Press Conference - Parliament House, Canberra

18 Oct 2022
Prime Minister, Prime Minister of Singapore
Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Australia and Singapore; Green Economy Agreement; Upcoming ASEAN, APEC and G20 meetings; Optus hack; CPTPP; Renewable Energy; Economic decoupling of USA and China; Regional geopolitical instability

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: Well thank you very much for joining us. Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, said this: “We are one interacting, interdependent world. The problems besetting the world are transnational and the solutions must be transnational.” Today, we open a new chapter in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Australia and Singapore. The Green Economy Agreement signals collective resolve to confront challenges as we transition our economies to net zero. It will support clean energy innovation, unlock business opportunities and create jobs, and help deliver our emission's targets while positioning Australia as a renewable energy superpower. Our commitment to work towards a food pact will shore up reliable and secure supply chains and provide certainty for Australian exporters. We also discussed the strategic outlook and our commitment to a free, open and resilient region. I do want to thank Prime Minister Lee and thank him, not just for the formal interaction we have had today, but also for the dinner where Jodie and myself hosted the Prime Minister and Mrs Lee last night at the Lodge in what was a very enjoyable occasion indeed. I have had a great privilege and honour of being a guest in Singapore on many occasions over a number of decades now. It is wonderful to welcome a great friend of Australia, Prime Minister, here today

LEE HSIEN LOONG, PRIME MINISTER OF SINGAPORE: Thank you, Prime Minister. Good afternoon to everybody. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his warm hospitality and to express how happy I am to be back in Canberra again in person, meeting Australian leaders and particularly Prime Minister Albanese. We talked about many things. But in particular, we affirmed our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership which has made significant progress since it was set up in 2015. And our bilateral cooperation has proceeded apace even during COVID-19. In fact, Singapore was the second country that Australia opened its doors to for quarantine-free travel and we form the fourth largest group of short-term visitors to Australia in the first half of this year, which considering that there are only 5.5 million people in Singapore is not bad. We greatly appreciate Australia's generous and consistent support for military training, that has fully resumed. We are very happy that our units are present here and able to be of assistance to the Australian government in times of need, for example during natural disasters and floods. I mentioned to the Prime Minister just now that Singapore is ready to provide assistance to support the Australian Defence Force’s flood relief efforts for the floods in New South Wales and Victoria and whatever else may develop in the season and our officials will be in touch to work out how we can be most helpful. We have also worked on other areas to take our bilateral cooperation further. For example, in the Singapore-Australia Green Economy Agreement, which will support the transitions of our countries to net zero emissions and at the same time boost growth and job creation in the green sectors. It is the first such agreement of its kind between countries and we hope that it will be a pathfinder for other countries, similarly to co-operate with one another to deal with the what is a global problem. We are also deepening our cooperation in science and innovation. Our agencies A*STAR on Singapore side and the CSIRO on the Australian side have signed a Master Research Collaboration Agreement to collaborate in areas like low emission technologies, alternative proteins and advanced manufacturing, as well as an agreement that will allow Singapore researchers that will allow Australia's Synchrotron facilities, all of which will further deepen linkages between scientists on both sides. We are also exploring new areas of cooperation because we are natural partners which have similar views on many issues, and trusted and reliable partners of each other, which we have demonstrated during the pandemic. So we are looking at new strategic areas of cooperation such as strengthening the security and resilience of our supply chains, including food and energy, and our connectivity to the rest of the world. And we will also look into facilitating the flow of critical goods between us in times of crisis and we have formed a working group to look into this matter. We also exchanged views on regional and global developments. Australia is a key partner for our region. Singapore has long strongly supported Australia strengthening links with South East Asia and we very much welcome Prime Minister Albanese's efforts to deepen this engagement and look forward to him participating in the ASEAN and APEC and G20 meetings which are taking place in South East Asia in a few weeks’ time. Therefore I am very happy that relations between our two countries have remained strong. It is a troubled world; given the tensions in the world, it is important that like-minded countries work together for our mutual benefit and I look forward to working with Prime Minister Albanese and his government to take our bilateral relations to even greater heights. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: On the Optus hack, Prime Minister Albanese, can I ask you what technical assistance if any has the Singaporean government offered to both SingTel and, potentially, Optus to deal with the security breach here in Australia? And Prime Minister Lee, if I can ask you, you have been an advocate for the China joining the CPTPP, whereas Australia has been more sceptical on the point. Was this discussed between the two of you today and have you urged Prime Minister Albanese on this point at all?

PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Thanks very much, on the Optus issue, we did have a discussion about that and the Prime Minister indicated that SingTel, which is a Singapore-based company which is the owner of Optus, will have full cooperation with the government in dealing with the issue. There are two issues here: one is cyber security issue, the other is a privacy issue. Of course, some of the issues exposed by the Optus breach are covered with the Privacy Act already. It is a wake-up call to all companies about data retention and about the need to be vigilant in making sure that the provisions of the Privacy Act are complied with, that there is no need and indeed a requirement under the Privacy Act that data is not kept for no purpose going forward. That is one of the things that has been exposed here by the incident. But I appreciate the Prime Minister being cooperative on this issue, as I would completely expect.

PRIME MINISTER LEE: On Optus, I told the Prime Minister that Singapore takes the data breach very seriously. We expect all Singapore companies to comply fully with domestic laws wherever they operate and to co-operate with the domestic regulators to protect consumer's interests, just as we would expect our companies to do in Singapore. In the case of Optus, this is an Australian company, it is incorporated and headquartered in Australia, it’s operations are run out of Australia, not from Singapore, and therefore Australia's rules and regulations apply in addressing this incident. I told the Prime Minister the Singtel group, which owns Optus, is taking the incident seriously and, as owner, will fully support Optus in fully meeting Australia's rules and requirements in handling the incident. Our cybersecurity and information agencies have also reached out to their Australian counterparts and we stand ready to support to the Australian government should our assistance be needed. On the CPTPP, we have stated our position, I have: I think it is good if China is able to join the CPTPP. They will, of course, have to meet the requirements fully of the conditions and the obligations. But I think that is something which is possible and can be negotiated. But, of course, for China to join the CPTPP there has to be consensus among all the existing members. And it so happens that Singapore is chairing the CPTTP committee. And as chair we will do our duty and have been canvassing views amongst the participants. On applicants who want to join, the process should begin; China has applied and so have some other applicants. I don't think there is a consensus yet but we will continue that process. And as for Australia's position, I think Australia knows what it is doing and we understand each other's point of view.

JOURNALIST: My question is for Prime Minister Lee. On the GEA, is Singapore eyeing similar agreements with other countries in the region? And what are the benefits for Singapore consumers and businesses?

PRIME MINISTER LEE: The first GEA we are signing is with Australia. We are very happy with this. It is the world’s first such agreement and it will support the transition of our countries to net zero emissions as well as create jobs and growth opportunities in green sectors and promote the development and commercialisation of green technology. The scope for collaboration will include: trade and investment, green and transition finance, carbon markets, clean energy, decarbonisation and technology, business engagements and partnership. It will include seven joint initiatives to start off with. For example: establishing an MOU to facilitate business partnerships in priority green sectors, developing a list of environmental goods and services which means that they can be given preferential treatment, informing working groups to further cooperation in cross-border electricity trade and sustainable aviation. These are all areas which are of interest to Singapore and to Singapore businesses and we hope with a Singapore-Australia GEA they will be able to move forward. We also hope that this GEA will encourage other countries to look at we have been able to do and to ask whether some of this may not make sense to them to do with Singapore, or to do with each other, and that way, enhance cooperation on green issues which I think is important if mankind is going to have any hope of making progress on climate change, which is an urgent and pressing problem.

PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Can I just follow up the Prime Minister by saying, from Australia's perspective, this is very exciting. My government has continually emphasised that climate change has environmental consequences, but it needs economic solutions. It is a global problem that requires a global solution. And hence, trade and economic agreements such as this one between Australia and Singapore, two great friends, is so important as an example for the world. One of the discussions that we had is that Singapore has enormous advantages. Singapore is one of the most innovative economies in the world. They have been extraordinary at scientific breakthroughs, at commercialising those opportunities as well and they are known for innovative companies. When I have visited Singapore, I visited start-ups, it is one of the things that Singapore does really, really well. One of the issues that Singapore doesn't have, though, a couple of assets they don't have, is space. This island continent of ours is a little bit bigger than the island continent of Singapore. And hence, a project like Sun Cable, which has the potential to export clean energy to Singapore, is the ultimate win-win. If this project can be made to work - and I believe it can be - you will see the world's largest solar farm, you will see the export of energy across distances, the production of many jobs here in Australia, including manufacturing jobs. And the prospect of Sun Cable is just one part of what I talk about when I say Australia can be a renewable energy superpower for the world. So the fact that this agreement is taking place just prior to the East Asia Summit, prior to the ASEAN meeting, the G20 meeting and the APEC meeting in our region all taking place in November, is a really positive indication to other countries in our region and indeed countries throughout the world who will look at this agreement and see that this is just a very positive initiative about making sure that we are commercialising these opportunities, that we maximise the spread of breakthroughs when they occur. That is what this agreement is aimed at with its 17 different components as well.

JOURNALIST: Given the recent decision by President Joe Biden to curb supply of US chips to China, are you concerned about accelerating economic decoupling between the US and China? And to Prime Minister Lee, in the past you have been critical of the Australian government's approach to China. Do you think it's improved under the new government?

PRIME MINISTER LEE: Well first of all, decoupling is a worry. National security concerns are real. How wide or how narrowly they are defined is judgement of each government and administration. I think the Biden administration’s most recent move is a very serious one. I'm sure they have considered it carefully. It can have very wide ramifications, we will have to see how things work out. But we do worry that valid national security considerations may trigger further consequences and may result in less economic cooperation, less interdependency, less trust and, possibly, ultimately a less stable world. The second question was?

JOURNALIST: My second question was –


PRIME MINISTER LEE: How are you going? We never give ourselves report cards, much less our friends. I think we have our view of how to maintain amicable relations with as many countries as possible stop while preserving our interest and standing up and protecting ourselves from adverse developments overseas. I'm sure Australia does that too and I am sure that in a process of diplomacy, we share notes with one another and often do so with strict and utmost confidence and confidentiality.

PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: We do indeed. But I will say what I have said publicly, which is that I want to lead a mature government that has mature relations with the world, that doesn't see international diplomacy as an opportunity for domestic political point scoring. And so, what I have said publicly is that we should co-operate with China where we can but stand up for Australia's national interest where we must. And I will continue to take that view, both privately and publicly. Can I say when it comes to other issues of cooperation and trade in various agreements that are around, part of the lesson of the pandemic is that we need to, and all countries are looking at this, we need national resilience. National security is not just about our defence systems, it's also about our capacity to make things here in Australia, to be less vulnerable to shocks of whatever form, be it a future pandemic, trade, cybersecurity shocks, or whether it be international conflict. So we need to make sure that we are more resilient. That doesn't mean an isolationist policy, far from it. And today's agreement is an example of that as well with our friends, including our very close friends in Singapore. We share such common values. I've had a long association with Singapore going back to my first visit there in 1987 as a member of staff for Tom Uren when I travelled there on a bilateral visit. Since then I've been welcomed there many times and Prime Minister Lee and I have met here. I've had lunch with the Foreign Minister in the Botanic Gardens there in Singapore. We share such close friendships and I think that today's visit has just strengthen that even more so between my government and the government of Prime Minister Lee.

JOURNALIST: How are Singapore and Australia seeking to maintain security and cooperation in supply chains amidst increasing geopolitical instability? And for Minister Albanese, how would Australia seek to deepen engagement in South East Asia?

PRIME MINISTER LEE: Well we are working at it. As I said just now, all countries are going for resilience but it's not possible for us to go for self-sufficiency. We are too interdependent. You may produce a lot of minerals, you may have a lot of talent, but the world is a big place and you need to work with other countries and develop partnerships with other countries. And you do business with everybody, but with countries that you have a deep established relationship of trust and confidence you can do even more. And in the case of Singapore and Australia, we do have that reservoir of trust and confidence and that history. And we are working to deepen this and we have a working group working on supply change resilience and I hope that they come up with some substantive proposals.

PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: I will take the opportunity to thank the Prime Minister and Singapore for the role that it's played during the pandemic. It might not be known by all Australians, without Singapore and its support, both by air and by sea, the vaccines that entered this country wouldn't have been possible. Along with PPE, along with ventilators, Singapore played such a critical role. Singapore is a reliable economic partner. It is a great trading nation. I visited the Port of Singapore and I visited the airport on many, many occasions. And I think that economic relationship is so important between us in terms of securing those supply chains. Certainly, when it comes to the events as well, Singapore has such a critical presence here in Australia. The Singaporean Defence Force being trained here brings opportunities for them because of the space that we have in Central Queensland and the capacity that we have to assist our friends in Singapore. But there are also major benefits for Australia from their presence as well. As major economic benefits in terms of jobs for the people of Central Queensland and that is why they are so welcomed there by the local community. But we've also seen from Prime Minister Lee today, who raised the issue with me of his own bat, as we say in Australia, of how can our helicopters and our Defence Force infrastructure here help Australia during the floods, during the current crisis? That is what friends do. They see a friend going through a difficult time and they ask ‘how can we help?’ And Australia and Singapore are great friends. The friendship has been added to today and I thank, very much, Prime Minister Lee for his visit and I wish him and his delegation here a safe journey home. Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER LEE: Thank you. Thank you, Prime Minister.