australia's Pacific Patrol Boat Program. Australia also participates in the TPDP which aims to build police capacity. The TPDP is a joint undertaking between Tonga, Australia and New Zealand.

Regular high-level visits enhance the bilateral relationship. Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, visited Tonga in March 2011 and again in May 2011 when he attended the Forum Trade Ministers Meeting. He was the first foreign politician to visit the new Tongan Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano. The President of the Senate, Senator John Hogg, visited Tonga in June 2011 for the official opening of the Legislative Assembly. The Governor-General visited Tonga in July 2011 for the King’s birthday celebrations.

Australia has been, and continues to be, an important focus for Tongans seeking education, travel, business and other personal contacts. The largest communities of Tongans in Australia are in Victoria and NSW, with smaller groups in the ACT and Queensland. Approximately 20 000 Australians identify themselves as of Tongan ancestry. Tongans have achieved notable success in sport, with Tongan athletes contributing to the Australian Rugby Union and Rugby League teams and the Australian Football League.

In August 2008, the Tongan Government established a permanent diplomatic mission to Australia and the King's younger brother, HRH Prince Tupouto'a-Lavaka, Crown Prince of Tonga, commenced as Tonga's first High Commissioner to Australia.

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Telecommunications equipment and parts are among Australia' major exports to Tonga. Australia's merchandise trade (two-way) with Tonga totalled $8.5 million in 2010-11. Australian imports (principally vegetables, fruit and nuts) from Tonga during the same period were valued at $416 000.

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

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Last Updated: January 2012

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