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What MPs on both sides of the aisle have to say about President Halimah’s opening of Parliament address

SINGAPORE — From the importance of safeguarding jobs to the role of an effective Opposition, several newly sworn-in Members of Parliament (MPs) had different takeaways on the most salient aspects of President Halimah Yacob’s address at the opening of the 14th Parliament on Monday (Aug 24).

Due to safe-distancing measures, MPs were divided between the Parliament House (above) and The Arts House.

Due to safe-distancing measures, MPs were divided between the Parliament House (above) and The Arts House.

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SINGAPORE — From the importance of safeguarding jobs to the role of an effective Opposition, several newly sworn-in Members of Parliament (MPs) had different takeaways on the most salient aspects of President Halimah Yacob’s address at the opening of the 14th Parliament on Monday (Aug 24).

Speaking to TODAY at Parliament House and at The Arts House, MPs of all political stripes shared their thoughts on what stood out for them in the President’s Address — an important speech that traditionally sets out the five-year agenda of the new Parliament.

The speech had covered a range of bread-and-butter issues confronting Singapore amid the Covid-19 pandemic, including jobs and the economy, social mobility, the nature of politics and the Singaporean identity.

Ms Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower

“We have a younger generation… who have grown up in a different Singapore from their parents and their grandparents. Their hopes for the future are important to our nation (and) we need to be able to understand their aspirations.

“We need to be able to translate their aspirations into policies. We also need to put in place programmes that bring their aspirations to life.

“Another important area is how we can strengthen the Singapore identity, and how diverse voices can find expression in Singapore.

“I see this as a natural progression for Singapore and we will have to harness this energy to take ourselves forward.

“(However), we have to be clear-eyed. With the expression of diversity, there is also the risk of polarisation.”

Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State for Home Affairs, and Sustainability and the Environment

“It is a timely and quite a frank speech that touches on all the key issues we are dealing with in this current crisis.

“I thought she has outlined many important, slightly longer-term issues we have to deal with, such as a fair and just society.

“The other takeaway is she is trying to unify us, and at the same time encourage us to have more diversity of voices and different viewpoints.

“What is clear is, given what we have gone through, it cannot be business as usual. We really have to think out of the box and look at how we can have different conversations, different ideas and different ways of doing things.”

Mr Louis Ng, MP for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC)

“(The President’s Address) is an important speech about how we need to change and transform, about how we need to view the risks and challenges ahead as opportunities for us to improve, to transform our economy and to change to become a much more sustainable and inclusive society.

“It is also about how we have to resist the forces that try to divide us, and we should unite and write the next chapters of the Singapore story together. Together, we will take Singapore forward.”

Ms Cheryl Chan, MP for East Coast GRC

“The Government recognises that people have genuine concerns about work pass holders, especially people who are in the middle of their careers. But we are, after all, a country that is dependent on trade, and our competition is not merely domestic but also regional and global.

“So we shouldn’t stay closed (to foreigners), and we have to continue to create enabling pathways for workers to make themselves relevant with different skill sets. That’s not just about saying that we must only have pure Singaporeans in all the jobs, considering that these jobs can be based anywhere in the world.”

MPs at The Arts House. Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information

Ms Denise Phua, MP for Jalan Besar GRC

“What struck me was the desire for a just and fair society and doing it together as Singapore. (However), the devil is in the details. To get the right solutions is not going to be so straightforward.

“What does it take to strengthen the social safety net, and how will the rest of Singapore work together and even be part of this solution?

“There are no easy solutions to uplifting the poor, the vulnerable, the low-skilled and the disabled. We will require solutions at the systems level, beyond individual acts of kindness.”

Mr Seah Kian Peng, MP for Marine Parade GRC

“Over time, we will need to continue examining (our social safety nets). For example, are there gaps that have arisen, or are there some holes that have become bigger?

“The biggest welfare we can give anyone is providing jobs… and giving people a trampoline so that people who have fallen can bounce up, and bounce up quickly.

“To me, those are important areas. Over the next few years, the whole of Government will have to see how, on the one hand, it can (protect) jobs, and on the other, how to help those without a job. There will also be periods of time where we will need to provide more social assistance.”

Mr Louis Chua, MP for Sengkang GRC

“President Halimah Yacob notes that amid the worst recession faced by Singapore, the Government has acted decisively and is committed to helping all Singaporeans overcome this crisis.

“We welcome the additional support granted to local companies and Singaporean workers. At the same time, based on what our MPs are seeing on the ground, we sense an increasing level of anxiety and concern around issues related to the cost of living, jobs and livelihoods over the last few months.

“Hence, it is also important for us to continue exploring ways to provide direct and effective support to workers and the most vulnerable in society, and continue strengthening our social safety nets.

“The Workers’ Party will study the President’s speech and deliver our response in Parliament.”

Ms Hazel Poa, Non-Constituency MP from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP)

“There were quite a few key changes that I found very appealing. Firstly, there is this recognition of the sense of job insecurity that Singaporeans view with respect to our foreign labour, the size of our foreign labour force, and the promise that this concern will be addressed.

“There is also this sort of indication that there will be a rather permanent change in our mindset towards social safety nets.

“Another development I liked was... that the model of meritocracy that we currently have will have to evolve with changing circumstances. There's a recognition that what we have now is not working out in certain areas, and we need to improve it.”

Mr Leong Mun Wai, Non-Constituency MP from PSP

“The most important point (by Mdm Halimah) was on jobs. It is very good to hear that jobs is still the top priority in this Parliament, as well as the very open-minded approach that the Government seems to be taking in terms of inviting new ideas and inviting the Opposition to take on a more proactive role.

“The PSP, in collaborating together with the Workers’ Party, hope we will be able to put up more constructive contestation and (with that) we can move the policy formulation to a higher plane, achieve better policies and have better outcomes going forward.”

Related topics

Parliament Opposition Halimah Yacob

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