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Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, became independent from the United Kingdom in October 1978. It comprises nine islands (four reef islands and five coral atolls), eight of which are inhabited, and is located midway between Hawaii and Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. The population of Tuvalu is approximately 11 000. Roughly half of the population lives on the atoll of Funafuti, which is the capital.

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Tuvalu is a constitutional monarchy with a 15-member unicameral parliament elected every four years. Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister, elected by a majority of the members of parliament, and several ministers. There are no organised political parties and members usually align themselves in informal groupings. MPs have very close links with their island constituencies and effort is directed towards balancing island representation in Cabinet.

HM Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State and is represented in Tuvalu by a Governor General, current the Hon. Iakoba Taeia Italei. Tuvalu's last national elections were held on 16 September 2010 with 10 of the 15 incumbent members re-elected. On 29 September 2010, Maatia Toafa, who had served as Prime Minister from 2004 to 2006, was elected Prime Minister by the new Tuvalu Parliament by a margin of eight votes to seven. However, on 21 December 2010, the Toafa government lost a vote of no confidence. Willy Telavi was elected Prime Minister and his new cabinet of eight was sworn in on 24 December 2010. As Prime Minister, Telavi is the Head of Government.

Tuvalu's next General Election is due to be held in late 2014.

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The economy of Tuvalu is vulnerable to external influences, including the weather. Most of Tuvalu's population is involved in subsistence fishing and agriculture. Remittances from seamen working on overseas vessels are a significant source of income for many families. The money economy is dominated by government activity. Fishing licences and marketing of its internet domain name '.tv' contribute to government revenue.

The Tuvalu Trust Fund

In 1987, the Tuvalu Government established a publicly owned investment fund to provide a safety net against fluctuations in government income. The earnings of the Tuvalu Trust Fund are used to help the government finance the gap between its annual budgeted revenue and expenditure.

The Governments of Australia, New Zealand and the UK have made major contributions to the Tuvalu Trust Fund, with smaller grants coming from Japan and the Republic of Korea. Australia is a member of the Trust Fund Board. Revenue from the Trust Fund has enabled the government to undertake development programs, including upgrading outer island schools and fisheries centres.

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Australia is one of Tuvalu's most significant development partners. A Pacific Partnership for Development between Australia and Tuvalu was signed at Prime Ministerial level during the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in Cairns in August 2009. The estimated total aid budget for 2011-12 is $9.8 million. Of this, $7.4 million is bilateral aid, focusing on annual contributions to the Tuvalu Trust Fund; improving financial management and planning; and supporting adaptation measures to increase Tuvalu's resistance to the impacts of climate change. Further information is available on the AusAID website ( .

During Tuvalu's drought emergency in 2011, Australia and New Zealand led international efforts to address critical water shortages by providing emergency water supplies and desalination plants.

Through the Defence Cooperation Program, Australia provides technical and financial assistance to support maritime surveillance in Tuvalu's Exclusive Economic Zone. In 1994, Australia gifted a patrol boat, the HMTSS Te Mataili, to Tuvalu. As well as maritime surveillance, Te Mataili is also able to provide a search and rescue capability. Full-time, in-country Royal Australian Navy maritime surveillance and technical advisers ensure follow-on support for the vessel and the development of indigenous maritime surveillance and response capabilities. The Defence Cooperation Program also supports Tuvalu's Police Maritime Wing's operational ability through the provision of fresh water tanks, marine boarding ladders and sea anchor.

In September 2011, Prime Minister Gillard announced that Tuvalu would be among the countries included in the expanded Pacific Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme. The scheme facilitates the recruitment of seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs.

Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon Richard Marles MP, visited Tuvalu in December 2010 and December and July 2011. Prime Minister Telavi visited Australia in October 2011 to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth.

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Australian exports to Tuvalu in 2010-11 totalled $2.5 million (principally meat, sugars, molasses and honey). Australia imported $123 000 of goods from Tuvalu in the same period (principally electrical machinery and parts). Australian currency is legal tender in Tuvalu, but Tuvalu also circulates its own coins.

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Australians travelling to Tuvalu should consult the Smartraveller ( and the official National Tourism ( websites for travel advice.

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Last Updated: January 2012

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