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New chapter for Singapore, Australia: PM

AAP logoAAP 12/10/2016 Paul Osborne

Malcolm Turnbull and Lee Hsien Loong have pledged to work more closely on regional security and tackling terrorism, while making it easier to invest and trade between the two nations.

Having been greeted with a ceremonial welcome in Canberra on Wednesday, Mr Lee became the first Singapore leader to address the Australian parliament.

Mr Lee and Mr Turnbull on Thursday will sign a $2 billion deal under which 14,000 Singaporean troops will train for 18 weeks a year in central and northern Queensland and Singapore will be given special permission to develop military training facilities.

"Our decision to grant Singapore the special level of access underlies the enormous trust and respect that exists between our respective armed forces," Mr Turnbull told parliament.

Mr Lee spoke of the historical relationship between the two nations, noting many Australian troops died while fighting to defend Singapore from Japanese forces in WWII.

"Singapore will never forget their sacrifice," he told MPs and senators gathered in the lower house chamber.

In a warm and humorous speech, Mr Lee questioned how a "wide brown land" and a "little red dot" three times smaller than the ACT could forge such a deep bond.

He said both countries believed the United States plays a major role in fostering peace and stability in Asia, while having substantial ties with other nations.

"For both of us, China is our largest trading partner."

Mr Lee praised Mr Turnbull for inviting ASEAN to a summit in Australia in 2018, when Singapore will be the chair.

He spoke fondly of the informal and candid relationship between the two peoples, saying neither "beat around the bush" and both could "hang loose".

Mr Lee recounted a recent visit to Singapore by former prime minister Tony Abbott, who Mr Lee invited to an Aussie-style barbecue - before going out for a steak dinner.

While ensuring he chose good Australian wine, Mr Lee admitted he forgot to check where the steak came from.

When Mr Abbott asked, the chef replied it was from the United States.

"I will have to do better when Prime Minister Turnbull visits us next year," Mr Lee said.

The two leaders will sign a deal to update the 2003 Singapore-Australia free trade agreement - which helped make Singapore Australia's fifth largest trading partner - and improve exchanges in the areas of innovation, science, education and the arts.

Mr Lee noted 400,000 Singaporeans visited Australia last year and about one million Australians visited the city state.

"We feel quite at home in each other's countries," he said.

"Singaporeans may not quaff quite as much beer as Australians but I have it on good authority that Victoria Bitter goes well with chili crabs."

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