Why It Matters

A new chapter with Australia

Australia and Singapore are "mates", as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Twitter after his visit last week to Canberra, where he and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull witnessed the signing of four agreements to strengthen this friendship.

These pacts provide for significantly greater cooperation in defence, trade, innovation and law enforcement, and are the first tranche of initiatives under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that both countries reached last year.

The hope is that the Australia-Singapore relationship, now in its 51st year, will be as close as that of their nearest partners: for Australia, New Zealand, and for Singapore, its neighbours in Asean.

A A$2.25 billion (S$2.38 billion) defence deal will allow 14,000 Singapore soldiers - more than double the current number - to train for up to 18 weeks a year, up from six today. The new training area in Queensland is four times Singapore's size.

In another country, such unprecedented access for foreign troops could raise concerns. That local communities have welcomed the troops underscores the trust and respect Australia has for Singapore.

Bilateral trade stood at $20.2 billion last year and looks set to grow when the upgraded Australia-Singapore Free Trade Agreement comes into force next year.

Among other things, Singapore professionals like engineers and accountants will be able to work in Australia more easily. Exporters and importers of items such as wine, cosmetics or medical devices will have fewer regulatory barriers to overcome.

Collaborations between institutions and enterprises are expected to yield breakthroughs in data science and other fields.

Both sides will also share information and know-how on fighting drugs and terrorism.

There are other benefits in the pipeline, such as a visa allowing Singaporeans under 30 to work and vacation in Australia for a year, as well as a multi-year entry visa.

Singaporeans and Australians have much to look forward to with a stronger friendship.


Correction note: An earlier version of the story stated that there will be a 10-year entry visa available for Singaporeans instead of a multi-year entry visa. Discussions are still in the pipeline.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2016, with the headline 'A new chapter with Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe