The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is preparing to announce a deal that will see Singapore sink over $2.25 billion into expanding defence bases in Queensland.
With a land mass of just over 700 square kilometres, Singapore does not have the space it needs for military exercises and uses bases in Australia for training and weapons testing.
Mr Turnbull and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo will today reveal the details of a 25-year agreement that will see Singapore increase the number of troops it has on rotation in Australia from 6,000 to 14,000.
“There’ll be opportunities obviously in the local community to be big beneficiaries, not only from people staying there and sometimes they’ll bring family with them, but also from the money that’s going to be spent to improve the bases themselves,” Mr Ciobo told the ABC.
The facilities Singapore will fund the expansion of are at Shoalwater Bay, north of Rockhampton and in Townsville.
Both bases lie in seats the Coalition is desperate to hang on to: Capricornia, which Nationals MP Michelle Landry won back from Labor in 2013 and Herbert, held by the Liberal’s Ewen Jones.
Mr Ciobo insisted strategic, not political interests were behind the agreement.
“We are talking about two very established defence force bases and training facilities, that’s what drove this, not the politics,” he said.
“I think most reasonable Australians would recognise that of course the focus is upon where we have defence bases.
“I don’t think for a moment that Singapore was that concerned about which seats these bases happened to be in.”
The ABC has been told the move is emblematic of Singapore’s desire to forge closer defence ties with Australia and within the Asia-Pacific in the face of China’s growing military might.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that a small city-state like Singapore, for example, looks throughout the region to where they’re able to mobilise forces, to where they’re able to build experienced capacity and training,” Mr Ciobo said.
“Australia has had a long-term great relationship with Singapore, so it’s a logical extension.”
The deal also improves visa conditions for Australians working in Singapore and makes it easier for their spouses to get jobs.
The two countries have also committed to recognising the university qualifications of professionals, including engineers and accountants.