Friday, 22 May 2015

Gift of koalas and more to mark 50 years of Australia-Singapore ties

Singapore Zoo opens doors to Koalamania
All-female quartet of koalas are on loan but may become permanent gifts
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 21 May 2015

VISITORS to the Singapore Zoo can now say "hi" to its latest residents from Down Under - four koalas named Paddle, Chan (pronounced Shan), Pellita and Idalia.

Koalamania, a 210 sq m koala enclosure in the zoo's Australian Outback section, opened to the public at noon yesterday.

It was also announced that the marsupials, on a six-month loan from Australia, may become permanent gifts to Singapore.

The loan of the furry quartet "underscores very strong bonds" between the two countries, which mark 50 years of diplomatic relations this year, said Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, who was speaking at the koalas' housewarming party.

"At a people-to-people level, the connectivity is huge," he said. "Some 50,000 Singaporeans work and study in Australia, and we have 20,000 Australians in Singapore."

The four female koalas, which hail from the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, may be given Singaporean names, said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Addressing Mr Shanmugam, she added that Australia wants the koalas to be a permanent gift.

"It just means there's a little bit of work that needs to be done on Singapore's side, and that is to find hectares of land where you can grow the Eucalypt. I don't think the koalas are going to change their diet any time soon," she said.

Eucalyptus leaves, the only food koalas eat, are flown in via Australian national carrier Qantas twice a week.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, chief life sciences officer at Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which runs the zoo, estimated that 5ha of land - about the size of six football fields - is needed to grow enough leaves to feed four koalas, with each eating about 500g daily. Eucalyptus grows very well in tropical climates, he said.

The koalas arrived on April 13 and were quarantined for a month. Dr Cheng said they have adapted well to their enclosure, where temperatures are kept at between 22 deg C and 24 deg C, and humidity at 50 per cent to 60 per cent.

Ms Claire Chiang, chairman of WRS, said: "(The koalas') stay at the Singapore Zoo presents an excellent opportunity for visitors to have a peek at these fascinating animals that stand among the biggest icons of endemic Australian wildlife."

A month-long celebration, which includes aboriginal dance performances, Australian arts and crafts stations, and mascot meet- and-greet sessions, has been planned for the June school holidays. In celebration of SG50, Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 60 and above will enjoy free admission to the zoo from May 30 to June 30.

The best time to visit the koalas, which sleep for 18 to 22 hours a day, is during their feeding times at 9.30am and 4pm daily.

Corporate service officer Kris Anna, 50, took leave from work yesterday to be one of the first to visit them. She was there with her 23-year-old son. "I hope to get to know more about them, such as what they are like as babies and their mating rituals," she said. "I've seen them only in documentaries before."

Channel NewsAsia Singapore's 20 May report on Australia's koala gift to Singapore, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop MP's call on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (2:38), koalas at Wildlife Reserves Singapore (2:55), the '50 Bridges' launch including interview with Ms Bishop (6:00) and a studio interview with High Commissioner Philip Green (8:30). #sg50oz
Posted by Australia in Singapore on Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Australia's SG50 gifts heading to the heartland
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 21 May 2015

DO NOT be surprised if you see a giant eyeball puppet walking down the street near your home this week.

As part of Australia's SG50 gifts to Singapore, two Australian theatre companies are putting on puppet performances in the heartland.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Singapore's Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong launched 50 Bridges yesterday, a series of events to celebrate 50 years of Singapore's independence, and 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The programme comprises three elements aimed at Singapore's heartland.

In 50 Walls, street artists from Down Under will collaborate with local artists to paint murals on walls in hawker centres, Housing Board blocks and schools.

Another element, 50 Performances, will showcase puppets of various body parts and a short animation.

On a yet-to-be-announced day next month, 10,000 steaks will be cooked and given away to Singaporeans at 50 barbecue pits throughout Singapore for 50 BBQs.

Australia is the first country that Singapore forged diplomatic ties with after its independence in 1965.

Ms Bishop said the programme "reflects the modern, contemporary dynamic relationship" between the two countries.

She added that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will visit Singapore next month to discuss a strategic partnership between both nations.

In his speech, Mr Wong, who is also Second Minister for Communications and Information, said the programme is in line with his ministry's aim to make art and culture accessible to everyone in Singapore.

He added that he grew up influenced by Australian rock and pop.

"Some of you may know I play the guitar... so I grew up listening to (hard rock band) AC/DC," said Mr Wong, 42, to laughter from the crowd. "And I remember the 80s, where we had Kylie Minogue."

At the launch in the Australian High Commission, Ms Bishop also announced the establishment of a high-level women's dialogue between the two countries, scheduled to take place in Australia at the end of the year.

She will co-chair it along with Ms Grace Fu, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's office, Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

More information on 50 Bridges can be found at

Aussie Foreign Minister calls on PM
The Straits Times, 21 May 2015

A COMPREHENSIVE strategic partnership being drawn up by Singapore and Australia will serve as an important milestone for bilateral relations when completed, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and visiting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop noted yesterday.

They also agreed that bilateral cooperation was on an upward trajectory, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on their meeting at the Istana.

Ms Bishop, who was on a one-day working visit, called on Mr Lee in the morning.

The comprehensive strategic partnership, targeted for this year, aims at developing new levels of integration, and deeper cooperation in the economic, foreign affairs, defence and security arenas, as well as among peoples of the two countries.

At their meeting, PM Lee and Ms Bishop also welcomed the various initiatives planned here and in Australia to commemorate the 50th anniversary in diplomatic relations this year.

These include loaning four koala bears to the Singapore Zoo - for which Mr Lee conveyed Singapore's appreciation.

The ministry statement added that Mr Lee and Ms Bishop had a fruitful exchange on regional and international developments, and that she also briefed him on domestic developments in Australia.

Gift of koalas, and more to mark 50 years of Australia-S'pore ties
By Julie Bishop, Published The Straits Times, 20 May 2015

FIFTY years ago, the newly independent nation of Singapore and its southern neighbour Australia officially declared the establishment of diplomatic relations.

More than 180 countries followed, establishing strong diplomatic ties with Singapore.

Today, as we mark 50 years of Singapore's independence and 50 years of diplomatic relations, there is much to celebrate.

As a symbol of our enduring friendship, at the Singapore Zoo today, my friend and colleague, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, and I will open a new "Koala Enclosure" - a new home for four Australian koalas named, Paddle, Pellita, Chan and Idalia.

While many Australians love Singaporean cuisine, our koalas will be enjoying a diet of fresh Australian eucalypt, flown specially to Singapore twice weekly by Qantas.

The Australian High Commission, supported by leading businesses, has put together an arts and community engagement showcase that multiplies every element by 50.

Our "50 Bridges" initiative will involve 50 pieces of public art, painted by Australian and Singaporean artists; 50 performances in non-traditional performance spaces such as wet markets, hawker centres and transport hubs; and on a night in June, 500 Australian volunteers will stage "50 BBQs" simultaneously across the nation, so that Singaporeans can enjoy a classic Aussie meal.

Importantly, "50 Bridges" will be staged throughout Singapore's heartland.

I appreciate Marina Bay and Orchard Road as much as any Australian tourist but we want to bring our celebration to all parts of Singapore. Our public art, performances, film screenings and BBQs will come to Jurong, Woodlands, Pasir Panjang, Toa Payoh and other locations.

We enjoy close ties within the senior levels of our governments. We have strong defence ties, with the Singapore Air Force and Australian Defence Force working together in locations across the globe - from Shoalwater Bay to Afghanistan.

Over the course of our 50-year friendship, over 130,000 Singaporeans have obtained degrees from Australian universities under the Colombo Plan.

We have now reversed this plan, with the Singapore Government a strong supporter of our New Colombo Plan, which has seen over 350 Australian students study in Singapore over the past 18 months.

Our countries' business links are strong, with over 800 companies with Australian links operating in Singapore, including in banking, telecommunications, power, property and food.

Singapore now ranks as Australia's fifth-largest trading partner, largest trade and investment partner in Asean, and fourth-largest investment partner, globally.

In 2003, Australia became one of the first countries to enter into a free trade agreement with Singapore.

While there is much to celebrate, there is also much to look forward to. With a view to our future success together, we are marking this bilateral milestone by establishing a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to enhance the ties at government, business and community levels.

On the night of Aug 8, 1965, Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote to his friend, Australian prime minister Robert Menzies, to advise of Singapore's impending independence. He wrote of Singapore's desire to always "work on terms of honour and friendship with Australia".

Fifty years later, our countries have held to that ambition.

For the next 50 years and beyond, we are committed to an even closer bond.

The writer is Foreign Minister of Australia.

For more information on "50 Bridges" and events in your area, please visit

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