SINGAPORE - Four key challenges were highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech, namely the external environment, education, housing, and population.
Exhorting Singapore to stay special so as to survive these challenges, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited some solutions and principles unique to Singapore, such as multiracialism, self-reliance and mutual support, and keeping faith between the government and people.
"If we are just a dull little spot on the map, a smudge, we are going to count for nothing," PM Lee said. "We have to be a shining red dot."
Urging Singaporeans to be rugged, PM Lee said that Singaporeans need to have the steel within especially when "big things are happening" which will affect Singapore.
"[Southeast Asia] is an exciting place to be, but also a rather dangerous place to live," PM Lee said.
"We have good relations with our neighbours," he added. "But it may not always be like this. Even in the next 10 years, we cannot be sure. Certainly, in the next 50 years, nobody can rule out instability, tension, or even war in Asia."
PM Lee noted incidences in neighbouring countries which may affect Singapore, such as the Low Yat Plaza riot between Chinese and Malays in Malaysia, the 1MDB saga, and the complexity of Indonesia's politics.
"One common Indonesian view about Singapore is that we are a small neighbour that is enjoying undeserved success at their expense."
An Indonesian newspaper recently quoted a senior Indonesian politician in an article about bilateral relations between Indonesia and Singapore.
"I would only consider apologising (for the haze) if Singapore and Malaysia are thankful for the oxygen they enjoy (from Indonesian forests) for 11 months (each year)," the senior politician quipped in an interview with an Indonesian newspaper.
Tensions between US, China and Japan could potentially affect Singapore too, PM Lee said.
Pointing to progress in SkillsFuture, which is the national movement to provide Singaporeans with opportunities to develop skills, PM Lee emphasised on the importance of life-long learning.
The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), which provides pathways for students who prefer more hands-on learning, will expand its intake from 2,000 students this year to 3,500 by 2020, PM Lee shared.
SIT will also have a new centralised campus at Punggol, integrated with a new creative industry cluster across the road spearheaded by JTC, allowing for classroom-workplace application.
Singapore's fifth university's main campus is currently at Dover Road, with branch campuses in all the polytechnics.
Improvements have been made to ensure HDB flats remain affordable and accessible to all, PM Lee said.
In the last five years, prices for Build-To-Order (BTO) flats have stabilised, 100,000 HDB flats have been launched, and queues for flats have been shortened.
However, PM Lee said that three more changes will be implemented.
Firstly, the income ceiling for flats will be raised from $10,000 to $12,000 for HDB flats, and $12,000 to $14,000 for Executive Condominiums (ECs).
Secondly, there will be more Special CPF Housing Grants (SHG) for middle and lower-income households buying their first home. The income ceiling to qualify for SHG will be raised from $6,500 to $8,500, and the SHG amount will be raised from $20,000 to $40,000.
Lastly, more grants will be offered to help Singaporeans renting flats to own them, PM Lee said. The new combined two-room flexi scheme and increased SHG will help to make 2-room flats more affordable.
Rental tenants who previously sold their flats and thus already benefitted from previous HDB subsidies will be offered a Fresh Start Housing Scheme, provided they meet certain requirements to put their lives in order.
PM Lee spoke about two groups, namely seniors and families.
Besides the implementation of the Pioneer Generation Package to help seniors, the re-employment age will be raised from 65 to 67 by 2017 after the upcoming General Election. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong will announce an action plan soon, PM Lee said, that aims to make Singapore a model country for successful aging.
To encourage couples to give birth, a Proximity Housing Grant will be introduced to help every Singaporean household, regardless first-time buyers or not. The grant will help couples buying a resale flat with or near their parents, or near their married children.
The Baby Bonus amount will also be increased to help defray child-raising costs during the child's infancy, and will be given to every child, instead of the first four children currently.
The Medisave Grant for newborns will be increased to cover MediShield Life premiums for the child until age 21, and also help with other healthcare expenses such as recommended vaccinations.
Lastly, fathers will get two weeks of paternity leave, instead of the current one week. "The Government will pay for the extra week of leave," PM Lee said.
"The Baby Bonus, the Medisave Grant and Paternity Leave changes - will apply with effect from Jan 1, 2015."