SINGAPORE: Pilots of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) can continue to fly out of Pearce Air Base in Western Australia for another 25 years under a new treaty signed at the 10th meeting of the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC) on Monday (Aug 21).
Signed by Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Australia's Defence Minister Marise Payne, the treaty is a renewal and upgrade on an existing memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in March 1993 between the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and RSAF. The existing MOU allowed the RSAF to maintain and operate a Flying Training Institute at the base for 25 years, and expires in 2018.
The RSAF's 130 Squadron currently conducts a nine-month long Basic Wings Course at RAAF Base Pearce, teaching the basics of flying to its pilots using Pilatus PC-21 trainer aircraft before progression to advanced aircraft training.
While there are no major changes to existing terms under the MOU, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said the upgrade of the agreement into a treaty reflects the significant level of importance both nations place on the bilateral defence relationship.
Both Singapore and Australia are part of the Five Power Defence Agreements and ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus, and forces regularly interact through professional exchanges and multilateral exercises like Exercise Pitch Black. Aside from Pearce, the RSAF also conducts helicopter training at the RAAF's Oakey Army Aviation Centre, fighter training at Darwin and Amberley in Queensland, and air grading at Tamworth in New South Wales.
As a treaty-level agreement, the Pearce Treaty will have to be ratified by the Australian Parliament before coming into force - a government that is currently embroiled in a dual-citizenship row. But Channel NewsAsia understands that the treaty is likely to proceed as the bilateral defence relationship enjoys bipartisan support.
At the signing, both defence ministers also touched on the implementation of bilateral training initiatives under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership previously signed by both nation's prime ministers in 2015.
These include addressing concerns previously raised after Australia's Defence Ministry backed down from plans to expand training areas in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland, for use by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Previous plans would have seen up to 14,000 SAF personnel being able to train for 18 weeks a year, in an area ten times the size of Singapore, up from the current six. The Republic has committed to investing S$2.5 billion over 25 years to upgrade facilities there.
"Let me just say that it's on track, and on track to build advanced training facilities that will benefit both the Australian Defence Force and the Singapore Armed Forces," said Dr Ng. "Construction is due to begin in 2019 and these activities will benefit the people of Queensland, as well as the Singapore Armed Forces."
His Australian counterpart agreed. "The implementation of the initiative is progressing particularly well," said Ms Payne. "The Australian government will be considering that plan later this year. We look forward to seeing construction begin in both the Rockhampton and Townsville areas in 2019."
CLOSER TOURISM COOPERATION
The 10th SAJMC also saw an MOU signed between the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to strengthen tourism cooperation.
For a period of 5 years, both nations will explore areas of deeper cooperation in areas such as tourism investment and infrastructure enhancements, research partnerships and data sharing, sharing of best practices in marketing, leisure events planning and management for sports and entertainment, and other areas deemed of mutual interest. Further cooperation for successive similar periods is renewable by written agreement.
Officiating the signing was Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang and Australia's Minister for Trade Tourism and Investment Steven Ciobo.
According to STB, Australia was Singapore's 5th biggest market for international visitors in 2016 - at 1.027 million visitors. The Australian market generated tourism receipts of $1.17 billion.
The biennial SAJMC is a high-level bilateral dialogue mechanism that builds on the strong cooperation between Australia and Singapore, which enjoys longstanding and multi-faceted ties spanning political, economic, defence, people-to-people ties, culture and the arts.