Australia and Singapore long-standing partners: President Tan

President Tony Tan and Mrs Mary Tan, who were accompanied by Minister Of Transport, Mr Lui Tuck Yew and Mrs Lui, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Transport Mr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and Members of Parliament Ms Foo Mee Har and Mr Alex Yam, we
President Tony Tan and Mrs Mary Tan, who were accompanied by Minister Of Transport, Mr Lui Tuck Yew and Mrs Lui, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Transport Mr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and Members of Parliament Ms Foo Mee Har and Mr Alex Yam, were welcomed on their arrival at Fairbairn Airbase, Canberra by HE Philip Green, High Commissioner to Singapore, and representatives from the Australian Governor-General’s Office and Australia’s Department of the Prime Minister. -- PHOTO: MCI

CANBERRA - When Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence next year, it will also mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with its close friend and long-standing partner, Australia, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Monday.

Speaking during a state lunch at the Government House here, Dr Tan highlighted the depth of Singapore's ties with Australia, from education to defence, and the importance of the country's presence in the region.

President Tan and his wife Mary are here on a six-day state visit and earlier in the day received a full ceremonial welcome with a 21-salute, royal marching band and Australia's Federation Guard.

The state lunch was hosted by the country's Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove.

In his speech, Dr Tan emphasised the depth of the ties by pointing to how Australia hosts one of Singapore's largest overseas communities, with some 50,000 living and working here.

The figure comprises 6,400 students, with Australia continuing to be a popular choice for higher education among Singaporeans.

President Tan himself is an alumnus of the University of Adelaide, having spent "three happy years" there with Mrs Tan while completing his post-graduate studies in the 60s.

In the early years after Singapore's independence, many Singaporeans went to Australia as beneficiaries of the Colombo Plan, Dr Tan noted. And today, Australian students are making their way to Singapore under the pilot programme of the New Colombo Plan, he said.

The programme gets Australian students to study and gain experience in the Asia-Pacific region - an "important demonstration of Australia's commitment to better understand and engage Asia" Dr Tan added.

Beyond education, bilateral trade and investment have flourished since the signing of the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement in 2003, with both countries working closely to promote regional free trade, he said.

Dr Tan also highlighted the Republic's strong military ties with Australia which date back to before Singapore's independence, when Australian troops fought to defend the country during World War Two. Later today, he will visit the Australian War Memorial to lay a wreath.

"This is an indelible part of our shared history, and has contributed to the high level of comfort and familiarity we have with one another," he said.

More recently, military personnel of both countries have served together in Afghanistan and East Timor. And as a former Defence Minister, Dr Tan said he was "well-acquainted with Australia's generosity" in hosting training facilities for the Singapore Armed Forces.

These bilateral ties are a part of Australia's wider relations with the region, said Dr Tan, adding that Australia is an important part of the region's architecture.

As the first dialogue partner of Asean, Australia has played an "important role in promoting regional stability and prosperity," he added.