Bill's Speeches

WELCOMING ADDRESS FOR THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE, LEE HSIEN LOONG - CANBERRA - WEDNESDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2016

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Thank you Mr Speaker.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I pay my respects to elders both past and present.

Prime Minister Lee and Mrs Lee, on behalf of the Opposition and the Australian people, welcome to the Australian Parliament.

Personally, it’s a pleasure for me to meet with you again, and all of us are looking forward to your address, to hearing in this place, the Singapore story.

The story of a people who came through the turbulence surrounding them:  

-    The Malayan Emergency, Konfrontasi, the Sukarno Split.

The challenges at home -  a newly independent economy seemingly without the room or resources to grow.

From this uncertainty, Singaporeans have emerged as the proud citizens and architects of a modern, thriving, engaged and open nation.

Prime Minister Lee - your father, more than anyone else, began this story – and you have authored your own distinguished chapter.

Your presence here speaks for the strong bonds between our nations – as well as a reminder of just how far Australia has come.

When we first established our formal ties in 1965, Singapore existed in the Australian consciousness primarily as a reminder of the days in which we faced our gravest threat.

·    The fall of the supposedly invincible British garrison - nearly 15,000 Australian prisoners-of-war, captured and brutalised.

Australian blood was shed in defence of Singapore.

Australians still lie at rest in Kranji cemetery.

And even when peace came, Australians still imagined ourselves fearfully perched on the edge of Asia. 

Today, Prime Minister, we give thanks those days are long gone.

Today, Singapore and Australia greet each other as equals and friends.

Whilst we both hold a common strand of British heritage – I believe like the Prime Minister, that more importantly we share in common, the quality of informality.

We are partners in prosperity, respected voices in ASEAN, APEC and the East Asia Summit.

Known as advocates for peace and security in our region and the wider world.

In Afghanistan, our troops have served alongside one other, holding back the forces seeking a base for terrorism.

And Labor welcomes the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that will see up to 14,000 Singaporean troops train at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland per year.

This is good news for the regions and good news for our region.

Both our nations are engaged in countering the new threat of extremism, the fight against Daesh, its agents and imitators.

We also share a tradition of learning from each other:

From your father’s famous warning, a rebuke that shook Australia out of our lethargy, and certainly reinforced my own party’s pursuit of an open, outward-looking economy, engaged with the markets of Asia. 

This legacy we commemorated in this parliament in our condolence motions last year.

And we still see the merit of openness, of new markets and new investment – not the least because we see the success of Singapore.

Prime Minister Lee

As the top maths student of your Cambridge undergraduate class, the ‘senior wrangler’ – and perhaps the only world leader who can solve Sudoku in computer code – we know your passion for the sciences runs deep.

Your country’s embrace of technology, science and the value of ideas helps inspiration Australian policy-makers.

Our nations have also grown through cultural exchange.

Personally, I vividly recall being well and truly outpointed by a slickly-prepared Singaporean University Team at Intervarsity Debating in the late 1980s:

Perhaps more crucially, 130,000 Singaporeans have gained a degree in Australian universities – including some of the guests you bring with you, your Permanent Secretaries here today: Peter Ong, Chan Yeng Kit, Chan Lai Fung.  

And there are more than 20,000 Australian expats living and working in Singapore – including friends of mine who voted at the Royal Tanglin Golf Course at the polling booth in the last three weeks of June – a booth we targeted heavily.

These Australians return to their friends and family praising a place where they know they are welcome.

Singapore is a culture that is different enough to feel novel, familiar enough to feel at home.

-    The brilliant public transport

-    The dynamic workplaces - which your government has made stronger and more balanced by legislating for a 5-day week.

-    And of course in Singapore, it's the food – it always comes back to the food.

Indeed when Joseph Schooling, who, at the age of 13, had the thrill of meeting his hero Michael Phelps...and at the age of 21, had the joy of beating him in the 100m butterfly at Rio - making history as Singapore’s first ever Olympic gold medallist.

Even ‘the kid who defeated the king’ paid tribute to the stallholders who gave him free vegetables as a child, and celebrated his victory with a traditional black carrot cake at the Marine Terrace Hawker Centre.

But, Prime Minister Lee, I have since learned this new Singaporean idol, this hero was merely seeking to follow in your footsteps.

Trying to replicate the national social media sensation you caused when you were spotted queuing for over 30 minutes for your favourite type of chicken wings.

Prime Minister Lee, Australia has no closer friend in Asia than Singapore.

Let us work together to an even stronger, richer friendship in the years ahead.

Welcome and enjoy your stay. 

ENDS


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