Singapore and Australia share longstanding ties underscored by mutual trust and cooperation in diverse areas such as politics, economy, defence, education, and at the people-to-people level, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said yesterday.
Speaking at an Istana state banquet held in honour of Australia's Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and his wife, Dr Tan noted that Sir Peter's visit was taking place at a significant time when Singapore and Australia are marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
Dr Tan noted that Australia was the first country to establish diplomatic ties with Singapore and the partnership between the two countries had grown in the past 50 years.
Ties have also been elevated this year by the signing of the Singapore-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) in June.
The CSP is a broad-ranging agreement to boost cooperation across multiple fields, including economics and trade, defence and security, foreign affairs and at the people-to-people level.
"The partnership between Singapore and Australia is a special one built on longstanding ties and mutual trust, and I am confident that our cooperation will continue to strengthen in the years ahead," said Dr Tan.
He added that Singapore and Australia had already begun implementing some aspects of the agreement as he highlighted an initiative undertaken by the two sides that would allow Australian passport holders to skip long immigration queues and instead use automated clearance gates at Singapore's land, sea and air checkpoints.
Under the initiative, eligible holders of Australian passports would be able to enrol, from next month, with the Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to use the automated passport clearance gates.
Australia has already extended a similar service to Singaporean holders of biometric passports entering the country.
In his speech at the banquet, Sir Peter, who arrived yesterday for his state visit, also praised the role of the CSP agreement in fostering closer ties between both countries.
The agreement, he said, "will strengthen our ongoing interests across the board in trade, investment, foreign policy, defence and security".
"The CSP demonstrates the goodwill that exists between both our nations and shares our resolve to take our relationship to the next level," he said.
"We've always been close but in a sense we are becoming more than friends, we are becoming family," he added.
Dr Tan also thanked Australia for its efforts to commemorate SG50 and the 50th anniversary of the Singapore-Australia diplomatic ties through its various gifts and programmes, including the six-month loan of four koalas to the Singapore Zoo, as well as programmes held in Singapore's heartland areas.
"These gestures of friendship have touched the hearts, minds and stomachs of Singaporeans young and old," said the President.
Ahead of the banquet, Sir Peter was given an official welcome at the Istana. He later called on Dr Tan. During their meeting, both heads of state reaffirmed the excellent ties between Singapore and Australia and discussed bilateral cooperation in various areas such as education, military and counter-terrorism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday.
The Governor-General's four-day visit continues today, when he will meet Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana.