Friday, 14 October 2016

PM Lee Hsien Loong addresses Australian Parliament on 12 October 2016

Singapore, Australia celebrate elevation of ties
By Rachel Au-Yong, In Canberra, The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2016

Singapore and Australia celebrated the elevation of ties to a new level yesterday, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong received a warm welcome from Australia's Parliament.

In an address for which he received a standing ovation, PM Lee said the shared history, outlook and ethos between Singapore and Australia have formed the foundation of a "deep, long-lasting friendship".

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, speaking before him, had described both countries as "natural partners" with highly sophisticated, educated and multicultural societies and open economies.

The invitation to address Parliament was a special honour reserved only for Australia's closest partners.

Earlier, PM Lee and Mrs Lee were welcomed to Parliament House by Mr Turnbull and other officials, and with a 19-gun salute.

Speaking about the similar strategic interests and perspective that bind both countries, PM Lee cited their abiding commitment to establishing a "stable and orderly world, in which countries big and small can prosper in peace".

Mr Turnbull said "Singapore and Australia are at one in defending the rule of law and rejecting the proposition that might is right".

Both are also aligned in wanting to deepen ties between Australia and South-east Asia, the PMs said.

They added that the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) will further boost these ties.

Both PMs met yesterday, and will today witness the signing of four key agreements under the CSP.

Mr Turnbull, who also hosted PM Lee to lunch, said they were "of the same mind" on many issues, both economic and strategic.

In the evening, PM Lee planted a Wollemi pine tree at the Singapore High Commission in Canberra and met Singaporeans at a reception.

Deep Aussie-Singapore friendship based on shared outlook
Fundamentally, both have similar strategic interests and perspectives, says PM Lee
By Rachel Au-Yong, In Canberra, The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2016

Australia is over 10,000 times the size of Singapore, with abundant natural resources where Singapore has none. Their societies are also quite different, Australia mostly Anglo-Saxon and Singapore Asian.

But in spite of these differences, both countries' shared history, outlook and ethos have enabled a "deep, longstanding friendship", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a historic address to the Australian Parliament yesterday.

"We are good friends, because fundamentally, we have similar strategic interests and perspectives," Mr Lee added, in a speech that outlined what both countries had in common and how a milestone Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) is set to take ties forward.

Speaking before him, Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull thanked Mr Lee for his role in transforming this relationship into a "partnership fit for the challenges and the opportunities of the 21st century".

He also paid tribute to founding PM Lee Kuan Yew, who he said was instrumental in forging the strong relationship between the two nations.

He added that ties had flourished: "We are, after all, quite natural partners - highly sophisticated, educated and multicultural societies with open economies. Both our countries have embraced the opportunities presented by our steadfast commitment to rules-based trade to deliver more jobs and higher incomes for our people."

In his speech, PM Lee noted that Australian troops fought bravely to defend Malaya and Singapore in World War II: "Singapore will never forget their sacrifice."

Australia was also one of the first countries to recognise Singapore's independence in 1965, and the first to establish diplomatic ties, he said.

Underpinning these relations are the similar strategic interests and perspectives that both countries share fundamentally, he said.


First, Singapore and Australia are both open economies that rely heavily on international trade and "need a stable and orderly world, in which countries big and small can prosper in peace", said PM Lee.

"We both see the United States as a benign force, playing a major role in fostering peace and stability in Asia. At the same time, we both have substantial ties with other major powers," he added.

"For both of us, China is our largest trading partner. We wish to strengthen our cooperation with China, and welcome China engaging constructively in the region. We both participate in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, an initiative proposed by China," he said.

Second, Singapore and Australia want to deepen ties between Australia and South-east Asia. "Australia has decided its future lies in Asia. Singapore believes that strengthening Australia's links with Asia will help to keep the region open."

PM Lee pledged Singapore's continued support for Australia's engagement with ASEAN.

In his remarks, Mr Turnbull said both countries sought a future for the region "governed by shared norms of behaviour and respect for international law, and one marked by stable relations among the major powers".

"Singapore and Australia are at one in defending the rule of law and rejecting the proposition that might is right," he added.

Both also stand in solidarity in the battle against extremism and the terrorism it spawns, he said.

And he was delighted that Singapore will chair ASEAN when Australia hosts a historic summit for the grouping's leaders in 2018.

PM Lee said the people of Singapore and Australia also have similar outlooks: They value ethnic and religious diversity, both societies are inclusive and multicultural, they are also pragmatic, open and direct. "We think and talk in clear practical terms, and connect on the same wavelength. It does not mean that we agree on everything, but when we have different views we do not beat around the bush," he said.

Both societies are also egalitarian, and frown upon rigid social hierarchies. "We are informal, and can hang loose," he added.


These similarities in strategic outlook and social ethos have helped foster cooperation in areas spanning defence, trade and education.

Both work closely together on humanitarian missions and security issues, including to fight terrorism.

Some 400,000 Singaporeans visited Australia and one million Australians came to Singapore last year. "We feel quite at home in each other's countries. Singaporeans may not quaff as much beer as Australians, but I have it on good authority that Victoria Bitter goes well with chilli crabs!" said Mr Lee.

The CSP will take these ties to another level, he added, thanking Australian MPs for their support from all sides of the political spectrum.

Under the CSP, both sides will jointly develop state-of-the-art military training facilities, and upgrade the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement, among other things.

Said Mr Turnbull: "Our bright future is not just about complementary interests and strengths, it's about common human qualities... our relationship with Singapore springs from the heart, as much as it does from the head."

PM Lee said it was fitting to celebrate it in Parliament House, whose architect designed Singapore's SAFTI Military Institute.

"In all these diverse and profound ways, our two countries are linked together: by our shared history, by strategic alignment, by shared ethos, by what we do together, and even by architecture," he added.

"Our partnership is greater than the sum of its parts."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared anecdotes of the candour and commitment that he said underline strong ties between Singapore and Australia:


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 (then) Prime Minister (Tony) 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 BBQ-ing 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 us next year!


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 for dinner, not knowing what to expect, I put on a tie. 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 half a century now. I am very glad that Graeme, his siblings Balfour and Heather, and their spouses are here today to share this special occasion.


Thirty years ago, Singapore planned to build a new tri-service military institute (MI) for the SAF and searched for a suitable architect to do the project. We found Mr Romaldo Giurgola, who built this Parliament House. (In 1989) Mr Giurgola gave me a guided tour and explained his architectural vision... (the building) is impressive without being imposing, and reflected the spirit of the Australian Parliament - open and integrated with the community.

Our SAFTI MI is on a much more modest scale, but it too has an open concept, symbolising the close ties between our national service force and our society. 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.

PM Lee recounts tale of Aussie pilot in 1983 cable car rescue mission
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2016

For almost three hours on Jan 29, 1983, Australian helicopter pilot Geoff Ledger, then 27, battled to keep his helicopter steady near Sentosa amid the wind and rain.

Seven people had died after a drillship snagged the cable car ropeway between mainland Singapore and Sentosa island, and 13 people were still trapped in four cars hanging precariously, 180m above the water.

Then in Singapore on exchange with the Republic of Singapore Air Force, Mr Ledger had participated in the mission to save them.

His story was recounted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, as an example of the camaraderie and sense of common purpose Singaporean and Australian troops share.

Mr Lee, then a colonel in the Singapore Armed Forces and directing the rescue mission, said when addressing the Australian Parliament: "He did not have to fly this mission... It was a risky operation, at night under windy conditions, but fortunately the rescue succeeded."

Speaking to reporters later, Mr Ledger said the danger and the stakes made it a harrowing experience. "Even today, I still get quite emotional about it."

But he added: "I was very proud to be serving my country in Singapore, and Singapore is a great country."

While the 60-year-old still cringes at the memory of the injured people's screams, he said he formed tight bonds with the Singaporean team - a Chinese co-pilot, a Malay chopper aide and an Indian winchman - on the mission.

For his efforts, Mr Ledger received from Singapore a silver commendation medal, his first career award.

He was invited to the luncheon hosted by Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull for Mr Lee yesterday.

Recalling his interactions with Mr Lee during his stint in Singapore - at the briefing for the rescue mission, and later at a thank-you party at Sembawang Air Base - he said Mr Lee was "attentive and directed" on the first occasion and "gregarious, open and friendly" on the second.

Mr Ledger, who has since retired from active duty as a commodore, added: "I'm not surprised he became Prime Minister."

Some Singapore roads lead to Australia: PM Lee
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2016

All roads lead to Rome. But in Singapore, some of them lead to Australia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at a lunch hosted by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Canberra Road in Sembawang was named after the Australian flagship which visited in 1937, while Blackmore Drive was named after missionary Sophia Blackmore, who helped to found Methodist Girls' School in 1887. "It happens to be my mother's school, so it's a good school," he said, drawing laughter from the 500 guests.

He cited the roads as examples of the historical ties between the two nations, which celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations last year.

The signing of four agreements under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) today will mark "another milestone in our friendship", he said. These will boost cooperation in trade, defence, innovation and combating drug crime.

PM Lee thanked Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, his predecessor Andrew Robb, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and officials for working on the CSP: "Long may our two countries work together, prosper together, appreciate each other and thus cement our relations for many years."

Mr Turnbull, referring to an anecdote PM Lee shared during his speech to Parliament, said Mr Lee "showed a very classically Singaporean thoughtfulness, courtesy and pragmatic planning ahead" when he put on a tie for dinner during an exchange trip in 1967.

His host family's son told him to take it off. Mr Turnbull quipped that it was better to be asked to take off a tie than to be asked to put it on.

But he said such forward thinking, especially in how Singapore embraced technology and innovation, has set an example for Australia on how to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

"This realism, this agility, this resilience of Singapore, at every level of policy and of business, is something that we admire," he added.

Both leaders had a bilateral meeting before lunch.

In the evening, PM Lee planted a Wollemi pine at the Singapore High Commission in Canberra.

He also met some 150 Singaporean students and Singapore Armed Forces cadets and urged them to "come back one day with many friends on the other side".

PM Lee to address Australian Parliament
Such an invitation a special honour reserved only for Australia's closest partners: Vivian
By Rachel Au-Yong, In Canberra, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be the first Singapore PM to address Australia's Parliament tomorrow, in an invitation Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan regards as a special honour "reserved only for Australia's major and closest partners and stakeholders".

Mr Lee's three-day visit to Canberra starting today underlines a strong friendship going back to when Australian soldiers defended Singapore during World War II and the communist insurgency, Dr Balakrishnan told The Straits Times in an interview last week.

Australia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with independent Singapore in 1965. And when the Five Power Defence Arrangements were set up in 1971 as Britain withdrew its military forces, Australia was a key player, he noted.

Today, Australia remains a key defence partner, and the warm, deep relationship is much broader, underpinned by strong people-to-people and economic ties, he said.

Over 50,000 Singaporeans live in Australia, some 100,000 have studied there and Singapore is Australia's fifth-largest trading partner.

And deals to be signed this week are set to see those figures grow.

Economically, both countries complement rather than compete against each other. Australia's vast land has natural resources which Singapore lacks, while Singapore helps plug Australian companies into the rest of South-east Asia, Dr Balakrishnan said.

Strategically, both look at the world "in pretty similar terms", he said. "We are both democracies, we both believe in free and open trade, in trying to achieve regional peace and security, in building a large network of friends and partners. We have a strong stand against terrorism, against drugs."

This combination saw then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott moot a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) in 2014 to elevate bilateral relations substantially. The pact was signed during Mr Abbott's visit to Singapore last year.

Current Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is "equally enthusiastic" about the partnership, and in May this year both sides announced a package of initiatives to give effect to the CSP.

This week, Mr Lee and Mr Turnbull will witness the signing of four agreements arising from the May package: a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to let more Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) troops train in a bigger area in Australia; a deal to upgrade the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA); an MOU on cooperation in innovation and science; and an MOU to combat transnational drug crime.

The new defence deal, lasting 25 years, will grant access to up to 14,000 Singapore soldiers, up from 6,000 soldiers now, to train for up to 18 weeks, up from six weeks now. The SAF has been training in Australia since 1990.

The FTA, signed in 2003, has been reviewed to increase trade and investment flows. Bilateral trade hit $20.2 billion last year. "It is a significant and, more importantly, a growing account," said Dr Balakrishnan. "If all these plans bear fruit, trading volumes will increase. I don't think we should contend to just be the fifth-largest trading partner."

Start-ups and firms in both countries can tap a $50 million matching fund over five years to boost science and innovation. "For Singaporeans, having access to a continental-sized economy is a big plus," Dr Balakrishnan said, adding that the package enjoys bipartisan support in Australia.

Also on the way is a visa allowing Singaporeans under 30 to work and holiday in Australia for a year. "You wonder whether Australia is too attractive a place for young Singaporeans," said Dr Balakrishnan. "But I think that is a risk worth taking because we want to give Singaporeans this sense of adventure and space and opportunities... In a sense, it is the hinterland that we didn't have."

Overall, the initiatives "exponentially increase space and opportunities for Singaporeans" and "help plug Australia directly into Asia".

The Australians are "looking at a relationship which ultimately becomes as close as the one they have with New Zealand", he said.

The CSP package is one Dr Balakrishnan firmly believes in, having made two trips to negotiate it in March while his father was very ill.

Accompanying Mr Lee on his visit are Mrs Lee, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Dr Balakrishnan and MPs Lily Neo and Zaqy Mohamad.

While in Australia, Mr Lee will meet Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and political leaders. He will also lay a wreath at the Australian War Memorial and meet Singaporeans at a reception.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement yesterday that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean will be acting Prime Minister during Mr Lee's absence.

Singapore, Australia sign 4 key agreements, marking start of initiatives under Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2016

Singapore and Australia signed four key agreements yesterday that will boost cooperation in trade, defence, innovation and combating transnational drug crime.

They include an upgraded free trade agreement (FTA) that will make it easier for Singaporean professionals and entrepreneurs to work in Australia and vice versa.

There is also a A$2.25 billion (S$2.35 billion) defence deal that will see both sides jointly develop military training facilities in Australia. The upgraded FTA comes into force next year, and defence cooperation planning starts early next year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull said in a joint statement that the agreements represent the "most substantial upgrade in the Australia-Singapore relationship in a generation".

Extension of FTA a boost for businesses
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2016

Singaporean professionals will find it easier to work in Australia and Singapore businesses will be able to bid for government procurement contracts there, after both countries yesterday expanded a free trade pact in the "most substantial upgrade" to bilateral ties.

The extension of the Singapore- Australia Free Trade Agreement was one of four key agreements signed yesterday in Canberra's Parliament House under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). They will not just strengthen economic links but also boost cooperation in military training, innovation and science, and combating transnational drug crime.

"Together, the agreements signed this week represent the most substantial upgrade in the Australia-Singapore relationship in a generation," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull in a joint statement. At a joint press conference after the signing ceremony, Mr Lee said the "landmark, transformative agreement" will take cooperation "to unprecedented levels that only close partners can achieve".

Mr Turnbull said it was made possible because both countries are strategically aligned. The two leaders also acknowledged that there were trade-offs in the negotiation process. But they added that it was also a matter of understanding the other side's needs and considerations.

Said Mr Lee: "People can be sure that just as our people get advantages in Australia, so too will Australians correspondingly get advantages in Singapore...You bargain hard, but you bargain to win together."

The leaders were also asked about the message the CSP is sending out, especially at a time when some governments are pushing for protectionist measures or are reluctant to turn to innovation or automation.

Said Mr Lee: "The signal to the world is that... we found opportunities to cooperate together, we are very happy we are making progress, and we hope that you too will find it possible to make similar progress with us or with each other." There will be problems, but it's "far better we cooperate together than (closing) ourselves off in our own little corner, because that way leads to impoverishment, leads to misunderstanding, leads to trouble", he said.

Mr Turnbull said it was critical for leaders to reassure their community and explain that "turning your back on change is only a road back to impoverishment".

On whether Singapore could be assured that Australia's bipartisan system can sustain the CSP through the years, Mr Turnbull quipped: "So profound was the spirit of bipartisanship yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition (Bill Shorten) and I attended the events wearing the same orange ties. It shows it was almost subliminal - the spirit of harmony."

Mr Lee thanked the leaders of Australia's main parties for their support. The two prime ministers also commended the sustained efforts of officials to realise the benefits of closer cooperation.

Yesterday, Mr Lee also met Mr Shorten. He and Mrs Lee also called on Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and laid a wreath at the Australian War Memorial before leaving for Singapore.

Benefits in four key areas
The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2016

Of the four Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) agreements signed yesterday, one will see trade ties being deepened while the other three will see Singapore and Australia collaborate more closely in the areas of defence, scientific research and anti-drug trafficking. The upgraded Free Trade Agreement will come into force next year and planning for the expansion of new military training areas in Australia will start early next year.

These are some of the benefits under the agreements:


• More flexible rules of origin, which are standards used to determine the origin of goods, will make it easier for Singapore exports to qualify for tariff-free treatment in Australia.

• Reduction in regulatory barriers, such as onerous labelling requirements, will facilitate trade in goods like wine, cosmetics and medical devices.

• Opportunities for companies from both sides to bid for government procurement contracts.

• Easier mobility and longer stays for business people.


• New A$2.25 billion (S$2.35 billion) programme will allow the Singapore Armed Forces to conduct unilateral training in Australia for 18 weeks, in areas 10 times the size of Singapore, for up to 14,000 troops per year over 25 years.

• Joint development of military training areas and advanced facilities in Australia.

Science research and innovation

• The Singapore and Australian governments will provide about S$50 million worth of support for collaboration in science and innovation.

• More cooperation between research institutions, such as between Singapore universities and Australia's Data61 to look into big data and smart cities.

• Shared use of research infrastructure - like supercomputing centres in both countries - to realise a greater return on investments, spread expenses, allow for maintenance of infrastructure, and let researchers improve their research by accessing a wider range of facilities and intellectual cultures.

• Establishing Australia's fifth landing pad in Singapore to facilitate the foray of high-tech Australian start-ups into Asia.

International drug crime

• Singapore's Central Narcotics Bureau and the Australian Federal Police will conduct joint training, learning and development programmes and officer exchanges to combat the proliferation of drugs, especially new psychoactive substances.

PM Lee Hsien Loong highlights importance of Singapore-Australia partnership
Partnership is part of network of ties in Asia-Pacific that lend stability to region, says PM Lee
By Rachel Au-Yong In Canberra, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2016

Singapore and Australia are good friends, and their partnership is part of a network of relationships among countries in the Asia-Pacific that lend stability to the region, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"We are collaborating to build an open and inclusive regional security architecture, working to keep international trading open and to enhance regional trading arrangements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership," he said.

He added: "Not everybody is in on every arrangement, but collectively the arrangements add up to a constructive and robust network of cooperation and architecture."

Mr Lee was speaking at a press conference with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull after they witnessed the signing of four Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreements. One of the agreements was for a A$2.25 billion (S$2.35 billion) defence deal that will see more Singapore troops being trained in Australia.

Asked by a reporter if this could make Singapore and Australia appear as a threat to other countries in the region, especially China, Mr Lee said he did not believe so.

"We've been friends for a very long time, I don't think Singapore and Australia together could possibly be seen as a bloc... we are not treaty allies and neither are we opposed to any countries in the region."

He added that China is the largest trading partner for both nations.

The prime ministers were also asked about the United States' presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Mr Lee said it was crucial for the US to engage the region on a broad range of areas including security, as well as economic and people-to- people ties. He cited the US Seventh Fleet, based in Japan since World War II, and the TPP as key aspects of this. "It's the intent of the US to participate actively and constructively, cooperatively with the countries in the region, which makes it a valuable and important partner to us," he added.

Agreeing, Mr Turnbull said the US presence in the region has been "the foundation of our prosperity for the last 40 years".

The "extraordinary growth, perhaps most of all in China, has been underpinned by that foundation of peace", he said.

Both leaders also expressed their hope for the ratification of the TPP soon. Mr Lee also underscored the need for good relations between the US and China, and the US and Japan, which would give them a platform to discuss difficult issues such as the South China Sea.

"(It will) enable them to discuss individual difficult issues like the South China Sea, in a broader context, so that there are restraints on pushing difficult problems over the limit. At the same time, there's a possibility of seeing them within perspective, and therefore managing them and preventing them from getting out of control," he said.

In a joint statement, the two leaders said Singapore and Australia had shared interests in freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded trade in the South China Sea.

They urged respect for legal and diplomatic processes and international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in resolving the maritime dispute.

Both leaders also called on all parties involved to "avoid actions that would escalate tensions, including the further militarisation of outposts in the South China Sea".

New training facilities in Australia to take in more SAF troops
New site in Townsville, and Shoalwater Bay space to be expanded under new agreement
By Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2016

New military training facilities are to be developed in Australia that will allow thousands more Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) troops to hone their combat skills in the country.

Queensland's Townsville Field Training Area - a site four times the size of Singapore - has been made available under a new agreement between the two countries which was signed on Thursday.

Since 1990, SAF troops have trained at a similar-sized space at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland. Both the areas are now to be expanded by a quarter.

The number of SAF troops able to train in these spaces will more than double from 6,600 a year to 14,000.

The Townsville site will be used mainly for army and air training whereas Shoalwater Bay will also be used for navy training.

Singapore will build facilities that allow for complex training. These include a brand-new range where its large weapons, such as long-range artillery guns and Apache attack helicopters, can fire live rounds.

It will also build a mock city with multi-storey buildings for soldiers to hone their urban warfare skills.

Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne revealed more details yesterday at a joint press conference in Townsville with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

She said that the master planning process for the development of the Townsville site will likely take place over next year and 2018, with construction expected to start in 2019.

The deal will give Singapore 25 years of access to both training areas.

SAF troops currently train for six weeks a year at Shoalwater Bay, but this will be extended to 18 weeks for both sites.

Singapore and Australia will jointly develop the two training areas, with the Republic committing A$2.25 billion (S$2.38 billion) on developing military facilities in Australia over the next 25 years.

Both countries' militaries will have more opportunities for complex joint training exercises, elevating defence relations to new levels.

Dr Ng, who took a helicopter flight over the Townsville Field Training Area after the press conference, said it will allow the SAF to conduct training for a wide range of army units, ranging from artillery units to helicopters.

He added: "It's a very rare piece of training ground where you can do all that, with enough size and distances for our armoured vehicles, for our mechanised and motorised brigades."

He also said the local authorities and businessmen in Townsville he met were warm and accepted that the SAF would be training there.

But he urged Singapore's soldiers to be "very good guests" when they train at Townsville.

Dr Ng and Ms Payne also exchanged views on regional and security issues.

A new chapter with Australia

By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2016

Australia and Singapore are "mates", as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Twitter after his visit last week to Canberra, where he and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull witnessed the signing of four agreements to strengthen this friendship.

These pacts provide for significantly greater cooperation in defence, trade, innovation and law enforcement, and are the first tranche of initiatives under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that both countries reached last year.

The hope is that the Australia-Singapore relationship, now in its 51st year, will be as close as that of their nearest partners: for Australia, New Zealand, and for Singapore, its neighbours in ASEAN.

A A$2.25 billion (S$2.38 billion) defence deal will allow 14,000 Singapore soldiers - more than double the current number - to train for up to 18 weeks a year, up from six today. The new training area in Queensland is four times Singapore's size.

In another country, such unprecedented access for foreign troops could raise concerns. That local communities have welcomed the troops underscores the trust and respect Australia has for Singapore.

Bilateral trade stood at $20.2 billion last year and looks set to grow when the upgraded Australia-Singapore Free Trade Agreement comes into force next year.

Among other things, Singapore professionals like engineers and accountants will be able to work in Australia more easily. Exporters and importers of items such as wine, cosmetics or medical devices will have fewer regulatory barriers to overcome.

Collaborations between institutions and enterprises are expected to yield breakthroughs in data science and other fields.

Both sides will also share information and know-how on fighting drugs and terrorism.

There are other benefits in the pipeline, such as a visa allowing Singaporeans under 30 to work and vacation in Australia for a year, as well as an entry visa valid for 10 years.

Singaporeans and Australians have much to look forward to with a stronger friendship.

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