Edited Transcript of Joint Press Conference at the 10th Meeting of the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee In Singapore, Sofitel Sentosa, 1205hrs, 21 August 2017
Min Vivian Balakrishnan: Ladies and gentlemen. I’m delighted to welcome our good friends from Down Under to our nice warm tropical island, one degree north of the equator. This is the tenth meeting of the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee. This mechanism has been in existence for the past 20 years and I’m glad to say that this has been a very productive series of meetings over the past 20 years. For instance, last year we settled the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) between Australia and Singapore. That set the stage for an upgrade of the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement. It also expanded and deepened our defence collaboration, and opened new fronts on innovation and enterprise. Our trade figures have gone up by multiples. I think our bilateral trade now is about $18 billion, Singapore’s stock of investment in Australia is around a $100 billion. You’ve just seen the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on tourism cooperation as well as the agreement which will provide for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to continue training in Pearce Air Force Base for at least another 25 years. I say at least because we hope that this will go on for much much longer time. I’m also glad that the work on innovation and enterprise, in particular the developments which we’ve seen in Block 79, and the Australian Landing Pad, and the fact that some Australian companies have already graduated and have engaged in further joint work with our own start-ups, in order for them to internationalise and reach a global audience. So all in all, this has been a good meeting and a productive series of meetings with real benefits for people both in Australia and Singapore. Julie.
Min Julie Bishop: Thank you, Minister Balakrishnan and to your colleagues for such a warm welcome to me and Ministers Payne and Ciobo for our 10th Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee meeting. We began our day quite appropriately by visiting the Kranji War Cemetery and paying our respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of freedom. It was always a very moving and touching opportunity for us to remember the historic ties between Australia and Singapore. We then held an early morning breakfast meeting where we discussed many of the regional and global challenges, and it reminded us all again how like-minded Australia and Singapore are on so many issues and how aligned we are in terms of our worldview and we value very much Singapore’s inputs, perspectives and insights. The 10th Singapore Australian Joint Ministerial Committee meeting was very productive because we were building on the work undertaken through the CSP, which was developed and signed last year. Under four specific headings, we have made great progress in defence and security. We are focusing on cooperating in counter-terrorism, in cybersecurity and specifically, the access or the enhanced access to training in Australia, and the Pearce treaty has just been signed. In the economic and trade sense, we are in our third phase of the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement and this is now a very contemporary modern agreement with benefits for both sides. And we are focusing on a greater access to each other’s markets and ease of business travel and ease of doing business in our respective countries. In the area of innovation as Vivian just mentioned, the Australian Landing Pad here in Singapore is already proving to be a success for start-ups from Australia to access networks of venture capitalists and other innovators so that we can have a true culture of innovation such as that which underpins so much of the Singaporean economy for such a long time. We noted that CSIRO, our premier national science agency will be opening an office here in Singapore to handle our regional work. On the people-to-people front again, there are few closer countries than Australia and Singapore when it comes to our people-to-people links. Through education, and our New Colombo Plan, there are thousands of Australian students who will have lived and studied and worked in Singapore. There are about 8000 Singaporean students currently studying in Australia. We have announced the new multi-year visa, six-year visas which will come into effect on 1 January 2018. Also our work and holiday visas for young professionals, working holiday-makers, which commenced on 1 August this year — a great opportunity for young people to spend time in our respective countries. And also a considerable amount of exchange in our arts and cultural sector. Likewise in tourism. Steve Ciobo just signed the tourism agreement with his counterpart and this will provide more opportunities for Australia and Singapore to exchange visitors. So all in all, a very productive and important meeting. We value our time with our Singaporean counterparts and we look forward to what is an enduring relationship, but one that will deepen even further under our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. We very much look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Lee to Australia next year for the first ASEAN-Australia Special Summit for Leaders. Thank you.
Min Vivian Balakrishnan: Thank you. Eng Hen, Marise, would you like to kick off on a few words on defence?
Min Marise Payne: Certainly, thank you very much. To my ministerial colleagues, thank you for the opportunity to be back in Singapore so soon after the very productive Shangri-La Dialogue in June of this year. I join with Julie in very much appreciating the opportunity to visit Kranji (War Memorial) this morning with (Australian) Minister (for Trade, Tourism and Investment Steven) Ciobo, to pay our respects, to lay a wreath, and to have the chance to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice paid by so many people not that long ago on this very island. I also note (the incident) today, and pass on our well wishes, and indicate our thoughts are with our colleagues in the United States Navy, following the reported accident this morning between the USS John S. McCain and a merchant vessel very, very close to where we are now. Our thoughts are with them and those sailors in particular. We have a very solid, very deep, and very strong bilateral defence relationship between Australia and Singapore, predicated on our shared interest in a stable and secure region, which we have reinforced in recent months, particularly under the developments of the CSP. Today, we have further evidenced that by the signing of the Pearce treaty, which will enable the RSAF to train at (Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base) Pearce for another 25 years- a great example of a genuine, well-founded partnership between our two nations. I know that my colleagues in Western Australia, and certainly the Western Australian community, look forward to members of the Singapore air force continuing as part of that community in their work. We’ve also today discussed the implementation of the training initiative under the CSP, in a way that will provide the best possible training outcomes for our two nations in Central and in North Queensland. As you know, under the initiative, we will have up to 14,000 members of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) conducting training in North and Central Queensland for up to 18 weeks a year. The implementation of the initiative is progressing particularly well. I look forward to a day of engagements related to that tomorrow, together with Minister Ciobo, on the broader CSP. The Australian government will be considering that plan later this year. We look forward to see construction begin in both the Rockhampton and Townsville areas in 2019. We have shared our views also on the regional security environment. We are – as the (Australian) Foreign Minister has observed – both committed to defeating the threat of terrorism in this region as we have faced together in so many other places, currently in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. We acknowledged again today that the region must work together to counter what is an evolving, but importantly, a shared terrorist threat. We look forward on that matter to holding the second Singapore-Australia counter-terrorism dialogue in November this year. I will also note the positive outcomes of the Five Powers Defence Arrangements (FPDA) meeting held on the side-lines of the Shangri-La meeting earlier this year, which resulted in a renewed and changed focus for the FPDA to focus on counter-terrorism in the region, particularly as it may impact on Singapore and Malaysia. They are matters which we will continue to develop, and I look forward to working with Dr Ng to pursue those. Thank you.
Min Ng Eng Hen: I just have a few comments to add to that. First, thank you, Marise, for really spelling out everything that’s been achieved. We are delighted, of course, that we both could sign the treaty for RAAF Base Pearce, which allows our RSAF pilots to train (there) for another 25 years. It is an important part of our training capabilities. My counterpart Minister Payne has mentioned the progress and the implementation of the (Military Training and Training Area) Development MOU which is under the CSP, which both Prime Ministers (of Singapore and Australia) concluded. Let me just say that it is on track, and on track to build advanced training facilities that will benefit both the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the SAF. Construction is due to begin in 2019, and these activities will benefit the people of Queensland as well as the SAF. Finally, we talked and reaffirmed our commitment for counter-terrorism, and as you know, both the ADF and the SAF troops are deployed in the Middle East against the global threat of terrorism. Thank you.
Min Lim Hng Kiang: Thank you Vivian. As part of the CSP, our economic bilateral relations will go deeper and more comprehensive. We tracked the progress of our commitments and we are very satisfied with the progress made. We are on track to ratify the third review of the SAFTA (Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement) before the end of the year and I think this will bring the benefits of the SAFTA review in terms of better market access and easier way of doing business to our respective business community. We are very happy with the cooperation in tourism and the signing of the MOU just now, will give it a boost. Australia is our fifth largest source of tourist arrivals, more than a million tourist arrivals and despite Singapore’s small size, Singapore visitors to Australia number nearly half a million a year. But there’s obviously scope for us to do more and the MOU will allow us to do more.
Min Steven Ciobo: Thank you very much, Vivian. I’m very pleased to be here with my ministerial colleagues from Australia and to join with our ministerial counterparts here from Singapore. Certainly as Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, the relationship between Australia and Singapore goes from strength to strength. Two countries that are committed to a policy orthodoxy around what’s happening in terms of trade and investment. Two countries that recognise that prosperity for our people comes from our engagement and liberalisation of trade, for the facilitation of trade and through the promotion of investment in each other’s economies as well as together in third countries. For Australia and Singapore, this is encapsulated within the SAFTA agreement, an agreement that has now been through various iterations but an agreement which continues to see a closer and stronger working relationship between our two countries. In terms of people-to-people links, Singapore and Australia enjoy very strong links. You gave us Singapore noodles and we gave you meat pies. Perhaps not meat pies, but we’re certainly very happy to sell you premium quality beef and good Australian wine, so that’s possibly a better substitute. But either way we know that the sincere and deep affection between Singaporeans and Australians is what underpins the nature of our tourism relationship. The collaboration that will now be able to pursue through our MOU will see us sharing knowledge and research as well as opportunities around marketing and the like, with respect to the work that we do in Australia as well as the work that happens here in Singapore. So in that context, today’s Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting was another step forward in what is a warm and sincere relationship that is bringing our countries even closer.
Min Vivian Balakrishnan: Well thank you, I think all I can do is to conclude by just making three final points. Australian and Singapore are old friends in the fullest sense of the word and the key ingredient there being trust. Secondly, strategic alignment – we can’t find anything to disagree about at a strategic level and third, we’re complementary at an economic level. So there’s so much more that we can do and these recent slew of announcements including the work holiday programme for Singaporeans and Australians under the age of thirty to spend up to a year living, working, studying in each other’s countries and also the new six-year visa, will see an exponential increase in tourist flows in both directions. So all in all, thank you all very much and we look forward to doing even more in the years to come. Thank you.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore