SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM AT THE STATE BANQUET HOSTED IN HONOUR OF THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA, HIS EXCELLENCY GENERAL THE HONOURABLE SIR PETER COSGROVE, AND LADY LYNNE COSGROVE, ON 21 SEPTEMBER 2015

Your Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove

Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

Lady Cosgrove

Excellencies

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to welcome Sir Peter Cosgrove, Lady Cosgrove and the Australian delegation to Singapore.  This is Sir Peter’s first State Visit to Singapore.  I last met with him in June 2014 when I made my State Visit to Australia.  Today, my wife and I are pleased to be able to reciprocate Sir Peter’s and Lady Cosgrove’s warm hospitality.

Sir Peter is a good friend of Singapore’s.  His ties to Singapore go back to 1999 when he was Commander for the International Force for East Timor, or INTERFET, where the soldiers serving in Singapore’s INTERFET contingent, came under Sir Peter’s overall command. Subsequently, as Australia’s Chief of the Defence Force, he played a vital role in fostering greater collaboration between our armed forces. 

Under Sir Peter’s stewardship, the scope of bilateral cooperation between the two armed forces broadened significantly.  The SAF continues to have valuable access to the Australian Defence Force’s training areas in Australia.  In recognition of this important role, Singapore awarded Sir Peter the Distinguished Service Order (Military) in 2004.

Your Excellency

Your State Visit comes at a significant moment.  2015 is a year of double Jubilee celebration - it marks not only Singapore’s 50th year of independence, but also the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations with Australia.  Australia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Singapore 50 years ago. 

Our people-to-people and education ties, which were forged during the time when Australia offered the Colombo Plan scholarships, are one of the most enduring features of Singapore’s relationship with Australia.  Many Singaporeans have benefitted from Australia’s generosity.  Some of these scholars have gone on to become industry leaders, top civil servants and Cabinet Ministers.  Since the 1960s, over 130,000 Singaporeans have studied in Australia.  I am confident that our people-to-people ties will continue to flourish as Singapore now plays host to Australian students under the “New Colombo Plan”. 

Another key pillar of Singapore-Australia ties is our robust economic relationship.  

Last year, our bilateral trade reached S$25.5 billion.  Singapore is Australia’s fourth largest foreign investor and there are more than 3,500 Australian companies established in Singapore.  I am delighted to see representatives of key Australian businesses and key members of the Australian community in Singapore with us this evening.  The 20,000 strong Australian community here has given Singaporeans greater access to Australian art, culture, quality wines and produce and helped make Singapore a more vibrant city.

In the past 50 years, the ties between Singapore and Australia have grown, bound by a shared strategic outlook, common interests and the friendships between our people and our leaders.  In June this year, we elevated our relations when we signed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), which is a broad ranging agreement to catalyse and boost cooperation across economics and trade, defence and security, foreign affairs and the people-to-people sectors in the next 10 years. 

I am delighted to note that Singapore and Australia have already begun implementing some aspects of the CSP.  I would like to highlight one particular initiative under the CSP that will soon be implemented.  From 1 October 2015 onwards, Australian passport holders will be able to enrol with the Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to use Singapore’s enhanced-Immigration Access Control System.  Eligible Australian passport holders will enjoy expeditious immigration clearance via automated gates at our land, sea and air checkpoints.  Australia has already extended its “SmartGate” facilities to Singapore biometric passport holders entering Australia. 

These reciprocal arrangements are a sign of the deep trust and cooperation underpinning our relations. 

I also wish to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for Australia’s efforts to commemorate SG50 and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Australia.  The Australian High Commission’s “50 Bridges” programme, which includes “50 BBQs” in the heartlands of Singapore, was hugely successful.  Together with Australia’s loan of four koalas, these gestures of friendship have touched the hearts, minds and stomachs of Singaporeans, young and old.  Singapore’s own programme of celebrations in Australia also received strong support from the Australian Government.  The Singapore High Commission in Canberra was accorded the rare honour of hosting its annual National Day reception at the Australian Parliament House this year. Similarly, the Australian Parliament House received and installed a Singaporean artwork by artist Han Sai Por.  

Excellencies

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

The partnership between Singapore and Australia is a special one built on longstanding ties and mutual trust and I am confident that our cooperation will continue to strengthen in the years ahead.

It now gives me great pleasure to invite you to rise and join me in a toast to:

• Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of Australia;

• the good health and success of the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and
Lady Cosgrove; and

• the enduring friendship between Singapore and Australia, and our two peoples.