The opening of the 12th Parliament marks a new phase of Singapore’s development. Over the last 46 years, we have overcome the basic challenges of development and transformed our society. Working as one people, we have grown a diversified economy and created good jobs for Singaporeans. We have built education and healthcare systems that take care of our people, homes for all our families, an outstanding living environment and a strong SAF and Home Team to keep ourselves safe. Together, we made Singapore a home we share and a nation we are proud of.
We must now build our future in a new environment. Our society is changing: A younger generation brings new expectations, while older Singaporeans stay healthier and live longer. Our economy is changing, as we upgrade ourselves to find our niche in the new global economy. Our politics is changing too, in response to these social and economic trends. But one thing stays the same – we seek to do our very best for our country and make it the best home for all Singaporeans.
Our goal: a better life for all
Our shared goal is to create a better life for all. We want every Singaporean worker to hold a skilled, well-paid job; every family to live in an affordable, comfortable home; every young person to develop himself fully and pursue his dreams; every senior citizen to stay active and to live with dignity.
To achieve this, our economy must grow. This is basic to improving our lives. High rates of growth will become more challenging as we grapple with the limits of our land area and population size, and as our income level reaches that of developed countries. But we should still make 3- to 5-per-cent growth per year, and bring everyone along, provided we work together closely and wisely.
Growth is not an end in itself. We seek quality growth, by improving every job, raising the productivity of every worker, and helping companies innovate. We seek inclusive growth that benefits all citizens, not just a lucky few. With high quality, inclusive growth, we can afford to invest in our people, our country, and our future.
Our success is defined not just by material progress but also by our values and ideals. We want a fair and just society that ensures the well-being of every citizen; a gracious and compassionate community whose members care for one another; and a truly special Singapore, where our children can grow to be the best that they can be.
What does all this mean for Singaporeans? For lower-income Singaporeans, Singapore will continue to be a country where you can improve yourselves, and do well as the country progresses. You will get more support to upgrade your skills. The vulnerable and unfortunate can rely on our social safety nets such as Workfare, ComCare and Medifund. You will not be left to fend for yourself. We will help you to help yourself, and especially your children.
For the majority in the middle, Singapore will always be a country where you can enjoy the fruits of your labour, and have ample opportunities to move ahead. You have worked hard to provide for yourselves and your families. We will help you to cope with the rapid changes and growing competition in the world. There will be more skills upgrading programmes for workers, including PMETs; more pathways to educate your children, especially at the tertiary level; and every opportunity to own a home for your family. Singapore will always be where you can settle down, raise your family, and enjoy meaningful and fulfilling lives.
For those who do exceptionally well, Singapore will continue to offer many opportunities to excel – a secure, nurturing base camp from which you can scale the heights of the world.
At the same time, we hope that you will feel a sense of responsibility to your fellow citizens, and will contribute much to the society which helped you blossom. By helping others, whether through public service, volunteerism or philanthropy, you will strengthen our social compact.
For our senior citizens, Singapore will always be your home, where you can spend your silver years with peace of mind. Your generation did much to build today’s Singapore. Your experience remains precious. You deserve our full support. Your CPF savings and HDB flat will help to take care of your basic needs. We will help you to remain active and healthy, keep healthcare affordable and ease the burden on your families who are caring for you.
For the young, Singapore will be the place to pursue your dreams and fulfil your promise. We will do our utmost to help you develop yourself and succeed in life. Our heavy investments in education are meant for you. We hope you will absorb the sound values which have helped Singapore succeed – hard work, perseverance, cohesion, and a sense of mutual obligation – and which remain relevant today.
Beyond your own families and careers, you have the opportunity and responsibility to work with other citizens, young and old, to improve on what you have inherited, and keep on transforming our nation for the better.
For all citizens, you will always have a place in Singapore, regardless of your background, race or religion. Singapore will be your home where you and your families belong; where we are all anchored by our shared sense of history and common destiny; where we dare to dream, because we can make our dreams come true.
The Government has a comprehensive programme to work towards these goals over the next five years. There are no short cuts or easy solutions, and no way to keep out global competition. We have to work hard to upgrade ourselves and our country. We will face tough choices which will be unsettling and sometimes painful. But so long as we are united in engaging our hearts and minds in this shared endeavour, we will succeed.
New political environment
To carry out this programme, the Government will work closely with our people. It will reach out to all Singaporeans. It will engage citizens more extensively on issues, tap ideas and foster a greater sense of shared ownership. Singaporeans are active partners in our shared future, not passive bystanders as we progress. Citizens need to make the effort to think through the issues, weigh the options, and make the compromises and choices.
One important platform for engagement is the new media. The Internet is a tremendous tool to empower individuals, link us up with one another, and mobilise people for social causes. But the new media also creates real challenges.
On the Internet, truth is not easily distinguished from misinformation. Anonymity is often abused. Harsh, intemperate voices often drown out moderate, considered views. Other countries struggle with this problem too. We must find ways to use the new media constructively, to connect with the digital generation and sustain fruitful conversations on issues concerning us all.
Our politics is becoming more diverse and open. This is not just because of the new media, but because of changing generations, and more diverse expectations of Singaporeans as basic needs are increasingly met. More voices want to be heard; more people are contending to represent different groups and interests. The composition of Parliament reflects this. We can expect more diverse views and vigorous debates in the House. This is positive for Singapore.
But in the heat of the political tussle, we must not forget that we all share the same goal, namely serving the people. Hence all sides must take a long-term, national perspective, put society’s interests above their own, and find the right way forward together despite different views and preferences. Only by getting our politics right and keeping it constructive and responsible will Singapore make progress.
Building our future together
I call on all Singaporeans to do their part and work with one another to shape our nation’s future.
The Government will help all Singaporeans to find good jobs, own their homes, and see their children gain confidence and blossom. But the Government cannot, and should not, try to do everything by itself. Singaporeans play an equally important role.
Strong families are the building blocks of a resilient society. Whether it is supporting fellow family members, looking after elderly parents, or nurturing the next generation, families provide the best care, warmed by the bonds of kinship and love.
Beyond their own families, I hope that Singaporeans will get together to create a more vibrant civil society. We want to harness the energies and ideas of our people, be it to tackle social issues, promote the arts, or protect the environment. Singaporeans should participate actively, develop their own solutions, and do their part for the community. Voluntarism, supported by the Government where necessary, will strengthen our society and our sense of shared ownership.
Even as we pursue our different interests, we must also deepen our sense of common purpose. Our diversity must not divide us. Fault lines in our society have to be carefully managed. We have done well in strengthening racial and religious harmony. Now we must try hard to prevent a new fault line from forming between local-born Singaporeans and recent immigrants. The Government is slowing the inflow to ensure that new arrivals not only contribute economically, but also embrace our values and integrate into our society. Singaporeans, for our part, should help them become part of our Singapore family, just as our forefathers settled here in earlier generations.
Ultimately, Singapore belongs to all of us. Each one shares in Singapore’s progress and future, and each has a contribution to make. We must continue to strengthen our bonds and build an inclusive nation that we can all be proud of.
While focussing on our domestic concerns, we must not lose sight of our external environment. The world economy is going through a very difficult period. The serious fiscal problems in the United States will not be solved soon. Nor will the European debt crisis, and the problems with the Euro currency. These troubles will affect the world economy, which will likely be sluggish for an extended period, and could well dip into another recession. This will inevitably affect Asia, and definitely Singapore.
Fortunately, Singapore has built strong foundations. We have a well-diversified, financially sound and competitive economy. We have adequate reserves to help see us through tough times. We have a well educated, hardworking workforce – the best in the world – and a strong tripartite partnership.
As a responsible member of the global community, we work with the United Nations and other international organisations on trans-border issues which concern us all. We enjoy good relations with our ASEAN partners. The SAF and Home Team are vigilant in protecting our country and our security.
Keep Singapore special
Nobody knows what surprises the coming years will bring. We must stay strong, cohesive and alert, especially to potential threats to our unity, prosperity and security. This is how we have overcome difficult challenges before, be it Separation, terrorism, SARS, or the global economic crisis. These shared trials have strengthened our bonds, and helped us to mature as a nation.
What Singapore has achieved, very few others have done. Here we have created something unique – a global city at the heart of emerging Asia; a multi-racial society living harmoniously in a tropical garden city; an exceptional nation, defying the odds of history. Let us build on this strong foundation together, to give all Singaporeans a better life and a brighter tomorrow.