Abbott seeks to grow Australia's ties with Singapore

Abbott seeks to grow Australia's ties with Singapore
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott inspects the Guard-of-Honour with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on 29 June 2015, during his two-day official visit to Singapore.
PHOTO: ST

AUSTRALIA'S relations with Singapore should grow to the level of the ties it has with neighbour New Zealand, said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday.

He indicated that with the elevation in ties, which the new Comprehensive Strategic Partnership seeks to achieve, their professionals should be able to work and reside in the other's country easily.

"I want to see Australians and Singaporeans with the same kind of work and residency situation in our two countries as Australians and New Zealanders have long had," Mr Abbott said.

He held out this possibility at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, after both inked the partnership accord yesterday for new levels of co-operation in defence, the economy, foreign affairs, and arts and culture.

The new partnership sets out a road map on the course of the ties between the two countries for the next 10 years, Mr Lee said.

It will also work towards letting Singaporeans enjoy even more seamless travel to Australia. Currently, Singapore passport holders can use SmartGate, a self-service passport processing option, at major Australian airports.

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership pact also paves the way for increased intelligence sharing to combat terrorism, greater access to military training areas in Australia, and collaboration on fighting cybercrime.

The leaders of both countries will meet every year as well, with the meetings alternating between their countries.

An early review of the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement will be led by Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam and Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb. It is expected to be concluded by July next year.

To build on the new partnership, several memoranda of understanding were signed between agencies of both countries to establish more specific frameworks for co-operation.

A day after both prime ministers grilled steaks together at a barbecue open to the public in Bishan Park, the two stood side by side again at the Istana yesterday to emphasise the compatibility and deep friendship between their countries.

"We are like-minded and we share similar strategic perspectives of the region", like the importance of US-China relations, Mr Lee said. Agreeing, Mr Abbott said his two-day official visit was a chance "to turn friendship into something far more akin to a family relationship".

In Mr Lee's toast at the official lunch shortly after the press conference, he noted that Australia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Singapore, just nine days after the island's separation from Malaysia.

But ties go back even further as Australian soldiers died in the defence of Singapore during World War II, and many were buried at the Kranji War Memorial.

"Singapore will always appreciate and remember their sacrifice," said Mr Lee.

Mr Abbott had laid a wreath at the cemetery at the start of his visit on Sunday.

Strong trade and defence links with Australia were also underlined by Mr Lee, who added: "I am glad to have enjoyed good relations with successive Australian prime ministers over the years. And I'm very happy to continue and build on these relations with Tony."

ziliang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jun 30, 2015.
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