Singapore might hold the key to Canberra’s evolution to a capital of the 21st century.
Just two weeks after delivering his latest budget, Treasurer Andrew Barr departs for the Asian powerhouse on Wednesday, leading what has been described as the ACT’s largest-ever overseas trade delegation.
His eight-day trip, which includes Hong Kong, brings together business, cultural and academic leaders, in a collaboration aimed at bringing home investment, potential job creation and opportunity for Canberra.
Mr Barr says Canberra can learn from Singapore – which squeezes more than 5 million people into just 700 square kilometres.
"We’ve been working in the past 12-18 months to soften the ground for this particular opportunity," he said.
"It will be my third visit to Singapore as Economic Development Minister and obviously we’ve had specific agenda items, like aviation, which we’ve been pursuing in partnership with the airport, so there’s been co-operation.
"But the benefits of such a diverse group coming this time is, I think, to build a broader base and depth to the relationship between the two cities.
"Of all the places in Asia, Singapore is critical to Australia but between Canberra and Singapore there are also some fantastic opportunities."
The trip may prove crucial to Canberra's economy as the federal government cuts jobs and spending.
Mr Barr's visit coincides with the communications and ICT conference CommunicAsia as well as the opening of the new national stadium, the Singapore Sports Hub.
The Brumbies will play in the World Club 10s event on Saturday, helping launch the city's new "CBR" branding on the international stage.
Mr Barr will discuss the government's broad roster of investment and infrastructure priorities, including the City to the Lake urban planning project, light rail and a new city sports stadium proposed for the Parkes Way.
Direct international flights to Canberra Airport will be a key agenda item, as Mr Barr and Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron again meet with Singapore-based international carriers.
The trip comes after Singapore’s President Tony Tan Keng Yam held a meeting with Chief Minister Katy Gallagher at the Hyatt Hotel on Sunday before planting a pink silk tree at the National Arboretum. A spokesman for Ms Gallagher said her meeting focused on the government’s efforts on international flights.
Dr Tan will also meet Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, and visit Adelaide and Perth.
Australia and Singapore maintain some of the closest bilateral relations in south-east Asia. A free trade agreement was signed in 2003.
Mr Barr said, ‘‘As part of the lead-up to this [trip], and post my visit, there’s a significant in-market presence for tourism. It will raise awareness of Canberra as an investment destination and a tourism destination.
‘‘In the past few quarters of international tourism data, south-east Asian markets headed by Singapore have been growing rapidly.’’
Representatives of 39 organisations will join the trip including Canberra Business Council chairwoman Michelle Melbourne.
Her own company Intelledox, providing software and IT services, already has two government contracts in Singapore.
“The diversity in the shapes and sizes of the businesses that are interested in expanding their presence in Singapore through this trip, or reaching out to start to look to do businesses there, is very exciting,” she said.
“Intelledox has had an active presence there for about two years and we fly in and fly out, servicing it from Canberra. We’re thinking it’s time to expand our footprint there in a more serious way.”
She said other businesses will benefit from Mr Barr’s spearheading of the delegation, with his presence opening doors for start-ups and well-established companies.
“To have a minister with you in a meeting or at a function brings a lot of gravitas in Singapore,” she said. “They have lot of challenges and opportunities that are very similar to Canberra and diplomacy is always key when you’re travelling overseas.”
Ms Melbourne praised the ACT government and Canberra Airport Group for their approach to building connections with international airlines.
Other delegates will represent ActewAGL, communications firm Contentgroup, the National Zoo, the Australian Institute of Sport and the National Convention Centre.