Gift of trees to symbolise evergreen relations

(Above) Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling on President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana yesterday during his official visit to Singapore. (Left) Mr Abbott and PM Lee Hsien Loong with the gifts, a Wollemi pine (beside Mr Lee) from Australia
Mr Abbott and PM Lee Hsien Loong with the gifts, a Wollemi pine (beside Mr Lee) from Australia to Singapore and a Tembusu tree (beside Mr Abbott) from Singapore to Australia. Mr Lee said the trees symbolise his hopes for the relationship between the two countries being one that is "evergreen, fresh and regularly blooming". -- PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATIONST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION
(Above) Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling on President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana yesterday during his official visit to Singapore. (Left) Mr Abbott and PM Lee Hsien Loong with the gifts, a Wollemi pine (beside Mr Lee) from Australia
(Above) Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling on President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana yesterday during his official visit to Singapore. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERNST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

TO SYMBOLISE the evergreen ties between Singapore and Australia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his counterpart Tony Abbott presented each other with a gift of trees yesterday.

They did so shortly after they signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and witnessed the signing of a raft of agreements at the Istana to bring the two nations even closer together.

Mr Lee gave Mr Abbott a Tembusu tree, a hardwood that dots the Istana grounds, while Mr Abbott presented him with a Wollemi pine, a coniferous tree with a 200 million year lineage.

The two leaders had also planted a Gelam tree - which Kampong Glam is named after - at Bishan Park on Sunday, a tree native to both Singapore and North Queensland.

The new partnership and memoranda of understanding will see greater cooperation between the two countries in many areas including trade, defence and security cooperation, and the enhancing of aviation and maritime connectivity.

"The trees symbolise how I hope the relations between our two countries will be - one that is precious, one that is evergreen, fresh and regularly blooming," Mr Lee said at a lunch that he hosted for Mr Abbott.

The various agreements cap Mr Abbott's two-day official visit, which also marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Australia.

Earlier yesterday morning, Mr Abbott was presented with a new orchid at the Botanic Gardens. He named it Dendrobium Golden Friendship. He also called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana after a ceremonial welcome by the presidential guards.

At the lunch, Mr Abbott presented Mr Lee with a photograph of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew meeting then Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies during a visit to Australia in 1965.

"Lee Kuan Yew didn't just lead Singapore; he made Singapore. Sir Rob Menzies didn't just lead the Liberal Party; he made the Liberal Party," said Mr Abbott.

"The challenge for us in these times is to be worthy of our great forebears and to exercise the best possible stewardship over the institutions that they created, institutions which we want to see thrive and prosper for the benefit of our peoples and the wide world," he added.

Mr Abbott also recalled a warning that the late Mr Lee gave during a visit in 1980 to Australia.

Mr Lee had said Australians risked becoming "the poor white trash of Asia" if they did not liberalise their  economy and open their doors to immigration as well as try to reduce inflation and unemployment.

"There was a fraught moment when Prime Minister Lee's father reminded Australia of the prospects that awaited countries which did not constantly innovate, reform and improve," said Mr Abbott.

"But I'm pleased to say that we have magnificently avoided the fate that Lee Kuan Yew said might await us in the absence of serious reform."

yanliang@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2015, with the headline 'Gift of trees to symbolise evergreen relations'. Print Edition | Subscribe