Julie Bishop

Gift of koalas, and more to mark 50 years of Australia-S'pore ties

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (left, in white top) and Singapore’s High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor (carrying a koala), with Australian officials at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane last month. Four koalas are in Sin
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (left, in white top) and Singapore’s High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor (carrying a koala), with Australian officials at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane last month. Four koalas are in Singapore as a symbol of Australia’s enduring friendship. -- PHOTO: AUSTRALIAN HIGH COMMISSION TO SINGAPORE

FIFTY years ago, the newly independent nation of Singapore and its southern neighbour Australia officially declared the establishment of diplomatic relations.

More than 180 countries followed, establishing strong diplomatic ties with Singapore.

Today, as we mark 50 years of Singapore's independence and 50 years of diplomatic relations, there is much to celebrate.

As a symbol of our enduring friendship, at the Singapore Zoo today, my friend and colleague, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, and I will open a new "Koala Enclosure" - a new home for four Australian koalas named, Paddle, Pellita, Chan and Idalia.

While many Australians love Singaporean cuisine, our koalas will be enjoying a diet of fresh Australian eucalypt, flown specially to Singapore twice weekly by Qantas.

The Australian High Commission, supported by leading businesses, has put together an arts and community engagement showcase that multiplies every element by 50.

Our "50 Bridges" initiative will involve 50 pieces of public art, painted by Australian and Singaporean artists; 50 performances in non-traditional performance spaces such as wet markets, hawker centres and transport hubs; and on a night in June, 500 Australian volunteers will stage "50 BBQs" simultaneously across the nation, so that Singaporeans can enjoy a classic Aussie meal.

Importantly, "50 Bridges" will be staged throughout Singapore's heartland.

I appreciate Marina Bay and Orchard Road as much as any Australian tourist but we want to bring our celebration to all parts of Singapore. Our public art, performances, film screenings and BBQs will come to Jurong, Woodlands, Pasir Panjang, Toa Payoh and other locations.

We enjoy close ties within the senior levels of our governments. We have strong defence ties, with the Singapore Air Force and Australian Defence Force working together in locations across the globe - from Shoalwater Bay to Afghanistan.

Over the course of our 50-year friendship, over 130,000 Singaporeans have obtained degrees from Australian universities under the Colombo Plan.

We have now reversed this plan, with the Singapore Government a strong supporter of our New Colombo Plan, which has seen over 350 Australian students study in Singapore over the past 18 months.

Our countries' business links are strong, with over 800 companies with Australian links operating in Singapore, including in banking, telecommunications, power, property and food.

Singapore now ranks as Australia's fifth-largest trading partner, largest trade and investment partner in Asean, and fourth-largest investment partner, globally.

In 2003, Australia became one of the first countries to enter into a free trade agreement with Singapore.

While there is much to celebrate, there is also much to look forward to. With a view to our future success together, we are marking this bilateral milestone by establishing a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to enhance the ties at government, business and community levels.

On the night of Aug 8, 1965, Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote to his friend, Australian prime minister Robert Menzies, to advise of Singapore's impending independence. He wrote of Singapore's desire to always "work on terms of honour and friendship with Australia".

Fifty years later, our countries have held to that ambition.

For the next 50 years and beyond, we are committed to an even closer bond.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer is Foreign Minister of Australia.

For more information on "50 Bridges" and events in your area, please visit sg50oz.sg