Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership announcement

06 May 2016

Sydney

Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: My Government’s economic plan driving jobs and growth, seizing the opportunities of the 21st century economy is built upon pillars of innovation, of open markets of trade, investment, investment in our Defence industries. Today I'm delighted to be here with the Trade and Investment Minister Steven Ciobo and the special envoy for trade Andrew Robb, to announce the achievement of our ambitious vision for enhanced economic integration and cooperation with Singapore.

This enhanced cooperation, this enhanced comprehensive strategic partnership, includes commitments to open markets and trade, much greater opportunities for Australians in trading and Singapore and working in Singapore.  It includes a massive investment in Defence infrastructure in Australia and of course it includes a commitment to collaboration on innovation. But I want to start by thanking Andrew whose contribution to securing Australia's future prosperity has been second to none.

Never in our history has a Trade Minister clinched as many Free Trade Agreements with our top trading partners.  It is remarkable that today, in his capacity as Special Envoy for Trade, after he announced he was not going to recontest the election, he has brought home one last landmark deal. Now this is a massive upgrading of our relationship with Singapore and it's been agreed formally between myself and the Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong this week. Under our comprehensive strategic partnership, our aim is to elevate our relationship to a level similar to the one we enjoy with New Zealand.

The upgrading of our agreement with Singapore will make it much easier for thousands of Australians to live and work in Singapore. It will see our two nations join forces in a new innovation drive, attracting investment and backing new technology. Most immediately, this new strategic partnership will generate its own construction boom in North Queensland, as local builders and local engineers construct roads, accommodation and facilities for the Singaporean defence forces to continue to conduct training exercises. This multibillion-dollar investment will be centred around Townsville and Shoalwater Bay, helping local workers and businesses make that transition from the mining construction boom that is the focus of our economic plan. This, of course, is directly engaged and connected with our Northern Australia Policy and our commitment to continued strong Australian investment in our Defence industries and in our Defence facilities, especially in regional Australia.

Now, all Australians understand very well that our future depends on how well we continue to grow and shape our economy, as we transition from the unprecedented mining construction boom to a stronger more diverse new economy. They know that their future, their jobs and those of their children and grandchildren depend on it. We need an economic plan and that is what the Government has delivered. Our economic plan is the foundation on which we build a brighter, more secure future in a stronger new economy with more jobs. We have an economic plan for jobs and growth and a key part of that plan is the way in which we are opening the doors to these enormous markets in Asia, the dynamic markets of our region as Andrew has done with China, Korea, Japan, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and of course now upgrading the relationship with Singapore.

Let me deal with a number of the elements. On trade, we've agreed an ambitious package that builds on the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Together with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the upgraded SAFTA as it's called, with further integrate our two economies locking in access and opening doors for Australian businesses and investors.

Singapore is Australia's fifth-largest trading partner - $28.5 billion in two-way trade. But the business environment has changed considerably since the Free Trade Agreement was first signed over a decade ago. So we're updating trade rules in the SAFTA in goods, services and investment to reflect contemporary business needs, reduce red tape and increase trade.

Singapore has agreed to offer Australia its best free trade agreement treatment in services and investment, including legal services. In some areas it's offered better commitments than it has previously offered to any other trading partner including the best free trade treatment from Singapore in professional services, government procurement and temporary entry for our business personnel. Singapore will provide better recognition of Australian tertiary qualifications and better operating conditions for Australian universities with campuses in Singapore, increasing opportunities for our education exports. 

We've committed to substantial new initiatives on investment in Northern Australia, including a partnership on agribusiness development that will focus on attracting more Singaporean investment into that region, into Northern Australia, where so much of our potential and our opportunities for growth are to be found.

Now the Australian-Singapore Defence relationship is founded on strong, long-standing shared interests in regional stability and security. A long history of Defence engagement and strong people-to-people links. The agreement strengthens Australia and Singapore’s already strong Defence partnership. Building on our existing Defence cooperation, which is extensive, the Singapore armed forces will benefit from increased access to Australian military training areas, including up to 14,000 military personnel participating in training in Australia for up to 18 weeks a year. This will bring us closer as Defence partners and generate significant local economic activity in Queensland. It will approximately double the Singapore armed forces existing access to training facilities in Australia, and will give a much needed boost to local economies in North Queensland over the next 25 years.  We will jointly develop military training facilities in Northern Queensland, which will be fully funded by Singapore. Singapore will invest up to $2.25 billion in the expansion of two of our most important military training facilities the Shoalwater Bay training area and the Townsville field training area. This is going to create thousands of jobs in construction, in tourism, in investment. It is a very, very significant commitment to investment in North Queensland. Can I say also that we are going to work more closely together on innovation. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and I share a passion for innovation. Both of us know that that is the key to strong growth in the future. That’s how we ensure our economies remain competitive and become more successful in these exciting times. We are already establishing one of our innovation landing pads in Singapore and we are going to collaborate with a fund. Singapore will contribute $25 million to that. We will match that and that will enable us to again support, investment, innovation in both markets.

So this is a great day, a great day for the Australian-Singapore relationship. It’s a great day for trade, for jobs, and for growth. It’s a great day for investment in North Queensland and for jobs and growth in North Queensland which has been doing it tough since the slowdown in the mining construction boom. But above all this is a key element, another foundation laid in our national economic plan. The plan that will deliver continued strong growth in our economy and jobs and ensure that our children and grandchildren are able to take advantage of the great opportunities in this, the 21st century - the most exciting time in human history. Here we are, here we are in Asia, in the cockpit of the strongest economic growth in history. There has never been growth so fast and so large as we have seen in this region. The man next to me, Andrew Robb, has done such extraordinary work in his time as Trade Minister to open up the doors to those opportunities. This is another example of his remarkable work and the commitment of my Government to ensuring that our children, our grandchildren have the opportunities, the great jobs, the high-paying jobs in this, the 21st-century economy.

Andrew.

ANDREW ROBB: Thanks very much, Prime Minister, and thank you for those kind words. I won't seek to repeat a lot of the detail but I would just like to give a little bit of a flavour, perhaps, to the nature of the negotiations and the attitudes of both countries. Of course this grew out of the 50th anniversary of Singapore becoming a nation in its own right and it was a proposition which was consistent with the way in which our relationship - we were the first country to recognise Singapore 50 years ago - and the development of the relationship ever since has been consistent with the view that was held back then. There was a great meeting of the minds at all levels within both Governments. The fact that this has been done in 11 months I think signposts the desire on both sides to develop not only a trade agreement - this is not a Free Trade Agreement -  this embodies a very strong increase in the trade relationship, but it is much, much wider than that. It does cover, it does look to, over the next 10 years. This is a 10-year plan of both Governments to seriously enhance not only the trade links but particularly the strategic links, the economic links, the Defence links, the people to people links. There's a big arts component in this agreement.

There are significant initiatives all the way through it which will help the movement of people between both countries in all sorts of areas, with the visa arrangements. Visas have gone from three months to two years for most, for Australians. There's a multiple 10-year entry visa for Singaporeans into Australia.

The tourism is very important. The students coming here at the moment - 7,000, nearly 7,000 of them. The capacity to increase that and make that far more seamless. The whole point of it is to get to the sort of seamless relationship that we've get got even a lot of regulations, they get fairly boring but they're very similar, right? When they're similar it's cheaper, more efficient, it's easier and business gets done more effectively and people are more encouraged to get involved with business when you've got very similar regulations.

And I would just make the point. It is a 10-year plan to enhance our relations in all those areas, but the synergies are very important to observe. Firstly, it has got great synergies with this week's 10-year plan within the Budget. So it's totally consistent with the programs and the strategic priorities that have been laid out in the Budget this week.

It has got very great synergies with the Defence White Paper. The Defence White Paper, one of its major priorities was to ensure better links between Defence needs and economic outcomes. So you look at the subs decision, that's the case. You look now at the 6,600 troops from Singapore that are coming in to Queensland, they are generating each year about $35 million of activity - $35 million. That 6,000 is going to, over time, go to 14,000 and 18 weeks, not 6 weeks. We are going to see, over $100 million minimum of activity year on year on year on year because of the presence of those troops, and that's going to be in Townsville, in Yeppoon, in Rockhampton, in Central Queensland, this is a huge boost for that part of Australia, just alone, that sort of initiative. So, it is consistent with the Defence White Paper. It gives, as the Prime Minister mentioned, great synergies with Northern Australia. Again, all of those Defence activities are in the north. Singapore wants to be able to train their troops in a tropical zone. The top 45% of Australia lives in the tropics, so again it is in Northern Australia, but also of course, we've got a commitment, an annual commitment where Austrade will work with the states and Territory, the two states relevant and the Territory in Northern Australia, and companies across that north, with the objective of identifying investment-ready projects. And then the Singaporean Government, for its part, will assemble major investors and each year they will be brought to Australia and they will have a week or two weeks to go and inspect all of these potential projects. Some of them will be multibillion-dollar projects. There will be tropical health and medical research, agriculture, mining, tourism, all of these areas that are our great strengths, but Indonesia - sorry, Singapore has a great interest in these areas, so there are great synergies with innovation and science.

The Prime Minister went through it and I will ask my colleague Steve Ciobo to perhaps expand on that because he has been very active, even in the couple of months that he has had responsibility for launching pads and driving the innovation program from the trade perspective.

So it is three major pillars; the economy with all these visa changes. Just in that area alone, the capacity now for spouses and the dependents of the principal person taking a job in Singapore - they will have now the opportunity to get employment. It's not been done for anyone else ever, right, it is a small country, great sensitivity in the people movement issues.  We've got 14 people movement issues and mutual recognition of qualifications, these sorts of issues, all of them, they've never been given to anyone else.

So talk about making it more seamless and more encouraging to do business, and not just business, but the arts and all the other issues, you don't have the visa problems, et cetera, et cetera.

Finally, it is the three pillars of economics, Defence and innovation, and research, but it is also many other things. It's got drug crime, it's got a series of education initiatives, very important education initiatives. It has tourism initiatives. We are going to have a work and holiday program for the first time with Singapore. They haven't done it with anyone else so all of these things are integrating all the sort of normal activities in Australia with the normal activities in Singapore. Thanks, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Steve?

MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT: Thank you very much, Prime Minister, and thank you Andrew.

This week the Federal Coalition outlined our national economic plan and what we are announcing today is an on-the-ground demonstration of the way in which both in terms of trade, Defence, people-to-people links, business links, cultural links, the Coalition is delivering upon that national economic plan. This particular comprehensive strategic partnership sees the relationship between Australia and Singapore go from strength to strength, and I'm particularly excited as Trade Investment Minister to follow in the tremendous legacy that Andrew Robb has left.

What we want to do is build upon that legacy and this comprehensive strategic partnership with Singapore delivers in spades. And as a Queenslander, can I also particularly notice that what this will mean on the ground in central Queensland, North Queensland, Far North Queensland and places like Rockhampton, Yeppoon, Townsville, is a very material increase in economic activity, an expansion of Defence force assets, the opportunity for a greater level and a higher tempo of tourism activity and that’s going to drive economic drive in those regions and it’s going to drive local jobs. And consistent with the Federal Coalitions vision around our National Innovation Science Agenda. A key component of that will be about making sure that we capitalise upon this latest landing pad, the fifth that we have announced which will provide an opportunity for Aussie businesses that are ready to accelerate, to take on the world, to explore new markets like Singapore, to tap in to the broad and deep couple of pools available there, they actually fly the Aussie banner abroad in some of the fastest growing markets in the world.

Singapore is a hot spot for innovation and we will see collaboration with Singapore authorities and Australian authorities, and in particular I’ll mention two. An agreement between Australia’s CSIRO and Singapore’s A*STAR to drive through collaboration, partnerships that are going to deliver with the Australian people and for Singapore. A partnership that will see investment in innovation, in research and development to drive those two sectors. The other key issue to mention, is what the Prime Minister touched upon which was a $50 million innovation fund. This will be a key fund which both, which both Singapore and Australia will fund at $25 million each to continue the very aggressive pursuit of strong innovation agenda that under Malcolm Turnbull’s stewardship we’ve seen. So in summary, great news for Queensland, great news for regional Australia, very good news for our tourism industry, very good news for those involved in the innovation space, continued expansion in to Asia with the landing pad, that’s going to drive an anchor, the very strong focus, the Turnbull Coalition Government has had in our innovation agenda.

JOURNALIST: Just on your economic plan, you [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: Did you, I’m happy to come to that question but can we just see if we have some questions on this really important agreement with Singapore.

JOURNALIST: This is by all accounts unprecedented diplomatic relations with Singapore, what is that going to look like to Beijing? Is it meant to look like [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a perspective that I think would be regarded as highly imaginative anywhere in the region. This is a very important deepening of the relationship with Singapore, and we’ve had a very close relationship with Singapore, and indeed a close strategic relationship with Singapore, for many years, and this would be seen as, will be seen around the region, I believe as a natural development from the relation we have, the strong relation we have. These good strong strategic relationships, these partnerships, ideally continue to grow and develop. Andrew may be able to share with you some perspectives on how the relationship with New Zeeland has developed over time in terms of the CER.

ANDREW ROBB: Yeah, thanks yeah. Thirty two years ago we agreed on the closer economic relationship with New Zealand. Every year since we agreed on that, Ministers have met, appropriate ministers have met, and there’s been an agenda every year, over 32 years to continue to try to more seamlessly line up a lot of, as I say, boring regulations and custom procedures and banking rules and financial ser [inaudible]… all these things, telecommunications. And the net result, though, has been that we’ve had an average increase year-on-year, year-on-year, every year for 32 years in two way trade of 6.6%.

JOURNALIST: Deepening of relations with New Zealand, though is... [inaudible]

ANDREW ROBB: Well, let me...Well,

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

ANDREW ROBB: Well, I was going to go on to Beijing. I suppose my general point is that you can increase your relationship and friendship with one country without diminishing your relationship and friendship with another one. I think that’s a very important point to make. Two weeks ago, we had a thousand Australian businesses which Steve Ciobo led, and I accompanied that group into China. We went to 12 cities. We met - we had to put a cap - Australia had to put a cap on the number of Chinese that were involved, because there was well in excess of the thousand who wanted to participate.

The enthusiasm, the deals that were done, the greetings we received, it’s not just that at the senior Beijing level, it’s at every level, there’s a great enthusiasm about this enhanced relationship between Australia and China and, you know, it's palpable, it is palpable. And these are all signals that we are and have been successful, I think, in developing all the relationships in the region. We've done a lot of work in Indonesia, we've done a lot of work in India, we've done - of course the other agreements in Japan and Korea - all of these things in many intangible ways develops much greater linkages, people get more understanding, more tolerance, more friendships and mutual respect, mutual respect is the big outcome of it, and I think the way in which we have with trade and now with a closer economic relationship with Singapore, it’s all building a more peaceful region because it builds mutual respect and understanding, rather than pitting one country against another.

PRIME MINISTER: OK. Well, sorry, one more on Singapore?

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are announcing this here in Australia and the Singaporean Government is announcing it in Singapore.

JOURNALIST: Have you rushed it just so you can go to the Governor-General tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can assure you the timing, this agreement has been worked on by Andrew Robb for quite some time and as soon as it was agreed - it was agreed as soon as agreement could be finalised. These are - we want to get on with it. The growth that Andrew has talked about with trade, and he gave a good example of the New Zealand CER, and how that has driven trade between our two countries, we’ve seen similar growth in trade with Singapore, but this will accelerate it, and right through the region and just touching on the earlier question, one of the things that underlines and underpins peace and security in the region is closer and closer economic engagement because it means that as countries become more dependent on each other, as their trade, jobs become more dependent on strong trade, open markets, then of course the incentives for collaboration, for peaceful collaboration and maintenance of the stability - relative stability we've seen for many years, the incentives for that are greater.

JOURNALIST: Following on from that question, Senate Estimates has been told that there are more details to be worked out on the Military Training Area. What type of details are they and how crucial are they?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, perhaps Andrew can deal with that.

ANDREW ROBB: For instance, we already help train pilots, for instance. The agreement does present an offer by us to extend that training, but Singapore was not as advanced as it had been in the land troops situation to, you know, make a start immediately. So, when they will seek to take up some of that, or all of that offer, which of course will be done in consultation with our air force, all of those details are being worked through and could take some time. That's really in Singapore's court as to how quickly and in what shape in the end it takes. We have agreed that Shoalwater Bay and Townsville are the two sites that. But the details of, you know, the nature of the development, there is so much. I mean, they are multibillion-dollar projects, right.

JOURNALIST: And is it though right that you make the announcement before the detail...

ANDREW ROBB: Well, that could take - some of these things could take a long time. No, it is quite proper to announce it because it does focus the minds, it does recognise the commitment of both Governments to all of those people involved in putting that together, not just the Defence personnel, but all of the companies, small and large companies in the Central Queensland and in Townsville, et cetera, in particular, what roles they can play. You know, the perspective they can bring to make sure that this, whatever they finish up with, is world-class, is the best standard. It is very advanced training operations. So this is normal practice, to - you can't do it without that commitment from Government.

PRIME MINISTER: If I could just add to what Andrew is saying, the critical commitment is obviously that Singapore has allowed to have in Australia, for training, 14,000 personnel a year, which is a substantial increase on the arrangements at present. So that's the first, that's the agreement, and then of course, that will require an investment in expanded facilities, and the Singaporeans have committed naturally to make the investment, to spend the money, at those two locations, on those two training areas in North Queensland, and that money - they are expecting to spend $2.25 billion - and that money will be spent by Singapore. And of course those facilities are developed so when Singaporean troops are not using them, will be available for the Australian Army. So what you will see is, as has been - this is really an expansion of what is going on at the moment. But it is a significant expansion and one that does involve an enhancement of our strategic cooperation, but also a very significant additional investment in North Queensland.

JOURNALIST: Mr Prime Minister, I want to ask question about home. The internship program, which really was one of the centrepieces of Tuesday night's Budget, appears to be unravelling a little bit. Business groups are arguing that they want vacancy requirements taken out and the unions are calling it slave labour. Is that because of the element, there is a perception that it's not fair?

PRIME MINISTER: Let me just say to you, what Scott Morrison did in the Budget on Tuesday night in respect of youth unemployment was acknowledge that the measures that we have at the moment have not been working well enough and that we had to do better to make sure that young people who were not employed got employed. That's what Australians expect us to do. Our national economic plan is for jobs and growth, and that includes jobs for young people who are not employed, because we know that the best way for somebody to acquire the employability that you need, that everyone needs, is to have the experience of employment. The PaTH program is a new approach, it is one that has been welcomed by business, it has been welcomed by ACOSS, the welfare lobby...

JOURNALIST: I just want to correct you, ACOSS has come out this morning and said they need an extra $68 a week if they are to support this. So do you accept that the current agreement is flexible and this program is still in its development phase?

PRIME MINISTER: This is an outstanding new measure that has been proposed in the Budget and it is one that will ensure that young people who are unemployed get the experience of employment, and it is to the shame of the Labor Party and the union movement that they want to stand in the way of these young men and women getting the experience of employment. You would think that they would embrace this initiative, you would think that they would welcome it, but they are opposing it and what they are doing is opposing young people who haven't had many of the privileges perhaps that some of the Members of Parliament have had, of education, of experience. Young people who are struggling to get a job, who haven't had the experience of going to work, what we are proposing is in the PaTH plan providing them with the life skills, the employment skills which will make them employable, get them into an internship, get them the experience of getting up early in the morning, going to work, collaborating with co-workers, giving them those employment skills and then, you know something, you will change a life. You will change a life. You take a young person who is unemployed, who is perhaps unemployable, and you make them employable, you change a whole life. You change their life, the life of their partner, the life of their children. That's the commitment. And it is a matter of great shame that the Labor Party and the unions that direct the Labor Party are opposing this. They are standing in the way of young people with poor prospects transforming their lives for the better, and they should be ashamed.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister a bureaucrat did today what you couldn't or wouldn't yesterday, detail the costing of your company tax plan. It is your Budget. Why not be upfront? You’ve given a free kick to Labor on this clearly.

PRIME MINISTER: Can I just say, as I said yesterday, the Budget papers do not identify the dollar cost, the items in the 10-year projection as you know. Let me just go on. That is, the Budget papers, and this has always been the case, lay out all of the detail for four years and then there is a medium-term outlook and then the Treasury makes a whole range of assumptions across all the elements in the Budget, but it is simply the conclusion that is published and it has been like that for a very long time. That's standard practice and that was the point I made yesterday. Now at the Budget Estimates - Treasury is appearing today - the projections for the enterprise tax cuts, the company tax cuts were, of course, calculated by Treasury. They made those assumptions, and it is appropriate that the authors of those assumptions were the people discussing them and detailing them, of course being questioned on them by the Senators.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister can you confirm that not a single Australian will be employed as part of this $130 million naval ship deal with Spain, and if so, why is that the case?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, can I just say to you that the tender for the ships for - this is the supply ships you're talking about - as you know, it was a tender between a Korean yard and a Spanish yard. The contract was awarded to the, has been awarded to the Spanish yard. These vessels will be manned, they will be maintained in Australia. There will be a very large Australian input to them, but can I just remind you of this, during six years of the Labor Party in Government, they did not commission one ship, one naval ship from one Australian yard. This is what we have done. We have commissioned - we are in the process of commissioning right now - 19 to 21 patrol boats, Pacific Patrol Boats from Austal Ships in Western Australia. As you know, we've committed to the design and construction in Adelaide of 12 submarines. We've committed to the construction, beginning in Adelaide and then moving to Perth, of 12 Offshore Patrol Vessels, medium-sized vessels, and of course nine Future Frigates.

My Government, the Coalition in Government, has committed to a regeneration of the Australian Navy, committed to a regeneration of Australian ship-building, a massive investment, not simply in providing the capabilities that our Navy needs, to protect our island nation, but also ensuring that our Defence industry, our ship-building industry, advanced manufacturing at the very edge of the - at the very cutting edge, in every respect, of technology .These submarines, these vessels, are the most advanced military platforms under design and construction today. That's what we are talking about -driving Australian technology, driving Australian jobs, jobs and growth. That's our commitment, and that's what we are doing and that's what you will see in Adelaide, in Perth, and of course right across the national supply chain. This is a vital investment in Australian technology, advanced manufacturing, and it is part and a key part, as I said at the outset, of our economic plan, our plan, for jobs and growth. That is the key, and right across the board, whether it is with this comprehensive strategic partnership with Singapore. Whether it is with the Defence investment plan, whether with its innovation, whether it's with our enterprise tax cuts, what you are seeing is every lever of policy that my Government is able to bear upon is pulling in the direction of jobs and growth. That's the direction, that's the future. That's how we seize the opportunities, unprecedented in scale and pace of the 21st century economy.

And on that note, thank you all very much.