Tony Abbott & Loong Lee consolidate Australian-Singaporean Strategic Bonds

Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister Lee, Singapore ….from

29 June 2015, Singapore

Prime Minister

Subjects: Visit to Singapore; Singapore-Australia relationship; Singapore Free Trade Agreement; Daesh death cult; South China Sea; Indonesia; counter-terrorism.

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Generated by IJG JPEG Library

PRIME MINISTER LEE: Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I give a very warm welcome to Prime Minister Abbott and his delegation to Singapore. Your visit comes at a significant moment because this is not just our 50th year of independence, but also 50 years of bilateral relations with Australia – and the relations are worth celebrating because of how close our two countries have grown over the years.

We have strong and well-established defence, trade and people-to-people links. Our people are very close and familiar with one another and there are many of us who live on the other side – 50,000-plus Singaporeans in Australia and more than 20,000 Australians in Singapore, and many, many Singaporeans have graduated from Australian universities – one estimate puts it at more than 100,000.

We also have lots of tourists between our two countries. Every year, over one million visitors from Australia come to Singapore and I think several hundred thousand go to Australia from Singapore.

We are like-minded and we share similar strategic perspectives on the region, whether it’s our views on the US rule in Asia, whether it’s on the importance of US-China relations, whether it’s on the centrality of ASEAN, on counter-terrorism. And that’s why Singapore has always supported Australia’s engagement in the region and Australia’s contribution to regional cooperation and stability.

On economic issues, we both believe in trade liberalisation and an open rules-based trading system. We work well together in many forums: APEC, which Australia played a critical role bringing to being, the TPP, the G20, and many other multilateral organisations.

Our economies complement one another and we play to each other’s strength. Singapore is a regional hub with logistics and supply chain networks. Australia is a major exporter of natural resources and mineral products and agricultural products.

But beyond interest, there is also a special warmth in the relationship because of our temperaments of our national ethos, because of our preference to be direct and straight and candid and to the point, and informal, and that applies whether between our politicians, our institutions and our peoples.

And so with our strategic convergence and our many complementarities, it is not surprising that there are many ways we can work more closely together. Therefore I’m very glad that today we have taken one step forward – one important step forward – with a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that Prime Minister Abbott and I have just signed.

I would like to thank Mr Abbott for his very strong support, because without his initiating this and pushing this and bringing it through the CSP may not have materialised. He saw the potential for bringing our two countries together. Early on he raised it when we first met in 2012 and I shared his vision and strongly supported it and over the past year our officials have worked hard to make this a reality.

So, I would like to thank all the officials who have been involved for working very hard, even up to the last few days to make this happen.

The CSP will take our relations to a new level. There is a transformational agreement. It provides a bold vision and a clear road map for closer relations in the field of trade, investment, foreign policy, defence and security, education and cultural cooperation and people-to-people links.

On economics, we aim to work towards further integrating our two economies and we are going to, as a first step, review the existing Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement by next July to make it more business-friendly and we will also facilitate opportunities for Singaporean businesses to establish a foothold in Northern Australia, which is resource-rich and has many potentials for development.

We have just signed an MOU on standards and cooperation, which will reduce regulatory barriers and streamline standards.

On foreign affairs, defence and security, I look forward to working together to address common strategic challenges. We will have annual leaders’ meetings alternating between Australia and Singapore and we will strengthen our defence relationship further.

Today, Australia very generously hosts military training by our Army and Air Force in various bases in Australia and we will conclude a defence cooperation agreement by July next year which will for example increase Singapore’s access to military training areas in Australia.

We will also expand our cooperation on transnational challenges, issues like money laundering, organised crime, cyber-crime, drug trafficking and terrorism, and that’s why I’m very pleased that just now we signed an MOU on combatting terrorism.

Finally, we will enhance our people-to-people ties. We have signed the MOU on arts and culture cooperation which will facilitate more exchanges between our artists and collaboration between our heritage institutions.

Australia has a very vibrant arts scene with excellent cultural institutions and museums as well as a strong community arts programme and Singaporeans have had the benefit of seeing and experiencing Australian art in our heartlands as part of Australia’s 50 Bridges programme which the High Commissioner has been promoting.

So, the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership marks an exciting new chapter for us and sets the course for our relationship for the future.

We have agreed between the two Prime Ministers for us each to appoint a Minister to oversee the implementation of the CSP, make sure that the road map is followed through over the next 12 months and to report back, particularly on the two immediate and priority goals, which are to review the SAF, Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and conclude the defence cooperation agreements by July next year.

So, I would like thank Prime Minister Abbott for visiting us, for his leadership in the CSP. I hope we have given him an interesting and a fruitful journey both in terms of substance as well as seeing a little bit of Singapore, whether on foot, on bicycle or in our gardens.

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER ABBOTT: Thank you so much. If I may say so, I have been honoured and exhilarated by the warmth of the welcome and the strength of the friendship between our two countries.

I’m here first and foremost to acknowledge 50 years of remarkably successful history.

Fifty years ago Singapore became independent and Australia was one of the very first countries to recognise Singapore’s independence.

It’s been a very good 50 years for Singapore, it’s been a very good 50 years for Singapore and Australia, but we want to build on the friendship which has been long and strong. That’s why, Prime Minister, I’m not here alone, I’m here with the Premier of Western Australia, the Premier of Queensland, my Minister for Trade and Investment, a very large and high-level business delegation representing not just our major economic institutions but some of our splendid cultural institutions as well.

This is an important relationship.

It’s underpinned by history which I acknowledged by kicking off the visit with laying a wreath at the Kranji War Cemetery. But while it’s underpinned by history, it is very much looking to the future; a better future for our two countries and a better future for our region and our world because of the strength of the friendship between our two countries.

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There was a Northern Australia round table yesterday which went very well. Again, I thank and acknowledge Premiers Barnett and Palaszczuk for their contribution. This morning, there was a highly successful breakfast with Singaporean and Australian business leaders. There have been some marvellous moments to appreciate and enjoy the life of Singapore. Cycling your streets in the pre-dawn darkness, as well as appreciating what would have to be one of the world’s best botanical gardens.

Thank you so much for the orchid which I have chosen to name not so much in my honour, but in honour of our friendship; the Golden Friendship Orchid will hopefully flourish – not just in your botanical gardens, but much more widely in the weeks and months ahead.

Above all else, this has been a serious time to deepen the relationship; to turn friendship into something far more akin to a family relationship.

It was good to spend some time with President Tan this morning. It was great to spend some personal time with you, Loong, last night and again today before we had our formal bilateral.

As you say, there is so much complementarity between our two countries, but even more than that, there is a bedrock of common beliefs and values that is the rock-solid foundation on which our economic partnership, our security partnership, and our personal linkages rest.

So I’m very, very pleased at the comprehensive strategic partnership that we have formalised today.

I want to see as time goes by Australians and Singaporeans with the same kind of work and residency situation in our two countries as Australians and New Zealanders have long had.

I want to see an intimate defence partnership with Australia and Singapore and I know that building on the very long educational relationship that Singaporeans have had with Australia and the much newer but rapidly deepening educational relationship that Australians have had with Singapore, that our two peoples will walk arm-in-arm into a brighter future.

Of course, there are practical benefits here. More trade and more investment means more jobs and more prosperity. So, if I may say to people in Australia – who sometimes get anxious when prime ministers go overseas – these trips are all about you: they are about your future, your prosperity, your employment, your success and a stronger family relationship with Singapore will contribute to that.

Nothing happens if it’s not driven. Perhaps the most driven Minister in my Government has been the Minister for Trade and Investment who has driven three extraordinarily significant free trade agreements over the last few months with China, with Japan, with Korea, and I have asked Andrew Robb to lead the finalisation of the new arrangements and the new agreements that we will conclude within the next 12 months. I know that the future of our two countries, the future of the relationship, is in strong hands under Andrew’s supervision.

Thank you so much.


Thank you, Tony.


Thank you Prime Minister Abbott. Now we have questions from the floor, led by Mr Dennis Shanahan from The Australian, the microphone is being passed to you.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, left, shows Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, his phone  they took a walk in Bishan Park on Sunday, June 28, 2015 in Singapore. (AP Photo/Joseph Nair)

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, left, shows Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, his phone they took a walk in Bishan Park on Sunday, June 28, 2015 in Singapore. (AP Photo/Joseph Nair)


Prime Ministers, Dennis Shanahan from The Australian. Singapore and Australia both face domestic threats from Islamist extremists and regional tensions from territorial claims. In what way realistically can an enhanced Australia-Singapore relationship actually have an effect on those two threats?


Well, on the terrorism question, I think the countries work closely together quietly under the radar exchanging intelligence and keeping each other posted on what is happening. It’s not a national threat – it’s an international one. The terrorists operate across borders and governments need to operate across borders, too. I think the co-operation can go beyond that. Prime Minister Abbott yesterday visited our religious rehabilitation group at Khadijah Mosque and was briefed on how we have tried to turn around some of the people who have been led astray, how we have tried to helped the families of those who were detained, and how we have tried to guide the Muslim community in Singapore to not be misled by deviant and extreme and unsound interpretations of the faith to do very evil things, like ISIS is doing. I think these are areas which all of us are working on and we can exchange notes and learn from one another.

On the regional, territorial and maritime issues, these are issues which concern many countries in the region. They concern the claimant states in the first instance but they also concern the user states – people whose shipping or whose trade routes pass through the South China Sea or the disputed areas in the East China Sea. It concerns all the countries which have an interest in the stability and the security of the Asia Pacific region. So, we cannot take sides on the specific issues but I think we have a vested interest in leaning towards peaceful management and resolution of these items and that is the basis on which Singapore and Australia work together and talk about these subjects.


Dennis, first of all the situation in the Middle East, this conflict is reaching out to our region, as we know. People have gone from Australia and from our region to fight with these terrorist armies in the Middle East. So, it is important that we co-operate, share intelligence, work together to do what we can to keep our country safe and I was certainly pleased to be at the Khadijah Mosque yesterday to talk to the experts there about what is happening here in Singapore to try to ensure people who might be tempted by this death cult are brought back from the brink, as it were.

Now, on the South China Sea, obviously there are some issues. Like Singapore, we take no side in the territorial disputes but we certainly deplore any unilateral alteration of the status quo. We think that disputes should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law and like Singapore we strongly uphold freedom of navigation on the sea and in the air.

We can focus on the South China Sea if we wish and think of the problems, but frankly, I’d rather look at the habits of co-operation which are developing in our region, thanks in large measure to ASEAN and its work, the East Asia Summit which has been brought together by ASEAN, which is a very good way, not just of diffusing tensions but of building co-operation. While there is always a temptation to focus on the things that could go wrong, I would rather focus on all the many things that are going right and the most obvious example of that is the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, which Singapore, Australia and almost 50 other countries, including many of our traditional friends and partners are signing up for in Beijing in just a few days’ time.


My question is also to both prime ministers. Could you elaborate on some of the tangible and, what you said, practical benefits of the new agreement, specifically, with the review of the SAFTA. Are we looking at the Open Skies Agreement or are some of the outstanding issues featuring strongly in the review on the agenda? Are there obstacles moving forward? Thank you.


Free trade agreements can be sensitive issues. They are win-win but they have to be structured well and presented well. I think our focus on the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement Review will be, in the first instance, dealing with issues of access to professional services, to each other’s markets, access for individuals working in each other’s countries.

The Open Skies Agreement is something which Singapore is interested in, but I think it may be something which will take a bit longer to discuss.


Yes, I would be disappointed if within 12 months we can’t have much more effective mobility between our two countries at every level and more professional recognition between our two countries because this is one of the world’s greatest business centres. Along with London, New York and Hong Kong, Singapore is becoming one of the really great business hubs, economic centres of the world, and I think Australians have much to contribute here just as I think Singaporeans have much to contribute in our own country. So, I think that will be at the heart of the changes which Andrew will be working on or leading over the next 12 months.

I also think it’s important to deepen the defence partnership. This is a partnership that goes back to the early 1970s with the five-power defence arrangements between Singapore, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. For the last couple of decades, there’s been substantial Singaporean stationing and training in Australia and I’d like to very much build on that because that will be good for Singapore and it will be good for regional security.


Thank you, Prime Ministers. You’ve both spoken about the need to be good neighbours to each other, but also good regional neighbours as well and I think it’s fair to say that both countries have had criticism levelled at them from Indonesia. So going forward, how do you deal with the sometimes difficult Indonesia? And can I ask you both to reflect on perhaps how Indonesia has pushed Singapore and Australia into a closer relationship?


I wouldn’t put it like that, at all! Indonesia is good friends with Singapore and I’m sure Tony will say they are good friends with Australia, too. We have a good relationship with them, with President Jokowi now, with President SBY before him. In fact, we are the biggest investor into Indonesia – a major source of tourism, of trade – and I think it will continue for some time. As close neighbours, inevitably issues arise once in a while. It’s unavoidable. Even between Australia and New Zealand, you sometimes have issues and it’s not just over rugby or cricket! But you are the best of friends and so are we between Singapore and Indonesia.


Well said, Loong! This is a friendship which is for things, not against things. It’s a friendship that’s for others, not against others. I don’t take a zero sum view of the world – I never have and never will. I think that if you strengthen one friendship, you make it easier to strengthen other friendships; you make yourself a better and more appealing friend, if you like. So, I certainly don’t see this as in any way driven by difficulties with any other country. I see this as very much driven by the natural complementarities and the bedrock of common values and common instincts that Australia and Singapore have.


Thank you, Prime Ministers. My question picks up on some of the points mentioned earlier with regard to travel and mobility. Are there any plans to make travel for Singaporeans to Australia more seamless in the near future? And secondly, with regard to counter-terrorism, specifically with regard to the threat of self-radicalisation, what can both Singapore and Australia bring to the table in terms of expertise and, practically, what sort of cooperation would we be looking at? Thank you.


I think in terms of travelling to Australia, Singaporeans already enter visa-free, so I don’t think there is an issue. We are very happy with the arrangements. In terms of self-radicalisation, this is an issue for many countries; Australia is facing it, we are facing it, the European countries, the Americans. Even China has got people who have become radicalised and are going to the Middle East. So, it’s a conundrum, because when there’s a network you can penetrate the network, you can find out who is trying to subvert whom and then you can break it up and pre-empt things. When a lone person turns rogue, how do you know that it has happened and where do you begin to pick up the threads? That’s the big challenge. Sometimes they reach out and they meet other friends and sometimes it will cross boundaries and when it does, maybe that gives us a lead to get into this. I think that’s one way we can cooperate. The other way is just comparing notes and the profiles of the people who are radicalised – what motivates them, what vulnerabilities they have – and maybe that will help us be more sensitive in picking up future cases.


Thanks, Loong. Look, for so many of us, the idea anyone would want to kill in the name of God is almost unimaginable, but plainly, there are people – even in pluralist, liberal societies under the rule of law such as Singapore and Australia – there are some people who feel that way and we just need to work together as best we can to share experiences, to learn the lessons, and do what we can to bring out in everyone the better angels of our nature; to do what we can to encourage everyone to be his or her best self.

If I may end on this: in a period of many marvellous opportunities and experiences, one of the best of them, Loong, was the opportunity to go for a stroll with you last night in Bishan Park as part of the 50 Barbeques which our High Commissioner organised to honour Singapore on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its foundation and to be in such a diverse crowd, a crowd which certainly illustrated the rich diversity of Singapore – leavened, if I may say so, with some Australians, some whom have been living here for many years and of course Australia itself is a pretty diverse community these days – what a marvellous opportunity to see human beings at their best. What a marvellous opportunity to sense the things that all of us have in common and to cherish the values and the aspirations that all of us deep down have.

I think that’s what we need to be looking for constantly, looking for the things we have in common, reinforcing that golden rule of ethical behaviour: act to others as you would have them act towards you or, to draw on a gospel phrase – love your neighbour as you love yourself. That’s essentially what we need, and I’m pleased mostly that’s exactly what both our countries bring out in our citizens and may we build on that in the months and years ahead.


Thank you.

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ALSO SEE Tony ABBOTT’s Address to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Conference, Canberra,  25 June 2015, … at

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