Transcript of Joint Press Conference
THU 11 OCTOBER 2012
Prime Minister, Prime Minister Lee of Singapore
Subject(s): Australia-Singapore relations; United Nations Security Council; CFMEU dinner; Live animal exports
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: I am absolutely delighted to welcome Prime Minister Lee to Canberra on his second official visit to Australia.
This visit by Prime Minister Lee caps off a particularly active year of engagement between our two nations.
Senator Carr visited Singapore in March on his first overseas trip as Foreign Minister. I was also very pleased to make my first trip as Prime Minister to Singapore in April.
And our Foreign, Defence and Trade Ministers had very constructive talks at the Singapore-Australia joint ministerial committee meeting last month.
Of course our relationship is not just founded on strong ties between our two governments. It's in every sense a real friendship that has been built over time.
Australia was one of the first countries to recognise Singapore's independence in 1965.
Singapore is our largest trade and investment partner in ASEAN and fifth largest trade partner globally.
Around 10,000 Singaporeans are currently studying in Australia and almost 25,000 Australians call Singapore home.
So do more than 2,300 Australian companies, who use Singapore as a regional base.
Our defence cooperation is the strongest with any country of our region and Prime Minister Lee, on this visit, has visited Shoalwater Bay, the training area.
He was there yesterday to see Singapore's largest annual training exercise in Australia which is involving more than 4,600 personnel from the Singapore armed forces.
Today Singapore is one of Australia's closest and most important partners economically and strategically.
We have a shared strategic outlook on the region. We both support free trade and economic openness.
We are working together to further promote trade and investment in our region through APEC, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and through the proposed launch later this year of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
We both support inclusive regional security architecture, in particular the East Asia Summit, in order to build trust and habits of cooperation in our rapidly-changing region.
And we both support the stabilising presence of the United States in our region.
Prime Minister Lee and I a little earlier today had an excellent discussion on these issues and about strengthening collaboration on a number of areas of importance to both of us.
I was pleased to witness with Prime Minister Lee the signing of an MOU on combatting trans-national crime and developing police cooperation and that's an example of how we are working together to take very strong and practical action against serious and organised crime.
We have discussed increased cooperation and engagement on cyber issues.
We welcomed a recent decision to establish a regular strategic dialogue between our Defence and Foreign Affairs officials and we discussed Australia-ASEAN relations in the lead-up to and during the 40th anniversary of relations in 2014.
I welcomed Prime Minister Lee's support for our proposal for a leaders level ASEAN-Australian summit in 2014 to mark this occasion.
Finally, I thanked Prime Minister Lee for his support for our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Prime Minister Lee and I have taken stock of the strong progress we have made in our relationship and laid the foundations for continuing our partnership for the years ahead.
So Prime Minister I do thank you for visiting our country. You are always a very welcome and honoured guest and I'd invite you to make some remarks.
PRIME MINISTER LEE: Thank you. Thank you Prime Minister. It is very good to be back in Australia again. It is a cool day but a warm welcome.
It is six years since I was last in Canberra and I'd like to thank Prime Minister Gillard for her hospitality and I'm very happy to have the chance to reciprocate her visit to Singapore in April this year.
I had a very good discussion with the Prime Minister.
Our bilateral relations as you have heard are in very good shape and we have regular exchanges at many levels, including the joint ministerial committee in which our ministers meet and exchange views every year.
We cooperate in many areas; trade, tourism, education, culture, defence and others.
I spent yesterday at the Shoalwater Bay training area near Rockhampton to watch our annual SAF training exercise, a live-firing exercise called Exercise Wallaby.
We deeply appreciate Australia's strong support for our armed forces to train here and we wish to thank both the Australian government as well as the local communities for welcoming us so generously.
We can do much more together, of course, and as you have heard we just witnessed the signing of MOU on combatting trans-national crime and developing police cooperation.
In a globalised world, crime is also globalised and the criminals have trans-national networks and therefore the governments need to work with one another to deal with the problem, not least when it comes to issue like extremist terrorism or for that matter money laundering.
The civil servants have a roundtable between Australia and the Singapore public service and it is a roundtable of our permanent secretaries and we also have 2+2 strategic dialogue between our Foreign Affairs and Defence officials.
I strongly support this because in all these areas we see much value in exchanging views with one another.
The Prime Minister and I also talked about regional developments and international events, including the situation in the South China Sea.
Singapore is a non-claimant so we take no sides in the disputes and the competing claims in the South China Sea.
But we do have interests there and our interest is in maintaining freedom of navigation and stability in this important sea lane of communication.
We hope the dispute will be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
We also hope discussions on the code of conduct will begin soon.
Australia and Singapore share many strategic interests. We work together in multilateral forums, the East Asia summit and APEC.
Australia and ASEAN have been dialogue partners for almost 40 years and I encourage Australia to build on this longstanding cooperation to build closer integration with ASEAN and other regional partners.
For example, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the RCEP and in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP.
And we will look forward to celebrating the 40th anniversary of this dialogue in two years' time, I hope with a commemorative summit.
We share commitment to trade liberalisation and to strong global institutions; the WTO, APEC, G20, the IMF or the UN.
Singapore is therefore happy to support Australia's bid for a seat on the UNSC in the year 2013-2014.
I think the vote is happening very soon and we have given our support to Australia and we are confident that Australia will make a valuable contribution to the debate on the Security Council.
We also welcome Australia's active engagement in the region. We value Australia as an important partner and trusted friend.
We look forward to working more with Australia to strengthen and deepen our relationship across all fronts.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: Thank you very much Prime Minister Lee.
We will take three questions a side from the respective medias who are here and, in deference to our friends from Singapore, I think we should give them the first question.
Prime Minister Lee, you might want to select someone.
JOURNALIST: This question is to both Prime Ministers. I am wondering how both sides can enhance your economic links, maybe to look at new areas of economic cooperation so that both countries can ride the global economic slowdown.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: That's a very good question and we do want to keep enhancing what are already a set of very strong economic links.
One of the ways of doing that is making sure progress is made through the Trans-Pacific Partnership or through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership so that we see a reduction in protectionist measures and freer flow of trade and services.
That's been a key focus of what we have discussed today.
PRIME MINISTER LEE: We can always do more. I discussed the subject with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, Mr Swan, just now.
We have a Singapore-Australia free trade agreement – SAFTA – which we concluded now nearly 10 years ago.
We have had two reviews of SAFTA to keep it up to date but of course the world keeps on moving and opportunities keep on opening up and I hope when both sides are ready, we can pick it up and we can have another review.
It is not just to look at the fine print but to see what new areas we can move forward on and, of course, from Singapore's point of view, as a transport hub, we always like to build up our aviation links and we believe we can enhance our civil aviation links and freedom of air services between our two countries and beyond, that will be beneficial to both sides.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: We will take a question from the Australian media.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Lee, what was it about Australia's bid for the Security Council that got you over the line, and what was it about the other two bids that you didn't like the look of?
PRIME MINISTER LEE: There are three good candidates and we are friends with all of them but we believe that Australia can make a significant contribution.
Australia has been contributing to the security of the region in South East Asia and in Asia. You are in the FPTA which has continued now for nearly four decades.
You have been participating in security operations in Afghanistan, in the Gulf, together with us, and we believe Australia is an important part of the regional architecture and it is beneficial for the Asia-Pacific region to be well represented in the Security Council.
All the bids are good but we had to choose and in this case it was quite clear that Australia was our best choice.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: We will take another question from the media from Singapore.
JOURNALIST: SAFTA has unresolved issues, including open skies, law degrees, government procurement.
When can we expect these issues to be resolved, and this is to each Prime Minister, which of these issues do you see as more difficult and which ones could become low-hanging fruit in the near future?
PRIME MINISTER LEE: My attitude is all fruit can be picked.
When they are ripe, we will pick them and I hope we will pick them and I hope it will not be very long.
We all have political timetables to take into account. These items have to be seen as a bundle because you don't deal with them one by one but an overall package which both sides will find palatable and saleable.
And I hope we can put the package together for very long because the issues have been there for some time.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: I wholly agree with what the Prime Minister has said.
We have worked between our two nations for freer and freer trade arrangements and we have shown a great deal of success at that.
It is time to look again and see if there is more we can do and I believe working together on that we can see progress.
Clearly the easiest things have been done and were done a long time ago, otherwise we wouldn't have had the development of the FTA and have had it endure and be of such long standing, but you always have to look again at the issues.
The world keeps changing, the nature of trade demands keep changing so we always have to be prepared to look again and see what more we can do.
PRIME MINISTER LEE: We are ready any time Australia is.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: We will be talking about that.
I will take a question from the Australian media.
JOURNALIST: There is a report this morning about offensive remarks made at a CFMEU dinner by a comedian concerning Tony Abbott and his chief of staff. Do you have any comment or are you aware of it?
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: I was not in attendance when these remarks were made at the CFMEU dinner last night, but I did hear this morning that offensive remarks had been made.
Let me be very clear on the reports to me, the remarks that were made are deeply offensive, they are wrong, the comments should never have been made.
It was wrong for them to have been made and offensive for them to have been made.
In those circumstances, as soon as I possibly could, I rang the National Secretary of the CFMEU and indicated I thought these comments were offensive.
I understand the CFMEU has put out a statement in relation to this matter but clearly there is no place for offensive comments of this nature.
JOURNALIST: There has been a problem in Singapore in regards to the import of sheep from Australia for Korban, I was wondering if that was discussed and you had come to any long-term solution to this concern we have.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: We have been able to work through our own proper processes here in Australia to make some sheep available for this year's festival.
We of course are concerned about the welfare of animals that are exported from Australia and we have in recent times been working to strengthen the assurance about what happens with animals and the circumstances in which they are ultimately slaughtered.
So we have worked through our proper processes. The Secretary of our Department of Agriculture made a determination and he is the proper authority to do so, that we could have animals go to Singapore and they're in the process of being transferred to Singapore now.
As for the longer term arrangements, we have still got some work and discussions to do on that but we have been able to respond for this year's festival.
PRIME MINISTER LEE: I discussed this with the Prime Minister and I thanked her for the Australian government's cooperation.
I think they went the extra mile to help us make sure we could get the mosques which had been audited cleared and qualified and to be able for us to have 2,200 animals this year exported live to Singapore for the slaughter ritual.
I asked what the Australian thinking would be for the longer term.
That's something which is obviously still evolving but the Prime Minister said the Government does believe that Australia should continue to be exporting livestock, but of course there has to be suitable safeguards and the animal welfare will have to be looked into.
So this is something we will work out in practical terms.
JOURNALIST: Are we likely to come across problems next year?
PRIME MINISTER LEE: We don't know, we will have to see.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: Okay, we’ll take a last question from the Australian media.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Lee, Singapore has significant investments, both state-owned enterprises and private businesses, in Australia.
There has been quite a bit of debate in Australia about the possibility of toughening foreign investment requirements.
Would Singaporean businesses and state-owned enterprises be comfortable having their Australian holdings listed on a public register?
PRIME MINISTER LEE: Singapore companies having - I don't understand.
JOURNALIST: There has been quite a bit of debate.
PRIME MINISTER LEE: I understand that, but which companies, what public register?
JOURNALIST: If Australia was to create a public register of foreign businesses that have-
PRIME MINISTER LEE: If those are your rules and they apply to everybody, our companies will look at them and if they are comfortable, they will list. If not, they will sell their holdings.
If you want closer integration then the less these special rules exist the closer the integration will be.
Businesses are practical, they are not ideological, they are not political, they do not achieve foreign policy objectives.
Their responsibility is to earn a return for their shareholders.
They will go where they are welcome and where there’s business to be done.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: Thank you.