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Vanuatu is an archipelagic nation of about 80 islands in a Y-shaped chain, 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 latitudes to Cairns in North Queensland. The population of Vanuatu is approximately 200 000. Port Vila, on the island of Efate, is the capital.
Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu was jointly governed by both British and French administrations before attaining independence on 30 July 1980.
The President of the Republic (Constitutional Head of State) is elected for a five-year term through secret ballot by an electoral college comprising Parliament and the Presidents of Vanuatu's six provincial governments. The current President, HE Iolu Johnson Abbil Kaniapnin, was elected on 2 September 2009. Vanuatu has a unicameral 52-member Parliament, elected to a four-year term by universal adult suffrage.
Vanuatu last held national elections on 2 September 2008. On 22 September 2008, Edward Natapei was elected Prime Minister in a secret ballot at the first sitting of the new parliament. His government was defeated in a motion of no confidence on 2 December 2010. The Deputy Prime Minister under the Natapei government, Sato Kilman, (People's Progressive Party) became the new Prime Minister of a loose alliance of eight political parties. Between April and June 2011, a no confidence motion against the Kilman government and a series of legal challenges from both sides led to the government changing four times. Eventually, Kilman was elected as Prime Minister by Parliament in a vote on 26 June. Since then, there have been no further changes.
National elections are due to be held in the second half of 2012.
Most of Vanuatu's population lives in rural areas where agriculture is the main source of their livelihood. While this consists mostly of small-scale or subsistence farming and fishing, agriculture, particularly beef cattle, is also an important export industry.
Vanuatu's economic growth is driven largely by tourism and construction. Tourism and tourism- related services sectors (wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants, and transport and communication) account for approximately 40 per cent of GDP and one third of people in formal employment. Construction activity is being driven by private-sector retail and residential projects and a number of donor-funded government construction projects mostly on the island of Efate, particularly in Port Vila.
Australia has a close relationship with Vanuatu. Australia is the largest aid donor and the main source of tourists (65 per cent) and investment. There is also a significant resident population of Australians (approximately 1300). Australia and Vanuatu enjoy a very broad range of links at government, business and community levels. There are regular visits in both directions between Australia and Vanuatu. The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon Richard Marles MP, visited Vanuatu in October 2010 and again in February 2011 to attend the meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group on Fiji. Australia has a High Commission in Port Vila and the Vanuatu Government plans to establish a High Commission in Canberra in early 2012.
Australia’s aid to Vanuatu has increased in recent years, and will amount to $70.1 million in 2011-12. Australia's development assistance is governed by the Australia-Vanuatu Partnership for Development, which was signed at prime ministerial level in 2009. Further information can be found on the AusAID website (http://www.ausaid.gov.au/country/vanuatu/default.cfm) .
An important element of Australia's longstanding support for agencies of the law and justice sector has been support for the Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) by AusAID through the engagement of long term advisors provided by the Australian Federal Police. The Vanuatu Australia Police Project has extended the reach of police operations in rural Vanuatu, as well as in the urban centres of Port Vila and Luganville. The project has also assisted the VPF both with professional development of its executive and by providing activities focused on infrastructure in the form of police stations/posts, accommodation requirements, refurbishments, communications systems, vehicles and marine capability in the form of donated vessels to meet the requirements of remote communities.
Members of the VPF have served in UN Peacekeeping missions in East Timor, Haiti, Sudan and Bosnia, in the Peace Monitoring Group and Transition Team in Bougainville, and in the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.
Australia's Defence Cooperation Program with Vanuatu was established in 1983. Australia assists Vanuatu in maintaining and operating its Pacific Patrol Boat, donated by Australia in 1987.
Vanuatu remains a modest market for Australia with some growth potential, dependent largely on economic growth and development in Vanuatu. Australian exports to Vanuatu in 2010-11 totalled $73.4 million. Australian imports from Vanuatu in the same period totalled $0.765 million.
Australia is the major source of foreign investment in the Vanuatu economy with a focus on agriculture, tourism, finance and construction. Two thirds of long stay tourists to Vanuatu and almost all cruise ship passengers are Australian.
Since 2008, Vanuatu has participated in the Australian Government's Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS). The scheme facilitates the recruitment of seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs.
Australians wishing to visit Vanuatu should consult the Smartraveller travel advice (http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/).
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