Panel to strengthen S’pore-Australia ties

SINGAPORE and Australia have agreed to set up a high-level committee to look at ways of strengthening political, security and economic relations between the two countries, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.

The committee, which will report directly to the two Prime Ministers, will be established in a few weeks’ time.

Its task will be to draw up a “blueprint of action” in six months.

“We agreed to set up a committee of officials to see how we can maximise our strategic partnership to focus on political, security and economic relations,” Mr Goh told reporters at a door-stop interview at the Istana after nearly an hour of talks with his Australian counterpart, Mr Paul Keating.

Mr Goh said Singapore will be represented by the permanent secretaries of the Foreign Ministry, Trade and Industry Ministry and “perhaps two other ministries”.

Mr Keating, who arrived here on Saturday night for a two-day private visit en route to Germany and the Netherlands, said Australia and Singapore stood to gain with the setting-up of the committee, especially in launching joint ventures in third countries.

“We see a great future for Australia and Singapore cooperating in third markets,” he said, adding that the two countries could combine their skills, technology and capital.

During Mr Goh’s visit to Australia in September last year, both sides had agreed to set up a Singapore-Australia Business Alliance Forum aimed at promoting joint ventures in third markets.

They also agreed to set up a $2.2-million fund to boost such ventures.

The fund will be used to defray part of the cost which these companies will incur when they do feasibility studies of projects in third countries.

Mr Goh said yesterday that besides setting up the committee to boost links, the two countries also agreed that the Republic should send a Singapore Tourist Promotion Board mission to “explore several investment possibilities in either Queensland, the Northern Territory or Western Australia”.

He said the idea was a follow-up to their meeting in Canberra last September, when both leaders had spoken of increased co-operation in tourism.

Mr Keating had proposed then that Singapore companies develop resorts in Australia primarily for Singaporean tourists.

“We will be exploring ways to facilitate this and bring pleasure to Singaporeans and further cooperation between the two countries,” the Australian leader said yesterday.

Singapore is Australia’s fifth-largest tourism market and the biggest in Asia, excluding Japan.

Asked to give his assessment of bilateral defence ties, Mr Goh said that Singapore and Australia had “excellent relations”.

“As you know, we need space to train our air force and army. We haven’t got that space in Singapore,” he said.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force has been training in several areas in Australia since 1975.

It has a flying training school in Pearce, Western Australia, and an RSAF detachment in Amberly, Queensland.

In addition, both countries have signed a Defence Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, and a Memorandum of Understanding for SAF army training at the Shoalwater Bay training area.

Said Mr Goh: “Both countries see a coincidence of interests over the long term. We share strategic interests in the area.

“Australia has been very helpful, and we are very grateful for that.”

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