Press Conference with the Prime Minister of Singapore - ICC, Sydney - 16 March 2018

March 16, 2018


Thank you Prime Minister. Thank you for joining us here in Sydney today, I want to say how delighted Lucy and I were to return the very generous hospitality you and Ho Ching showed us in Singapore. It was great to have you in our home last night.

As we have discussed last night and today in our meetings and bilateral, the relationship between Australia and Singapore is in excellent shape.

We're bound together by shares values and common interests in regional peace, stability and economic prosperity.

During our discussions, we’ve had the opportunity to discuss the many successes so far of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in its third year, including great progress towards even closer defence and security ties.

We’ve discussed how our economic relationship goes from strength to strength, the upgraded Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement entered into force in December and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP-11, to which we're both party, was signed just last week.

I want to congratulate you and your team on joining with us and the other members of the TPP-11 in making sure that really important agreement continued and didn’t fall by the wayside.

Our collaboration around science and innovation continues to grow. You talked about our innovation landing pad in Singapore and of course, there's already enormous progress, as we heard from Minister Michaelia Cash in our bilateral, about Australian companies using that platform to collaborate and develop greater opportunities with their Singaporean counterparts.

We're cooperating closely on regional challenges, economic integration and in particular, the importance of redoubling our efforts on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP. We’ve had very good discussions about that.

We're working closely together as always in the battle against terrorism, which is still a very serious threat to our region, including as a result of online radicalisation. We discussed that at some length as well.

We have a mutual commitment with Singapore and with ASEAN, to freedom of navigation in our region. We're pleased to see work continuing towards an effective and legally binding code of conduct with respect to the South China Sea.

The reckless threat that the North Korean regime presents to the region and the world, is one that we're all united in meeting and continuing to apply the strongest economic sanctions to bring that regime to its’ senses. We recognise that the rigorous enforcement of sanctions against North Korea is of vital importance. We discussed that, as indeed as I discussed that with Prime Minister Phuc of Vietnam yesterday.

I'm honoured Prime Minister, of course, to welcome you to the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. It's a historic opportunity to strengthen regional security and prosperity. I'm delighted that the special summit is advancing many of the same priorities as Singapore's ASEAN chairmanship; resilience and cooperation and we're looking forward to working closely with Singapore during its term.

I look forward to visiting Singapore later this year for the East Asia Summit and of course, participating in our next Australian-ASEAN summit, our regular biennial meeting.

So we're delighted Prime Minister, that we're able to work together here, as we have on so many other occasions. Indeed we opened together, the SME conference. Small and medium enterprises are such an important part of the economies of both Singapore and Australia and most people who work in the private sector - two-thirds, in the case of Australia - work for SMEs and work with SMEs. We know that is what is driving the dynamism, the enterprise, the investment and the jobs. As I mentioned, we had 403,100 jobs created in Australia last year, a record. 26 years of economic growth, the strongest jobs growth we have ever seen and we know, that's been supported by SMEs who of course, we are supporting with our Enterprise Tax Cuts.

So we both recognise the importance of enterprise, innovation and investment. Our SME conference is going to raise the awareness of even more opportunities in ASEAN markets for Australian business and for ASEAN entrepreneurs and enterprises in Australia.

So we've a lot to look forward to in tomorrow’s discussions in the plenary and of course in the leaders retreat. It's wonderful that you're back in Australia Prime Minister, you are among very dear friends.


Thank you. Thank you, Prime Minister Turnbull. Ministers, journalists, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his very warm and generous hospitality. The last time I was in Sydney was 2012 and the last time I was in Australia was for our first leaders’ summit when we signed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2016.

Our bilateral relations as you heard from Prime Minister Turnbull, are excellent. The friendship is underpinned by strong cooperation and strategic convergence.

We had very good discussions this morning on a wide range of issues, including regional development and the importance of Australia's continued engagement with ASEAN.

We explored synergies, opportunities to work together between Singapore's ASEAN chairmanship and the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, for example, on Smart Cities development.

I’d also like to thank Prime Minister Turnbull for Australia's leadership in shepherding the TPP-11, now called the CPTPP across the finishing line. Singapore and Australia have been like-minded partners on promoting trade liberalisation among many other things. We worked closely together to launch APEC, and to conclude the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA, which remains ASEAN’s most progressive FTA.

And the next step after the CPTPP is to conclude ongoing negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. We discussed this and the importance of doing this soon, most desirably, within this year.

I greatly appreciate Prime Minister Turnbull and his government's continued support for Singapore-Australia ties, the CSP, the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, has made good progress deepening and broadening our cooperation.

Bilateral trade grew seven per cent last year and the recently upgraded FTA between Singapore and Australia will further boost our bilateral trade and investment.

We're making progress in the joint development of military training areas in Queensland. We deeply appreciate Australia's very generous support for Singapore's training needs which will benefit both defence forces as well as the local economies in the places where we’re training. I look forward to these arrangements being finalised into a treaty this year.

Our cooperation on science and innovation is growing. The landing pad which Prime Minister Turnbull mentioned, was established by Australia last March, has since hosted 15 start-ups. Both sides are working together to harness technology in different areas, including data science, advanced manufacturing, health and biosecurity to bring tangible benefits to our peoples.

Therefore, we have made significant progress under the CSP and both sides will continue to find new ways to broaden and deepen cooperation. Singapore is keen to update our avoidance of double taxation including with Australia, to capitalise on trade and investment flows further and also taking an open skies agreement, which will enable airlines of both countries to serve travellers better, increase interactions and opportunities for us to work together.

We hope to discuss these issues with our Australian counterparts and to make progress.

Our close bilateral relationship is also underpinned by a shared desire to deepen ties between Australia and South East Asia more broadly. Australia believes its future lies in Asia and took the first step by becoming ASEAN's first dialogue partner in 1974. Singapore has been a strong supporter of Australia strengthening its links with South East Asia as this will help keep the region open.

As ASEAN chair, Singapore will continue to support Australia's engagement with ASEAN and I look forward to co-chairing the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit with Prime Minister Turnbull on Sunday to take the partnership.


You are hosting leaders whose regimes have jailed political opponents, threatened to beat protesters on the streets of Sydney, they have encouraged state-sanctioned arrests without trial and driven more than 700,000 Rohingya from their homes. What will you say to those leaders and if you don’t publically raise Australia’s concerns, aren’t you tacitly approving of their crimes?


The engagement that we have in our region is a frank engagement, with all of the countries in the region. You have made some sweeping generalisations there. I just want to say that we approach ASEAN with the greatest of respect. We respect the centrality of ASEAN in our region. We respect the consensus model on which it’s based and we will be discussing issues of every description - economic, strategic, human rights, you mentioned issues relating to the Rakhine State in Myanmar - obviously I will be discussing those with the state councillor when I meet her shortly.


South Africa has launched a formal protest with Australia, does your government stand by the Home Affairs Minister's comments and to Prime Minister Lee - is China dividing ASEAN?


The first question is to me? Well, we have a non-discriminatory humanitarian program. We are the most – I say in the presence of the leader of another very successful multicultural society – we would say Australia, we claim to be the most successful multicultural society in the world. Singapore can lay claim to that as well. We have migrants to Australia from every part of the world, including of course all the countries of ASEAN. We have a refugee program that is nondiscriminatory.

Indeed as you know, we take around 18,000 refugees through our humanitarian program every year, including and in addition to which, we took 12,000 from the Syrian conflict zone.

So, our program is thoroughly nondiscriminatory. You’ve asked me about the situation in South Africa. We have a very large South African community, Australians of South African ancestry, from every background and they too make a phenomenal contribution to our very successful multicultural society.


I think we don't see the world in black and white terms. We are in ASEAN in South East Asia. We do business with all the major powers in the world, including China, including the United States. There’s a shift in the global strategic balance. The Chinese influence is growing and its economy and its strength, with its interest in the region and beyond. There’s a range of different perspectives and responses to this shift in the balance amongst the different sides, different ASEAN countries. Which is not surprising, because the different ASEAN countries have different interests of their own and see the world differently. If you are landlocked state on China's borders, you see the world differently from an archipelagic state which is further away and which does business not only with one major partner but with many different partners.

So, it’s one of the factors which lead to ASEAN countries having different perspectives. But it’s not the only factor in which ASEAN countries will have different perspectives. We must expect that, this is the reality of the way the world is, particularly with association of sovereign countries. Even within a Commonwealth of non-sovereign states there’s a range of views between someone on the eastern seaboard, like New South Wales and someone on the western coast, like West Australia.

It is normal and therefore I would not accept your framing of the question. I think these are issues ASEAN has to deal with and we will have to do our best to manage all these tensions and these pressures.


Thank you feel very keen awareness of the diversity of views within our great Federation.


We are both multicultural societies -


We are, we are. That’s defined by - both Singapore and Australia, defined by political values that unite us.


You talked about the changing strategic shifts in the regions. How does Singapore and Australia work together to navigate the changing landscape? You both called for promoting free trade, even in the face of rising protectionism. How do both countries work together to do this, especially in regards to RCEP and TPP?


Well perhaps I can go first. We’ve just signed the TPP, the TPP-11, in Chile – or the CPTPP, that is a lot of letters, Prime Minister - but the TPP-11, we have signed it. I want to say thank Prime Minister Lee, because together with other members of the TPP, he showed great determination to keep that very important free trade agreement on the road and going and completed after the US withdrew, after the change of administration.

The path of free trade, particularly when there are winds of protectionism that are blowing, stronger perhaps than they have in the past, is always challenging. But we have to keep at it. For our part we have upgraded, enhanced our own free-trade agreement bilaterally. We have entered into the TPP. We are working together on RCEP. For our part in Australia we have entered into a free trade agreement with Peru recently. We are relentless in doing everything we can, to open up more markets and more opportunities for Australian businesses and Australian exporters.

We absolutely believe that free trade is the key. Protectionism is not a ladder to get you out of a low growth trap, it’s a shovel to dig it a lot deeper.


Well, one way we are responding to the challenges between Singapore and Australia, because we are good friends, is that we are having systematic dialogue and engagement. We meet once a year and that’s an opportunity to exchange views and to see where we can work along similar lines. We have similar perspectives. Not identical ones, Australia is a treaty ally of the United States, Singapore is not. We are a good friend of the United States. We are also good friends with China, as is Australia. So our perspectives have many points of overlap and when they do overlap, well, we exchange notes on how we can work together and promote further substantive cooperation.

The TPP-11 is one example, RCEP is another example, ASEAN-Australia cooperation is another example.

But the objective is to strengthen our ties and at the same time promote an inclusive and a stable region, which is in the interests of both of us, as well as many other powers.




The first one is to me? The land acquisition process is underway and on track. As far as double taxation avoidance, updating the treaty - the double taxation treaty which was most recently updated in 2009, I believe - again, that is a work in progress and subject to discussions.

Now your third was Smart Cities?


Smart Cities. We are looking to build Smart Cities in Singapore as well as a network of Smart Cities in ASEAN countries. Because many cities are going in this direction, they’re using technologies, they’re using networks, they’re using sensors. They are wiring up, they are getting their e-commerce going and they’re getting their e-cash going. There is scope for cooperation. Cooperation in terms of standards, Cooperation in terms of interoperability, in terms of (inaudible) of the services, so we can offer the services across different jurisdictions. I think many Australian cities are progressing in these areas too and we can link them in, into this network. There’s one way in which Australia can integrate into the region.


That is absolutely correct and I just want to say Prime Minister, how much we have all learned from and been inspired by Singapore. It would be hard to find a smarter city than Singapore and one of the things you’ve done in Singapore which I have inspected first hand, as you know, is the way in which you have planned your mass-transit infrastructure, your rail infrastructure in advance of major development, major residential and commercial development.

We are starting to do that more in Australia and just recently - associated with the Western Sydney airport, the new airport the Federal Government is building to the west of Sydney - we announced a Western Sydney City Deal with the State Government and with many local government authorities in the region. One of the key parts of that is doing the planning, particularly the planning for rail, in advance of zoning to allow the development. So, making sure that you’ve got your infrastructure in place before your development, so that the density follows the amenity, rather than density being created, congestion following and then amenity and transport having to catch up.

Singapore has shown a great example of outstanding planning. As I said we are inspired by it and will shamelessly copy you wherever we can.



Don't do our mistakes!


Well, that’s the good thing, you see if we follow each other, we learn from our successes and our mistakes!


That’s the way.


Should Australia join ASEAN?


She’s asked whether Australia can join ASEAN. Thank you for that question. Look, I think you’re probably referring to some remarks by President Widodo. Can I say, we’re really honoured and touched by the  warmth of his remarks about Australia.

We have a very warm relationship, as indeed does PM Lee, with Jokowi. He is a great leader, a really outstanding leader and a good friend. But ASEAN matters are matters for ASEAN. We have the greatest of respect for ASEAN, the way it reaches it’s own conclusions. We are a dialogue partner with ASEAN, we work closely with ASEAN and we respect the centrality of ASEAN and its significance and fundamental importance, central importance, in our region.

Thanks very much.


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