PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Joint Press Conference with Australian PM Anthony Albanese (Oct 2022)

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on 18 October 2022 in Canberra. PM Lee was on a working visit to Australia.


Australian PM Anthony Albanese: Thank you very much for joining us. Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew said this ‘We are one interacting, interdependent world. The problems besetting the world are transnational, and the solutions must be transnational.’ Today we open a new chapter in the comprehensive strategic partnership between Australia and Singapore.

The Green Economy Agreement signals collective resolve to confront challenges as we transition our economies to net zero. It will support clean energy innovation, unlock business opportunities and create jobs and help deliver our emissions targets while positioning Australia as a renewable energy superpower. Our commitment to work towards a food pact will shore up reliable and secure supply chains, and provide certainty for Australian exporters.

We also discussed the strategic outlook and our commitment to a free, open and resilient region. I do want to thank Prime Minister Lee, and thank him not just for the formal interaction that we have had here today, but also for the dinner where Jodie and myself hosted the Prime Minister and Mrs Lee last night at the lodge in what was a very enjoyable occasion indeed. I have had the great privilege and honour of being a guest in Singapore on many occasions over a number of decades now, and it is wonderful to welcome a great friend of Australia, Prime Minister, here today.

PM Lee Hsien Loong: Thank you. Thank you, Prime Minister. Good afternoon, everybody. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his warm hospitality and to express how happy I am to be back in Canberra again in person meeting Australian leaders, and particularly Prime Minister Albanese. We talked about many things, but we, in particular, affirmed our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which has made significant progress since 2015, and our bilateral cooperation has proceeded apace even during COVID-19. In fact, Singapore was the second country that Australia opened its doors to for quarantine-free travel, and we formed the fourth-largest group of short-term visitors to Australia in the first half of this year – which considering there are only five and a half million odd people in Singapore – is not bad.

We greatly appreciate Australia's generous and consistent support for our military training. It has fully resumed, and we are very happy that our units are present here and able to be of assistance to the Australian government in times of need, for example, during natural disasters and floods. I mentioned to the Prime Minister just now that Singapore is ready to provide assistance to support the Australian Defence Forces’ flood relief efforts for the floods in New South Wales and Victoria, and whatever else may develop in the season, and our officials will be in touch to work out how we can be most helpful.

We have also worked on other areas to take our bilateral cooperation further, for example in the Singapore-Australia Green Economy Agreement, which will support the transitions of our countries to net zero emissions and at the same time, boost growth and create jobs in the green sectors. It is the first such agreement of its kind between countries, and we hope that it will be a pathfinder for other countries, similarly to cooperate with one another to deal with what is a global problem.

We are also deepening our cooperation in science and innovation. Our agencies A*STAR on the Singapore side and the CSIRO on the Australian side have signed a Master Research Collaboration Agreement to collaborate in areas like low emission technologies, alternative proteins, and advanced manufacturing, as well as an agreement which will allow Singapore researchers to use Australia's synchrotron facilities, all of which will further deepen linkages between scientists on both sides.

We are also exploring new areas of cooperation because we are natural partners which have similar views on many issues, and trusted and reliable partners of each other, which we have demonstrated during the pandemic. So we are looking at new strategic areas of cooperation such as strengthening the security and resilience of our supply chains, including on food and energy, and our connectivity to the rest of the world. And we will also look into facilitating the flow of critical goods between us in times of crisis, and we have formed up a working group to look into this matter. We also exchanged views on regional and global developments. Australia is a key partner for our region. Singapore has long strongly supported Australia, strengthening links with Southeast Asia, and we very much welcome Prime Minister Albanese’s efforts to deepen this engagement and look forward to him participating in the ASEAN, the APEC and the G20 meetings which are taking place in Southeast Asia in a few weeks’ time.

Therefore, we are very happy that the relations between our two countries have remained strong. It is a troubled world, given the tensions in the world. It is important that like-minded countries work together for our mutual benefit. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Albanese and his government to take our bilateral relations to even greater heights. Thank you.

ABC: On the Optus hacker, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, can I ask you what technical assistance, if any, has the Singaporean government offered to both SingTel and potentially to Optus to help deal with the security breach here in Australia? Prime Minister Lee, if I could ask you, you have been an advocate for China being allowed to join the CPTPP, whereas Australia of course has been much more skeptical on that point. Was this discussed between the two of you today? Have you urged Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on this point at all?

PM Albanese: On the Optus issue, we did have a discussion about that and the Prime Minister indicated that Singtel, which is a Singapore-based company – which is the owner of Optus – will have full cooperation with the Government in dealing with the issue. There are two issues here. One is a cybersecurity issue. The other is a privacy issue. Some of the issues exposed by the Optus breach are covered with the Privacy Act already. It is a wake-up call to all companies about data retention and about the need to be vigilant in making sure that the provisions of the Privacy Act are complied with; that there is no need to and indeed, our requirement under the Privacy Act to ensure that data is not kept for no purpose going forward. That is one of the things that has been exposed here by the incident, but I appreciate the Prime Minister, of course, being cooperative on this issue as I would completely expect.

PM Lee: On Optus, I told the Prime Minister that Singapore takes the data breach very seriously. We expect all Singapore companies to comply fully with domestic laws wherever they operate, and to cooperate with the domestic regulators to protect consumers’ interest, just as we would expect all companies to do in Singapore. In the case of Optus, this is an Australian company incorporated and headquartered in Australia. Its operations are run out of Australia and not from Singapore. Therefore, Australia’s rules and regulations apply in addressing this incident. I told the Prime Minister that the SingTel Group – which owns Optus – is taking the incident seriously, and as owner will fully support Optus in meeting Australia’s rules and requirements in handling the incident. Our cybersecurity and info-comm agencies have also reached out to their Australian counterparts. We stand ready to provide support to the Australian Government should our assistance be needed.

On the CPTPP, we have stated our position that I think it is good if China is able to join the CPTPP. They will of course have to meet the requirements fully, the conditions and obligations, but I think that is something which is possible and can be negotiated. Of course, for China to join the CPTPP, there has to be a consensus amongst all the existing members. It so happens that this year Singapore is chairing the CPTPP committee. As chair, we will do our duty and have been canvassing views amongst the participants on applicants who want to join – whether the process should begin – China has applied, so have some other applicants. I do not think there is a consensus yet, but we will continue with the process. As for Australia's position, I think Australia knows what it is doing and we understand each other's point of view.

The Straits Times: My question is for Prime Minister Lee on the GEA. Is Singapore tying similar agreements, GEAs, with other countries in the region and what are the benefits for Singapore businesses and consumers?

PM Lee: The first GEA we are signing is with Australia. We are very happy at this. It is the world's first such agreement and it will support the transition of our countries to net zero emissions, as well as create jobs and growth opportunities in green sectors, and promote the development and commercialisation of green technologies.

The scope for collaboration will include trade and investment; green and transition finance; carbon markets; clean energy, decarbonisation and technology; and business engagement and partnerships. And it will include 17 joint initiatives to start off with. For example, establishing an MOU to facilitate business partnerships in priority green sectors; developing a list of environmental goods and services, which means then they can be given preferential treatment, and forming working groups to further cooperation in cross border electricity trade and sustainable aviation. These are all areas which are of interest to Singapore and to Singapore businesses and we hope with the Singapore-Australia GEA, they will be able to move forward.

We also hope that with this GEA, it will encourage other countries to look at what we have been able to do and to ask whether some of these may not make sense for them to do with Singapore or to do with each other, and that way, enhance cooperation on green issues, which I think is important if mankind is going to have any hope of making progress on climate change, which is an urgent and pressing problem.

PM Albanese: Can I just follow up the Prime Minister by saying from Australia's perspective, this is very exciting. My government has continually emphasised that climate change has environmental consequences, but it needs economic solutions. And it is a global problem that requires a global solution and hence trade and economic agreements such as this one between Australia and Singapore – two great friends – is so important as an example for the world.

One of the discussions that we had is that Singapore has enormous advantages. Singapore is one of the most innovative economies in the world. They have been extraordinary at scientific breakthroughs, at commercialising those opportunities as well, and they are known as innovative companies. When I visited Singapore, I visited start-ups and it is one of the things that Singapore does really, really well. One of the issues that Singapore does not have though, a couple of assets they do not have, is space. We have in this island continent of ours, a little bit bigger than the island continent of Singapore, and hence a project like Sun Cable, which has the potential to export clean energy to Singapore is the ultimate win-win. If this project could be made to work and I believe it can be, you will see the world's largest solar farm. You will see the export of energy across distances but the production of many jobs here in Australia including manufacturing jobs. And the prospect of Sun Cable is just one part of what I talked about when I say Australia can be a renewable energy superpower for the world.

So the fact that this agreement is taking place as well just prior to the East Asia Summit, prior to the ASEAN meeting, the G20 meeting, the APEC meeting in our region, all taking place in November, is a really positive indication to other countries in our region and indeed countries throughout the world, who will look at this agreement and see that this is just a very positive initiative, about making sure that we commercialise these opportunities, that we maximise the spread of breakthroughs when they occur and that is what this agreement is aimed at with its 17 different components as well. Next question is from Bloomberg.

Bloomberg: Thank you Prime Minister. A question to both leaders – given the recent decision by US President Joe Biden to curb supply of US chips to China, are you concerned about accelerating economic decoupling between the US and China? And just another question to Prime Minister Lee, in the past you have been generally critical of the Australian government's approach to China, do you think that has improved under the new government?

PM Lee: Well, first of all, decoupling is a worry. National security concerns are real. How wide or how narrowly they are defined, is the judgment of each government and administration. I think the Biden administration’s latest move is a serious one. I am sure they have considered it carefully. It can have very wide ramifications. We will have to see how things work out. But we will do worry that valid national security considerations may trigger off further consequences and may result in less economic cooperation, less interdependency, less trust, and possibly, ultimately a less stable world. Your second question…

Bloomberg: My second question was…

PM Albanese: Was how are we going.

PM Lee: How are you going? We never give ourselves report cards, much less our friends. I think we have our view of how to maintain amicable relations with as many countries as possible, while preserving our interests and standing up and protecting ourselves from adverse developments overseas. I am sure Australia does that too and I am sure in the process of diplomacy, we share notes with one another and we often do so with the strictest and utmost confidence and confidentiality.

PM Albanese: We do indeed, but I will say what I have said publicly, which is I want to lead a mature government that has mature relations with the world, that does not see international diplomacy as an opportunity for domestic political points scoring. And so what I have said publicly is that we should cooperate with China where we can, but stand up for Australia's national interest where we must, and I will continue to take that view both privately and publicly.

Can I say, when it comes to other issues of cooperation, trade and various agreements that are around, part of the lesson of the pandemic is that we need to - and all countries are looking at this - we need national resilience. National security is not just about our defense systems. It is also about our capacity to make things here in Australia to be less vulnerable to shocks of whatever form – be it a future pandemic, trade cybersecurity shocks, or whether it be international conflict.

So we need to make sure that we are more resilient. That does not mean an isolationist policy – far from it. Today's agreement is an example of that as well. It is where with our friends, including our very close friends in Singapore, we share such common values. I have had a long association with Singapore going back to my first visit there in 1987, as a member of staff for Tom Uren when I traveled there on a bilateral visit. Ever since then, I have been welcomed there many times. Prime Minister Lee and I have met here. I have had lunch with the Foreign Minister in the Botanic Gardens there in Singapore. We share such close friendships. And I think that today's visit has just strengthened that even more so, between my government and the government of Prime Minister Lee.

CNA: Hi Prime Ministers. I would like to ask on how are Singapore and Australia seeking to maintain security and cooperation in supply chains amid increasing geopolitical instability and for Mr Albanese, how would Australia seek to deepen engagement in Southeast Asia?

PM Lee: Well, we are working at it. As I said just now, countries are going for resilience but it is not possible for us to go for self-sufficiency. We are too interdependent. You may produce a lot of minerals, you may have a lot of talent, but the world is a big place and you need to work with other countries and develop partnerships with other countries. You will do business with everybody but with countries where you have a deep established relationship of trust and confidence, you can do even more. And in the case of Singapore and Australia, we do have that reservoir of trust and confidence and that history, and we are working to deepen this. And we have a working group working on supply chain resilience and cooperation, and I hope they will come up with some substantive proposals.

PM Albanese: I will take the opportunity to thank the Prime Minister and Singapore for the role that was played during the pandemic. It mightn't be known by all Australians, but essentially, without Singapore and its support both by air and by sea, the vaccines that entered this country would not have been possible - along with PPE, along with ventilators. Singapore played such a critical role. Singapore is a reliable economic partner. It is a great trading nation. The Port of Singapore I have visited, and I have visited the airport on many, many occasions. And I think that economic relationship is so important between us in terms of securing those supply chains.

Secondly when it comes to defence as well. Singapore has such a critical presence here in Australia. The Singaporean Defence Force being trained here brings opportunities for them because of the space that we have in Central Queensland and the capacity that we have to assist our friends in Singapore. But there are also major benefits for Australia from that presence as well. There are major economic benefits in terms of jobs for the people of Central Queensland and that is why they are so welcomed there by the local community.

But we have also seen from Prime Minister Lee today who raised the issue with me off his own bat, as we say in Australia – how can our helicopters and our defense force infrastructure here help Australia during the floods, during your current crisis? That is what friends do. They see a friend going through a difficult time and they ask, how can we help? And Australia and Singapore are great friends. That friendship has been added to today. And I thank very much Prime Minister Lee for his visit and I wish him and his delegation who are here a safe journey home. Thanks very much.

PM Lee: Thank you.