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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 370

Senator SINODINOS (New South Wales) (19:34): Late last year, I had the pleasure and privilege of travelling to Singapore as a guest of the Singapore government under its Distinguished Visitor Program. I thank the new High Commissioner of Singapore in Australia, Mr Burhan Gafoor, for renewing the invitation.

My good friend, Albert Chua, who is now the Second Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was instrumental in putting the program together for the visit. I was received by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Tharman Shanmugaratnam; the Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, Grace Fu; the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Ravi Menon; the Public Service Commission Chairman, Eddie Teo; and the CEO of the National Research Foundation, Professor Low Teck Seng.

I met various senior business and public service figures and members of the Singapore parliament, and also our High Commissioner to Singapore, Philip Green, who briefed me on proposals to celebrate next year's 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.

A consistent theme of my meetings was the warmth and affection of Singaporeans for Australia and their keenness to broaden and deepen the relationship. At the official level, there was a repeated reference to our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott's, recent declaration that he wants to enter into a strategic partnership that would match our very close, sibling-like relationship with New Zealand.

I fully support our entering into a much deeper strategic relationship with Singapore in the areas of economics, foreign affairs, defence and security and people-to-people links. Singapore has capital, a highly trained and technologically-literate workforce and a sophisticated network of connections through the region. We have first-class economic and financial infrastructure, plenty of space and resources and ideas for commercialisation.

We discussed the proposal to establish a global infrastructure hub in Sydney with the Monetary Authority. They are interested in moving from the theoretical to the practical by developing financial securities to encourage pension funds and insurance companies to invest in long-term assets to match their long-term liabilities, including how to transmit any guarantees provided to infrastructure suppliers to the investors in projects. With our expertise in financial matters, we are in a great position to help on these matters.

I was struck by Singapore's strong commitment to education and training throughout life, which is matched by investment in research, innovation and enterprise to create sustainable competitive advantage. Singapore has a comprehensive approach to such activities through its five-year plans, policies and strategies, which cover basic research, research manpower, multidisciplinary collaboration and alignment with economic outcomes, support for commercialisation and strengthening entrepreneurship by attracting global talent to Singapore.

The National Research Foundation is part of the Prime Minister's office and services the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council, an amalgam of senior ministers, representatives of business, science and technology who meet under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. It is a co-ordinating body physically located on a major campus and in an innovation and creativity hub.

I was also struck by how Singapore recognises and celebrates its cultural diversity as a social and economic good. It is a vibrant multiracial and multicultural society with a delightfully diverse cuisine, active maintenance of its different heritages and, importantly, a commitment to no discrimination on the basis of race, religion or language. This is enshrined in the national pledge that is recited in her schools every morning.

Again I have been impressed by Singapore's capacity to combine support for free trade and open markets with state sponsored co-investment to stimulate new industries and activities, including relocation of regional headquarters and the attraction of multinational corporations. Singapore's financial stringency and economic strength have allowed her to build up sovereign wealth funds such as Temasek and the Government Investment Corporation to enable her to invest in regional growth and development to Singapore's benefit.

I could go on about Singapore for a while. I was very impressed at the way in which they adapt to the changing global environment. At the end of the last world war, Singapore was devastated, but its successful transformation is proof that necessity is the mother of invention. Under the visionary leadership of Lee Kuan Yew and his successors, the sleepy sea port with no resources has become an economic powerhouse. We should conclude a meaningful strategic partnership with Singapore as a fitting climax to next year's celebration of 50 years of her relations with Australia.