Thứ Năm, 26 tháng 6, 2014

Postcard from Singapore: a key to Canberra"s future

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Armed with his own ambitious agenda, ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr followed Raffles’ lead last week, travelling to the island city-state’s modern incarnation accompanied by an entourage of some 40 business leaders and government advisers. 

During a trip seeking investment for the next generation of capital infrastructure and tourism attractions, the group’s accommodation at the nearby Marina Bay Sands hotel matched the scale of potential. 

Perched on reclaimed land far beyond where the beach ever was, the mammoth hotel cost $5.7 billion and is said to be the most expensive building in the world.

Imposing on the skyline, it features three modern towers topped by a 200-metre-high deck and a giant infinity swimming pool.

Taxi drivers point proudly to the building, referred to by locals simply as “MBS”, and last week the place hummed with activity from the giant CommunicAsia conference and many Australian guests.

Mr Barr visited the Canberra stand at the conference, praising an announcement by ACT-based IT firm Intelledox of its deal with Fuji Xerox. Various small businesses and government organisations with local links used the event to spearhead meetings and potential deal-making.

A number of participants told The Canberra Times they expected public announcements in the next few months from small businesses who took part in the trade mission.

Doing deals in Singapore is a lengthy process that requires negotiation and diplomacy. Tradition dictates trust and familiarity must be in place before any discussion about partnership or investment takes place. 

Mr Barr told a business breakfast event hosted by ANZ that ACT government ministers would travel to Singapore regularly until at least 2016.  

Some sceptics, and even some journalists, deride the amount of work that actually gets done on government trade trips, but even Mr Barr’s ubiquitous smile was working overtime during the trip. 

If his visit isn’t successful in bringing home cash and co-operation, it won’t be for lack of effort. A spokesman said he attended 25 meetings in the three destinations, including 15 in Singapore.

Bundled by minders from board rooms to hotel receptions across the island, he seemed almost out of breath arriving at one reception but comfortably mixed with members of the travelling party and locals, drawing cheers when mentioning the potential direct international flights from Singapore could bring. 

Before travelling on to Hong Kong and the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, he toured Singapore’s mass rapid transit network, met with the government’s own investment corporation, private banks and financiers, and studied the new national stadium.

He conceded not every lesson Singapore had to offer would suit the ACT. The country’s media remains highly restricted and democracy isn’t always practised in the true spirit of the word.

Founding father Lee Kuan Yew and his coterie have dominated the Asian powerhouse for 30 years and the ruling People’s Action Party shows no sign of going anywhere. The PAP secured 60 per cent of the popular vote at the most recent election in 2011, representing its worst ever result. 

Tourism was a central theme of the delegation, with VisitCanberra officials hosting a speed dating-style event for travel agents, before wining and dining industry leaders and trade media at an exclusive lunch, complemented with Pialligo Estate smoked salmon and Clonakilla wines.  

Participants at both events said the lack of international flights from Singapore to Canberra Airport meant many travellers would only consider the capital as a secondary destination.

Marketing Canberra as something new for the 86 per cent of Singapore travellers who make repeat trips to Australia, officials pushed the region’s wineries, national attractions and unique nature experiences.  

The promotional efforts came as Mr Barr and Canberra Airport boss Stephen Byron met with representatives of international carriers, seeking to realise the government’s long-held ambition within months.

Scheduling of flights would spark the opening of a government-funded marketing campaign designed to boost the first-mover in both business and leisure sales. 

Already Canberra features in prominent in-market advertising campaigns coinciding with official visits. 

Mr Byron said Singapore Airlines or another carrier could expect to have significant influence over the Australian government market through a new presence in Canberra. 

For Canberra Business Council chief executive Chris Faulks, the ACT’s largest ever trade mission was its most successful.

She praised the concrete outcomes already delivered and said more were on their way. 

“It augers well for the future growth of exports from Canberra and the region to Asia and beyond,” Ms Faulks said.

“It was yet another demonstration of the exponential growth of dynamic businesses in the ACT and region – businesses that have a global outlook and are world-class in the products and services they are offering.”

Delayed by fog on departure from Canberra, Mr Barr touched down on return to Canberra on Thursday.

Just like Stamford Raffles 200 years earlier, he would no doubt be aware of the need for tangible results to continue to flow.

The arrival of direct flights, big money and public-private partnerships in the months and years ahead will be key to the trip’s long-lasting success.

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Postcard from Singapore: a key to Canberra"s future

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