Abbott seeks to grow Australia's ties with Singapore

Mr Tony Abbott inspecting the guard of honour with PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana yesterday, during the Australian Prime Minister's two-day official visit to Singapore.
Mr Tony Abbott inspecting the guard of honour with PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana yesterday, during the Australian Prime Minister's two-day official visit to Singapore.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Comprehensive Strategic Partnership pact set to boost bilateral cooperation

AUSTRALIA'S relations with Singapore should grow to the level of the ties it has with neighbour New Zealand, said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday.

He indicated that with the elevation in ties, which the new Comprehensive Strategic Partnership seeks to achieve, their professionals should be able to work and reside in the other's country easily.

"I want to see Australians and Singaporeans with the same kind of work and residency situation in our two countries as Australians and New Zealanders have long had," Mr Abbott said.

He held out this possibility at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, after both inked the partnership accord yesterday for new levels of cooperation in defence, the economy, foreign affairs, and arts and culture.

The new partnership sets out a road map on the course of the ties between the two countries for the next 10 years, Mr Lee said.

It will also work towards letting Singaporeans enjoy even more seamless travel to Australia. Currently, Singapore passport holders can use SmartGate, a self-service passport processing option, at major Australian airports.

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership pact also paves the way for increased intelligence sharing to combat terrorism, greater access to military training areas in Australia, and collaboration on fighting cybercrime.

The leaders of both countries will meet every year as well, with the meetings alternating between their countries.

An early review of the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement will be led by Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam and Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb. It is expected to be concluded by July next year.

  • Economic, defence, people-to-people cooperation

  • THE Comprehensive Strategic Partnership lists plans for cooperation in the economic, defence and people-to-people spheres over the next 10 years.

    Here are some details:

    Economic

    • Review the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement by July next year to unlock new trade, investment and other opportunities.
    • Improve ease of travel - allow more Singapore professionals to work and live in Australia and vice versa.
    • Increase aviation and maritime connections.
    • Explore investment opportunities in sectors such as food and infrastructure, and in new growth areas including in Northern Australia.
  • Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security

    • Hold annual meetings of leaders, alternating between the two countries as hosts.
    • Increase SAF access to Australian military training areas and facilities.
    • Share more intelligence in areas like counter-terrorism.
    • Attach Central Narcotics Bureau officers to the Australian Federal Police.
    • Exchange expertise on cybercrime investigation and digital forensics.
  • People-to-people

    • More collaboration between museums and heritage institutions to facilitate travelling exhibitions, loaning of artefacts and co-curation of exhibitions.
    • Short-term study visits for Australian and Singapore civil servants.
    • More internship opportunities in Australia for Singaporean students studying in Singapore institutions.
    • Share information on policies and programmes to deepen links between educational, scientific and research institutions. 

To build on the new partnership, several memoranda of understanding were signed between agencies of both countries to establish more specific frameworks for cooperation.

A day after both prime ministers grilled steaks together at a barbecue open to the public in Bishan Park, the two stood side by side again at the Istana yesterday to emphasise the compatibility and deep friendship between their countries.

"We are like-minded and we share similar strategic perspectives of the region", like the importance of US-China relations, Mr Lee said.

Agreeing, Mr Abbott said his two-day official visit was a chance "to turn friendship into something far more akin to a family relationship".

In Mr Lee's toast at the official lunch shortly after the press conference, he noted that Australia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Singapore, just nine days after the island's separation from Malaysia.

But ties go back even further as Australian soldiers died in the defence of Singapore during World War II, and many were buried at the Kranji War Memorial.

"Singapore will always appreciate and remember their sacrifice," said Mr Lee.

Mr Abbott had laid a wreath at the cemetery at the start of his visit on Sunday.

Strong trade and defence links with Australia were also underlined by Mr Lee, who added: "I am glad to have enjoyed good relations with successive Australian prime ministers over the years. And I'm very happy to continue and build on these relations with Tony."

ziliang@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2015, with the headline 'Abbott seeks to grow Australia's ties with Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe