Today, we welcome the Prime Minister of Singapore, Prime Minister Lee, his wife Ho Ching, and a delegation of senior Singaporean Ministers, MPs and officials to our Australian Parliament.
This is an auspicious occasion – it is the first time the Singaporean Prime Minister has addressed the Australian Parliament.
And we are privileged to welcome today a leader who is a great friend of Australia.
We appreciate the role Prime Minister Lee has played in transforming our successful relationship, formed in the late twentieth century, into a partnership fit for the challenges and the opportunities of the twenty-first century.
Australians have long admired Singapore and its resilient, diverse and creative people.
Last year was bitter-sweet for Singapore.
The nation celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and mourned the passing of her founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew - whose son we welcome to our Parliament today as his nation’s Prime Minister.
Prime Minister, your father was one of the giants of the 20th century.
He founded a nation, whose only assets were its people and its location, and created what has become a 21st century city state - one which embraces the rapid march of technology and science just as it does the trade and open markets upon which its success has been established.
Australia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Singapore. But the relationship was forged even before that, in the fires of World War Two and the defence of Singapore, in which over 1,700 Australians lost their lives. More than a thousand of them are buried in Singapore soil at Kranji Cemetery.
In the decades since, Australia’s friendship with Singapore has flourished. We are, after all, quite natural partners – highly sophisticated, educated and multicultural societies with open economies.
Both our countries have embraced the opportunities presented by our steadfast commitment to rules-based trade to deliver more jobs and higher incomes for our people.
Singapore is Australia’s fifth largest trading partner and foreign investor. As Asia continues to grow, our shared prosperity will benefit from greater integration and collaboration between our complementary economies.
Alongside our economic partnership, our two countries share a common strategic outlook.
Today, on the anniversary of the Bali Bombing in 2002, we reaffirm our steadfast solidarity in the battle against extremism and the terrorism which it spawns - an anathema to the tolerance and diversity our societies cherish. Together with our friends and allies we collaborate more closely than ever to prevent and disrupt those terrorists who seek to do us harm.
We seek a future for our region governed by shared norms of behaviour and respect for international law, and one marked by stable relations among the major powers.
Singapore and Australia are at one in defending the rule of law and rejecting the proposition that might is right.
Australia and Singapore are firm proponents of institutions that support regional stability and prosperity, such as ASEAN and the East Asia Summit. And I am delighted that Singapore will be ASEAN’s Chair when Australia hosts the ASEAN leaders for an historic summit in 2018.
The relationship our two countries enjoy is in great shape and would, Mr Speaker, be an easy one to allow to evolve along its natural course. But that would be denying both countries the rewards of even closer cooperation.
Last year, on the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations, Prime Minister’s Lee and Abbott signed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership – a ten-year plan to expand the frontiers of our bilateral cooperation across economic, strategic and people-to-people dimensions.
Tomorrow, our governments will sign the first tranche of initiatives under our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
We will update the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement to drive unprecedented economic integration with our Asian neighbour.
The agreement will include new measures intended to improve mobility for business people, give better access to government procurement, reduce red tape, and make it easier for Singapore to invest in Australia. It will foster further trade and investment, helping both countries to seize the economic opportunities of our growing region.
One of the most exciting economic opportunities is in the field of science, technology and innovation and I was struck by Prime Minister Lee’s National Day address this year in which he discussed the way in which technology was transforming Singapore’s economy and society.
The Prime Minister spoke thoughtfully about the anxiety this caused to those working in industries that are disrupted by technological change. He spoke enthusiastically of the opportunities.
Above all, Prime Minister Lee showed himself as a leader who rejected the populist cries for less trade, more protection, less change and instead embraced the future while maintaining an inclusive and cohesive society.
So we have very similar world views and it is fitting therefore that our closer relationship with Singapore will include a new partnership that will open up collaborations between our world-renowned research institutions, Australia’s CSIRO and Singapore’s A*STAR.
Soon, we will establish an innovation landing pad in Singapore, to provide a platform for Australian start-ups to team up with their Singaporean counterparts and Singapore-based industry and capital to bring their ideas to market and accelerate and amplify the already strong collaboration between our two country’s innovators.
Tomorrow, Prime Minister Lee and I will also inaugurate a new chapter in our defence relationship.
My government has agreed to expand access for Singapore’s armed forces to training grounds in Australia.
These grounds in North Queensland will be co-developed by Australia and Singapore, and will make a long term and very beneficial difference to local economies and jobs. Our decision to grant Singapore this special level of access underlies the enormous trust and respect that exists between our respective armed forces. It also reflects our commitment to do more as security partners, especially as our strategic circumstances change and evolve.
Mr Speaker, I have spoken of our like-mindedness with Singapore, our shared interests and our complementary strengths. I want to conclude with some fond words about our similar national characters.
We are countries with different histories, and different cultural traditions. Yet we are countries familiar and comfortable with one another.
We prize informality. We are suspicious of pretence. We speak plainly and with pragmatism as friends should.
We focus on outcomes and delivery, not pomp or protocol.
Each of us can lay claim to be among the most successful multicultural societies in the world.
So, our bright future is not just about complementary interests and strengths, it’s about common human qualities.
To borrow from Prime Minister Lee, I and I am sure all members of this Parliament are immensely reassured that our relationship with Singapore springs from the heart, as much as it does from the head.