CANBERRA - In his speech to a joint sitting of the Australian Parliament on Wednesday (Oct 12), PM Lee Hsien Loong shared several personal anecdotes of candour and commitment that underline strong ties between Singapore and Australia.
"We are good friends, because fundamentally, we have similar strategic interests and perspectives," PM Lee noted.
Here are the edited extracts from his speech:
"We can hang loose"
Our societies are both egalitarian. We do not stand on ceremony, and we frown on rigid social hierarchies. We are informal, and can hang loose. Thus when Prime Minister Abbott visited Singapore last year, I could invite him to join my constituents for an Aussie-style BBQ at a public park, only to discover that he was much better at BBQing than I was. Afterwards, we went for dinner nearby. I made sure to choose some good Australian wine, but alas neglected to check the steak. After dinner, PM Abbott asked where the beef was from, and the chef, with Singaporean directness and candour, replied: "From the US, Sir!" I will have to do better when PM Turnbull visits Singapore next year!
"Take that tie off!"
I first came to Australia in 1967, as a teenager on an exchange visit. I stayed with a family in Melbourne - the Blanch family. Their son Graeme was about my age, and we quickly became friends. The Blanches took me to their holiday home at Mount Martha, on the Mornington Peninsula. The first night I put on a tie for dinner. Graeme stared at me and said, "You're crazy. Take it off!"
He taught me something about Australian informality that I have not forgotten. I have stayed in touch with the Blanch family for nearly 50 years now. I am very glad that Graeme, his siblings Balfour and Heather, and their spouses are here today to share this special occasion. I am sure many Singaporean and Australian families enjoy similar close personal ties and lifelong friendships.
Cable car rescue mission
Years ago (in 1983) we had a cable car accident in Singapore. Thirteen people were trapped in the cable cars to Sentosa, after an oil rig snagged the cable. I was then serving in the SAF and directed the rescue operations. We despatched two helicopters with winchmen to rescue the trapped passengers. One of the pilots was a young Royal Australian Navy officer, Lieutenant Geoff Ledger. He was on exchange with the Republic of Singapore Air Force, helping to build up its search and rescue capability. He did not have to participate but he did, piloting one of the helicopters. It was a risky operation, at night under windy conditions, but fortunately the rescue succeeded. Geoff Ledger has since retired from active duty as a Commodore, and I am glad he is here to share this special occasion with us.
Constructing Safti MI
30 years ago, Singapore planned to build a new tri-service military institute for the SAF. We studied military academies in other countries, and searched for a suitable architect to do the project. We eventually found Mr Romaldo Giurgola, who had built this Parliament House.
My first visit to this House was in 1989, when I was in Canberra for the inaugural APEC meeting. Mr Giurgola gave me a guided tour and explained his architectural vision.
He showed how he had made it open and accessible to the public, how the building emerges from the landscape, and how people can walk around it as well as on the grass ramps covering the building. This reflected the spirit of the Australian Parliament - open and integrated with the community.
Mr Giurgola's design reflected how he saw the architect's duty - to reflect the spirit of the institution in the building, and not to impose his own view. After seeing this Parliament House, I felt much reassured that we had found the right architect for our Safti Military institute, who would understand our needs, and express intangible but crucial values in bricks and mortar.
Our Safti MI is on a much more modest scale than your Parliament House, but it too has an open concept, symbolising the close ties between our national service force and our society. We are also happy that over the years, many Australian officers have trained at Safti MI, and formed bonds of friendship and understanding with their Singaporean classmates, which will serve our two countries well.