Speech, Singapore

07 Jun 2019
Prime Minister
Check against delivery

It’s fantastic to be here in Singapore, along with Marise Payne and Simon Birmingham.

I want to acknowledge our High Commissioner Bruce Gosper and his team.

And a big thank you to AustCham - firstly to Amber Williams for that warm introduction and to Adam  and your team.

Not only for hosting us today, but for everything you do to advance the warm and enduring relationship between Australia and Singapore.

Singapore is a place where hard work, enterprise, and entrepreneurial risk-taking are encouraged.

Singapore - the world’s second biggest port - is the ultimate Smart City.

I am here today to underline that my Government’s agenda, both here and across Asia, is about expanding opportunity through connectedness.

And nowhere better exemplifies this commitment than our close partner Singapore.

Singapore is perhaps the best example on the planet of the success and prosperity that flow when a country connects with the rest of the world, opens its markets and embraces free trade.

That’s also been Australia’s path for many years.

So it’s good to be back.

We have close and common interests. And a long history together.

In 1965, when Singapore emerged as an independent nation, Australia was the first country to establish diplomatic ties.

Our then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, and Singapore’s great statesman, Lee Kwan Yew, forged a friendship and foretold a vision of growth that has been amply fulfilled.

In 2015, on the 50th anniversary of that pact of friendship, our nations committed to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership: a framework for cooperating across the breadth of our relationship.

Australia values deeply this connection with Singapore.

Our  relationship is longstanding and multifaceted.

Our agenda spans trade and investment, regional infrastructure and smart cities, the digital economy, education, arts, and defence and security.

Our cooperation on science and innovation is strong.

We work together on Fintech. We work on economic improvement for women in the region. We work on counter-terrorism and defence strategy.

And we are always working on improving the way Australian businesses find their way into the promise of this thriving marketplace.

I know the strength of today’s turnout is a testament to what you’re already achieving here.

Many of you are already flying Australia’s flag here and elsewhere in Southeast Asia – from Hanoi to Manila to Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta – and we want to support you to do even more.

Companies like Bluescope, a global manufacturer, are thriving here.

Lendlease, a global leader in construction, is redeveloping the Paya Lebar Quarter into a world-class city precinct and business hub.

And it’s not only businesses. James Cook University continues to invest significantly in Singapore, our biggest offshore education hub. CSIRO and the Australian National University recently opened regional offices here.

Austrade’s Landing Pad is also very successful, with many graduate start-ups attracting capital and choosing to base themselves here in Singapore.

On infrastructure, the opportunity for Australia and Singapore to support Southeast Asia’s unfolding urbanisation is growing day by day.

We’re already investing in a number of ways: through our aid program; in partnership with the US and Japan; through a new Infrastructure Governance Facility for the region; and through the ASEAN-Australia Smart and Sustainable Cities initiative.

When we met this morning, Prime Minister Lee and I talked about one thing that will be absolutely pivotal to any country’s success in the years ahead: the digital economy.

While we have ambitious digital trade commitments with Singapore under TPP-11 and the Singapore-Australia FTA, we want to do more together in this area.

Australia seeks digital trade rules and standards that build trust and confidence, and by deepening cooperation with Singapore we can set a benchmark for others in the region to adopt.

So we will deepen our work together to help our businesses and consumers capitalise on the manifold opportunities in the digital economy.

Today we also discussed the practical ways we collaborate, for example working with Singapore and Japan on e-commerce rules in the World Trade Organization.

We also looked at how we can cooperate more on the jobs and businesses of the future, and both countries are enthusiastic about this work.

Australia and Singapore cosponsored the East Asia Summit Leaders’ Statement on Deepening Cooperation in the Security of ICT and the Digital Economy.

Later this year, the High Commission here will host a Digital Economy Forum to better explore that opportunity.

According to this year’s IMD World Competitiveness ranking, Singapore is the world’s most competitive economy.

Ever since the early 80s we have proved again and again that we’re better off open to the world than closed to its possibilities.

Better off engaged in the world than in retreat from its challenges.

These beliefs are not only our outlook on the world, but our plan for success at home.

Australia’s economy is growing, now approaching an unprecedented 28 years of economic growth. But it is growth we never take for granted.

It requires continual effort.

Having successfully secured re-election last month my government is back at work, getting on with the job of implementing our national economic plan.

We have just handed down the first Budget surplus in 12 years.

Our AAA credit rating has been strengthened and we will eliminate net debt within the decade.

More Australians are in work than ever before.

Over 1.3 million new jobs have been created since the September 2013. Our economic plan will see 1.25 million more jobs over the next five years, with one in five of these jobs will be for young Australians.

With jobs growth outstripping all of the G7.

Our plan is for less tax and not more.

We are providing tax relief to Australia’s 3.4 million small, family and medium sized businesses that employ over 7 million Australians.

Ten million Australians are receiving personal income tax relief.

Legislating our personal tax relief plan in full will be the first substantive business of the new Parliament, keeping faith with the will of the Australian people expressed at the election.

Under our we are making record investments in health, education and infrastructure - and in the essential services that Australians rely on.

We are proceeding with the big projects governments have talked about for fifty years and have not done.

Faster rail, inland rail and airport rail links are being funded.

By 2026, when you are deciding to travel or send freight to

Sydney – you will have the choice of not one airport but two.

We are investing in our productive capability – in the transport infrastructure that will lower freight costs, bust congestion, and help Australia grow.

Trade is foundational to this government’s agenda.

Around 1 in 5 Australian jobs are trade-related, and Australian households are $8,500 a year better off because of opening up our trade over the last thirty years.

When our Government was first elected, free trade agreements covered around 26 per cent of our two way trade.

It’s now over 70 per cent.

Agreements with Japan, China, South Korea and the 10 other nations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Of course, we have a long-standing FTA with Singapore which was amended and strengthened in 2017 - providing greater access for education, legal, financial and other professional service providers.

Our export agreements, have provided improved access to markets with 1.75 billion consumers.

Our monthly trade balance is running at record levels, just under $5 billion in surplus in April, with the longest consecutive run of monthly surpluses since 1973 – over 45 years ago.

Our continued success depends on being open to trade and investment. We don’t get rich selling things to ourselves.

Our plan to further expand our trade opportunities will see 10,000 more Australian companies export beyond our shores by 2022, with around 90 per cent of our trade covered by trade deals.

We have skills and resources in abundance that the rest of the world wants. And we are a reliable partner.

The dividend for us of a strong, stable region is more jobs, more opportunities, more years of uninterrupted growth to add to the 27 already on the board.

So as this region transforms and evolves, it makes sense for Australia to deepen our engagement, and not just economically.

Australia is strongly committed to deepening ties with Southeast Asia, exemplified by our convening of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit last year.

Australia and Singapore are not only natural friends, but strategic partners with shared interests in the stability and prosperity of our Indo-Pacific neighbourhood.

We have a vision of an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

This includes wanting to see an inclusive architecture for regional trade as Singapore, Australia and other partners work to finalise RCEP and that our existing trade agreements keep pace with technological change, especially the digital economy.

My visit today aims to expand our growing cooperation on shared regional objectives, including by defending the proposition that international rules and norms help trade, underpin our common prosperity and help keep the peace.

The global trading system is under real and sustained pressure. Trade conflict between the US and China is testing the system as never before.

No-one suggests the framework of rules in the WTO is perfect – far from it.

Each year Singapore hosts the Shangri-La Dialogue, which exemplifies what Singapore is about.

Opennness, connections, a regional focus with a global perspective. It shows that in Southeast Asia we need security and peace to maintain our prosperity. At this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, held last week, there was a remarkable convergence of themes raised by colleagues from the region.

In his insightful speech, Prime Minister Lee said – and I fully concur – ‘We need to reform and strengthen multilateral institutions, not cripple or block them’.

He also said: “The bottom line is that the US and China need to work together, and with other countries too, to bring the global system up to date, and to not upend the system.”

In her first major speech as my new Defence Minister, Senator Linda Reynolds, said here at Shangri-La: “Australia’s Indo–Pacific vision reflects our national character and also our very unique sensibilities. We want a region that is open and inclusive; respectful of sovereignty; where disputes are resolved peacefully; and without force or coercion.”

Minister Reynolds was joined by others from the region who also adopted a counter perspective to the contemporary analysis that interprets decision making in our region though a narrow binary prism.

As independent sovereign nations in the Indo-Pacifc we don’t see our options as binary, and nor do we wish them to become so.

Philippine Defense Secretary Lorenzana said “‘Let us be clear: each and every nation has a shared and unquestionable responsibility in preserving peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.’

General Ngo Xuan Lich, Vietnam’s Minister of National Defence, said “What matters the most is finding ways to handle competition...to cooperate, close the gulf of differences and settle disputes.”

And Indonesia’s Minister of Defence General (Rtd) Ryamizard Ryacudu, said: “In ASEAN, we continue to seek to enlarge our similarities and commonalities and to decrease and minimise the differences.”

Singapore and Australia understand that if we are to make the most of our region’s dynamism, we must do so together and in concert with other independent sovereign nations of the Indo-Pacific.

We must commit to remain open to each other, with inclusive fora that protect, respect and reinforce our sovereignty and independence.

Now is not the time to be complacent.

I said in Jakarta in my first overseas trip as Prime Minister that, set against rapid social and economic changes, our region is experiencing sharpening strategic competition.

In an era of rapid change and uncertainty, we must know who we are, what we offer and what we’re about.

Retreating into protectionism is – to borrow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s famous analogy – like throwing away your umbrella in a storm because you’re not getting wet.

I’ve said before that our foreign policy must not be simply transactional. It’s about our character and values. Who we are in the world, and what we believe in.

We believe in the rule of law; in equality of choice and opportunity.

We believe in peace and liberty through the prosperity of private capital, property rights, free and open markets.

We believe in being good neighbours and we are a partner that pulls its weight.

We want to see an open, rules-based Indo-Pacific where the rights of all states are respected.

Our vision of a dynamic Indo-Pacific has ASEAN at its core.

Because a strong, united and resilient ASEAN can play a critical role in fostering peace, security and economic growth.

In the last 20 years, the ASEAN region’s combined GDP has more than doubled and the region is on track to become the equivalent of the fourth largest economy by 2030.

Australia’s two-way trade with ASEAN is worth over $120 billion a year – bigger than our trade with the US or Japan.

We want to see strong and resilient regional architecture, with ASEAN at its heart. We want architecture that’s capable of supporting deeper engagement, more cooperation, more productive relationships between nations.

Cooperation and collaboration are vital in this effort.

As Australia and the members of ASEAN said in the Sydney Declaration a year ago, we are partners with a vital stake in a dynamic region undergoing major changes.

We commit to intensify our shared work to shape a secure and prosperous region for our people.

We live in a region with tremendous promise.

There are 1 million Australians living overseas – many of them young, building relationships, broadening their horizons, developing their skills.

Each in their own way a representative of our country.

You are part of a deep and flourishing business community here in Singapore, absolutely critical to Australia’s strong and expanding presence in the most promising part of the world.

I commend your entrepreneurial spirit, and your very Australian willingness to ‘have a go.’

And again I say thank you to AustCham for your role in bringing this community together, today and every day.