Press Conference with the Prime Minister of Singapore

Transcript
13 Oct 2016
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

The Prime Minister and I have witnessed today the signing of important initiatives and agreements to upgrade the already strong relationship with Singapore.

As we reflected and indeed as our Ministers reflected, we would not have been able to do this, to advance this already strong relationship, were we not strategically aligned. We would not be able to do this if we did not have, as we do, a common world view. We see the region from the same perspective and the Prime Minister and I and our Governments are completely aligned in our understanding of the keys to continued strong economic growth. 

We recognise in our respective nations, as we do here with our national economic plan, the absolutely vital importance of free trade and open markets.

Singapore was founded as an open market, a nation built on free trade. We recognise that that provides the growth and jobs of the future. Just as Prime Minister Lee has stood up against arguments for protectionism, populist arguments for protectionism which we see swirling around the world at the moment, so too do we here in Australia recognise that the key to our national economic plan is free trade, open markets, big export trade deals and of course this Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Singapore.

The upgrade to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement is the most comprehensive upgrade and update to an Australian free trade agreement to date. It expands opportunities for Australian businesses and investors. Exporters and investors will benefit from harmonised rules and less red tape. Business people will be able to work and stay in Singapore more readily. Our world class education sector gains new opportunities through the recognition of qualifications.

The upgraded Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement also encourages greater investment from Singapore, including in Northern Australia. Singapore is already a major foreign investor in Australia and we are keen to see that relationship grow, including through the Northern Australia Agribusiness Development Partnership which serves to meet both Singapore’s food security needs and our focus on developing the north.

We are building on our already strong defence partnership, reflecting our longstanding shared interests in regional stability and security. Each of our nations understand that the foundation of the remarkable economic growth in our region over the last 40 years has been the relative peace and harmony in our region, and it’s maintenance will be vitally important to us. Singapore will increase the amount of military training it does in Australia and with Australians, and will help us to work together on regional security and humanitarian challenges. Our strategic partnership will generate substantial economic benefits, in Central and North Queensland. Local builders and engineers will construct the roads and facilities for the Singaporean defence forces to conduct training exercises. The investments, centred around Townsville and Shoalwater Bay, will help local workers and business make the transition from the mining construction boom, that transition of our economy - growing at 3.3 per cent - a remarkably successful transition when you consider some of the gloomier forecast of a few years ago.

This is the focus of our economic plan. It adds to our own Government's unprecedented investment in defence capability in and facilities investment in Australia. We signed an agreement today to work more closely on law enforcement to prevent and disrupt transnational drug crimes and of course we are always working more closely together to focus on and prevent terrorism in our region.

We recognise it as a global threat. Perhaps in some respects, underlying all of this as a theme and a commitment, is greater collaboration with Singapore in innovation and science. We have truly complementary skill sets. The collaboration between CSIRO and ASTAR, the landing pad and innovation landing pad we’re establishing in Singapore, this is the key to the future, as Prime Minister Lee said in his National Day address that I have been quoting over the last week as a great outline of the challenges economies like ours face.

Above all, it is the people-to-people ties that are so important. Each of our countries are remarkably successful multicultural societies. Our people are connected in so many ways. Singaporeans and Australians feel at home with each other. As the Prime Minister said, Singapore is different enough to be fascinating, but familiar enough to feel as though it is home. So we welcome you here Prime Minister, I’m sorry that your visit is coming to an end but it has been a very productive one and I thank you for joining us today.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:

Prime Minister Turnbull, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his warm hospitality. I was last in Canberra four years back and this time I am really glad to be back, both to sign agreements under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, and also for our inaugural, annual, Singapore- Australia Summit.

I was very honoured to address the Australian Parliament yesterday. It is a privilege for us to be counted among Australia’s closest friends. It reflects the depth of a partnership that has spanned most of the last century, and as an independent republic, since we were born as a republic.

We are major economic partners, trading and investing in each another. Our armed forces enjoy long-standing cooperation. They work together bilaterally, we co-operate regionally, and in far-away places like Timor-Leste, Afghanistan or the Middle East.

Singapore deeply appreciates Australia's support for our military training in many places in Australia.

With 50,000 Singaporeans who are living in Australia or studying here and 20,000 Australians who are living and working in Singapore, our people-to-people links are also very intense. I had very fruitful discussions with Prime Minister Turnbull yesterday and this morning over many issues. We both have a convergence of views of the major economic questions and we are very comfortable working with one another.

We are collaborating to build an open and inclusive regional architecture, a security architecture, working to keep the international trading system open and to enhance regional trading arrangements, like the TPP or the RCP. We are also building on the strategic trust that underpins the whole Singapore and Australian relationship, which has enabled us to conclude an ambitious and forward-looking Comprehensive Strategic Partnership which Prime Minister Turnbull explained just now some of the major components of.

So I’d like to thank the Prime Minister and the Australian Government for making the CSP a reality. I’d also like to thank the Labor Party for its bipartisan support of this policy. We now have a landmark, a transformative agreement and will take our cooperation to unprecedented levels that only close partners can achieve.

The updated Singapore-Australia free trade agreement will boost trade and investment ties, innovation is a new pillar of cooperation where we can take advantage of each other’s expertise to future-proof our economies and with a signing of the Defence Memorandum of Understanding, we are creating opportunities for joint trading and enhancing our armed forces and our operability.

We also have cooperation in terms of innovation and research as well as anti-drug as well as other areas like anti-terrorism.

So all these will enhance our already strong ties and the partnership between Australia and Singapore and we look forward to taking our two countries to a bright shared future.

Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER LEE:

I think when you have a negotiation like this on a broad range of issues between two parties it is never only between two parties. On each side you have to form a consensus and understanding of what is in our interests and what we can do together. There will be sensitive issues for both sides, which we have to consider carefully, for example if we are talking about armed forces training, there’s a question of sovereignty and what are the arrangements which will be made specifically so that problems don’t arise. When you are talking about movement of professionals, there’s questions of what are the terms, what are the requirements, how do you make sure that standards established are compatible with one another and how do we make sure that there is sensitivities about foreign professionals, non-Singaporeans or in Australia, non-Australians, will be addressed and people can be sure that this is on a win-win basis, just as our people get advantages in Australia, so too Australians will be get advantages in Singapore.

And so partly you have to make these trade-offs, but partly also it’s a matter of recasting our understanding of issues so that what we did not previously feel comfortable with, you become comfortable with as you discuss a matter, as you understand how it can be done and you become willing to consider and to accept and to indeed welcome what we are going to do together. And I think that is a case with ASAFTA improvements, that’s the case with the defence co-operation that’s the case also with our innovation and RND initiatives and I think that’s what we’d like to see more of because these are win-win deals and the art of negotiation, you bargain hard but you bargain to win together.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is very well said and I adopt your answer. On bipartisanship in Australia can I say as the Prime Minister has acknowledged, these agreements do have bipartisan support. So profound was the spirit of bipartisanship yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition and I attended the events wearing the same orange tie. So that shows it was almost subliminal, the spirit of harmony.

JOURNALIST:

This is mainly to Prime Minister Lee but Mr Turnbull may wish to add to it. Your country like Australia, has a direct interest in maintaining open, free and navigable waters particularly in the South-China Sea. You noted yesterday that the US presence in this part of the world is a benign one. It shows its disregard for Chinese territorial claims on reefs and atolls by sailing within the 12 nautical mile limit. What’s your attitude to that strategy, would it be more effective if other like-minded countries did the same, and just on an associate observation to do with your deepening defence and strategic ties with Australia, why would Beijing not view this arrangement today as a bloc against it?

PRIME MINISTER OF SINGAPORE:

Well first of all on the United States, I think what is important for the United States in Asia is not just specific tactical moves, but its broad strategic direction this is plays emphasis to Asia Pacific as an important part of the world, that it engages the Asia Pacific on a broad range of areas, security is of course the major factor but so is economics, so are the people-people relationships. And it is the intent of the US to participate actively and constructively in the region. Cooperatively with countries in the region which makes it a valuable and an important partner to us. So I mean from that point of view if you ask me if it’s important that there’s the 7th fleet in the region, I think the answer is yes, it has been so since the war and remains so, but it’s also important that we have the TPP which has Australia and Singapore both members party too and which we all hope the US will ratify soon. And there is also important that there are good relations between America and China, America and Japan, which enable them to discuss individual difficult issues like the South-China Sea in a broader context so that there are restraints on pushing difficult problems over the limit at the same time there is the possibility of seeing them within perspective and therefore managing them and preventing them from getting out of control.

So I would put it that way; our interest as Singapore is the freedom of navigation, international law, including [inaudible], and the stability and the peace and security of the South-East Asian region and the relevance and centrality of ASEAN and I think those have not changed. As for our friendship with Australia, we have been friends for a very long time. I do not think that Singapore and Australia together could possibly be seen as a bloc. We are good friends. But we are not treaty allies and neither are we opposed to any countries in the region. China is the biggest trading partner for Singapore. China is the biggest trading partner for Australia. You export coal, iron ore, all kinds of things to them. We do a lot of business with them. This is part of the network of interrelationships and corporation in the region. Not everybody is in on every arrangement. But collectively, the arrangements add up to a constructive and a robust network of cooperation and architecture.

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

I would add to that my endorsement of the Prime Minister’s remarks about regional security and perhaps amplify what the Prime Minister has said about the importance of the TPP. The importance of American engagement in our region cannot be overstated. It is of vital importance. It is of vital importance to the region and of vital importance to our countries. The presence of the United States in our region has underpinned the peace and the stability that has been the foundation for the prosperity of the last forty years, and that extraordinary growth perhaps most of all in China has been underpinned by that foundation of peace. But it goes well beyond fleets and navies. The TPP, the ratification of the TPP, by the United States Congress, would be of enormous importance to the region and certainly we see it, both Prime Minister Lee and I see it and the region sees it as a profoundly, strategically important commitment and that is the argument that we have been making and some of you have heard me make it in Washington.

JOURNALIST:

Coming back to the CSP but it comes at a time when governments are increasingly looking inwards I believe Prime Minister Turnbull referenced that earlier. What is the key message here that Australia and Singapore can send to such governments? Also bearing the deep collaboration between your two countries, give us a sense of what lies ahead for the CSP beyond the priorities that have already been laid out?

PRIME MINISTER LEE:

I think the signal to the world is that we are doing business. We found opportunities to co-operate together. We are very happy we are making progress and we hope that you too will find it possible to make similar progress with us or with each other, because in an open world we will all be better off. The problems that will be there will have to be managed but it is far better we cooperate together than we each close ourselves off in our own little corner, because that leads to impoverishment, it leads to misunderstanding, it leads to trouble. As to what comes next, we have just signed four major pieces of agreements today under the CSP and the next thing is to make those happen and there is a lot of work there to be done. Our offices will be kept quite busy for some time to come.

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Again, we are in complete unanimity so far, we haven't found anything to disagree on, but the Prime Minister is quite right. This has been a very big step forward, or four big steps forward today with the four agreements. But the relationship I believe will continue to deepen, engagement will become more intense, our nations are growing more closely together and that is not simply because of a close political alignment in terms of our view of the world, it is because of all of those tens of, hundreds of thousands of people-to-people links, business to business connections. That's what drives the relationship.

In terms of protectionism generally, at a time of rapid change, unprecedented in all of human history in its scale and pace. Inevitably this will create anxiety, concern, and indeed fear among people and sectors of communities, industries that are being disrupted and affected. The critical role for us as leaders is to set out the facts clearly, reassure our communities and reassure and explain to them that turning your back on technology, turning your back on innovation, turning your back on this change is only a road back to impoverishment as Prime Minister Lee said. And the world has seen that film before, so this is not a theoretical proposition. So the road is clear, we need to embrace the future, we need to ensure that we proceed as both of us are committed to doing, with an inclusive and cohesive societies, embracing change and innovation, because we know that is the way we secure the jobs and the growth, not just for our generation but for our children and grandchildren.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Lee, Phil Coorey from the Australian Financial Review. Sir you will be chairing the ASEAN meeting in Australia in 2018. I just wonder your views on the words and actions of the President Duterte from the Philippines, whether you see his embrace of China and his hostility towards the United States as a threat to the ASEAN position on regional security? And, secondly, I know we are not responsible – I mean children have minds of their own - but I wonder if you have any reaction to some of the criticism of your government from the Prime Minister’s son on Facebook?

PRIME MINISTER LEE:

What was the last question?

JOURNALIST:

Don't worry, just the first question.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:

Meant for me or for?

JOURNALIST:

For you.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:

What was the question?

[Laughter]

JOURNALIST:

About ASEAN?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I understand about ASEAN question.

JOURNALIST:

There was criticism of your government on Facebook last year.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:

My Government? Facebook? Over what?

JOURNALIST:

About Indonesia and the plantations.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:

My Government faced criticisms over the Indonesian plantations?

[Laughter]

JOURNALIST:

If you could just answer the first part of the question about ASEAN and President Duterte.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:

Well the Philippines has a new government they have a new president. I think the new president is setting a different direction for the Philippines than President Aquino. I’m not sure whether he has settled on the final policy yet. I hope by the time the ASEAN Australia Summit takes place in two years the position will be clearer.

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

I agree. That's my aspiration too. Clarity is highly desirable. Thank you very much.

Ends