Military training arrangements in Australia to be finalised into treaty this year: PM Lee

2:22:00 AM

SYDNEY — Singapore’s arrangement with Australia to jointly develop military training areas in Queensland will be finalised into a treaty this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Speaking at a press conference with his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull on Friday (March 16) after the two leaders met in Sydney for a bilateral summit, Mr Lee added: “We are making progress in the joint development of military training areas in Queensland. We deeply appreciate Australia’s very generous support for Singapore’s training needs.”

The Singapore-Australia Leaders’ Summit is a yearly meeting under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) signed by both countries in 2015.

The wide-ranging CSP includes a landmark deal allowing the Singapore Armed Forces to carry out unilateral training in Australia for 18 weeks with 14,000 troops yearly, over 25 years, by 2021. Both governments are also jointly developing a military training base in northern Queensland that was to be four times the size of Singapore.

Mr Lee said the joint development of military training areas in Queensland will benefit both defence forces and the local economy in the areas where training is conducted. He did not elaborate on the details of the treaty.

In response to queries, Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said that when signed, the treaty on military training and training area development between Australia and Singapore will "represent the highest level of government-to-government commitment and underscore the importance of growing bilateral defence ties". The treaty will have to be ratified by the Australian Parliament, the ministry noted.

On the joint development of training areas and facilities in Queensland, Mindef said this is on track as scheduled, "with some parcels of land already purchased to meet the SAF’s training requirements as earlier outlined" in a memorandum of understanding.

The plan to construct military training areas in Queensland hit a roadbump in 2016 after farmers decried the move to forcibly acquire a large expanse of farmland next to two current training areas near Townsville and Rockhampton. The Australian government said it would shrink the proposed training areas and include extra infrastructure instead.

Asked about the matter on Friday, Mr Turnbull reiterated that the “land acquisition process is underway and on track”, without elaborating.

Earlier, he told reporters that he had the opportunity to discuss with Mr Lee the “many successes” of the CSP so far, including “greater progress towards even closer defence and security ties”.

On how Australia plans to work with Singapore and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) to develop smart cities, Mr Turnbull said he found it hard to pinpoint a “smarter city than Singapore”.

He cited the Republic’s planning ahead for rail infrastructure before major residential and commercial developments sprout up as an example which he has seen for himself.

“We are starting to do that more in Australia, and just recently, associated with the Western Sydney Airport,” he said, referring to a new airport the government is building in the west of Sydney.

A key part of that project was planning for rail infrastructure in advance of the area’s zoning, to ensure that amenities were planned to handle the density, rather than have transport amenities catch up after density builds and congestion ensues.

“Singapore has shown a great example of outstanding planning, and as I said, we are inspired by and will shamelessly copy wherever we can,” Mr Turnbull said, drawing laughter from across the room where the press conference was held.

Mr Lee waded in swiftly, acknowledging that Australia should not replicate “our mistakes”. Mr Turnbull replied: “If we follow each other, we learn from our successes and our mistakes”.

Singapore is hoping to build a network of smart cities as chair of Asean this year, with Mr Lee noting that numerous cities are heading in that direction.

He pointed out that many Australian cities are making progress in areas such as standards and widening the footprint of their services. “We can link them into this network. It’s one way which Australia can integrate into the region,” Mr Lee said.

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