Incoming Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said yesterday he had a friendly chat with former US vice president Al Gore about global warming, underscoring Australia's new focus on protecting the environment since elections held on the weekend.
Rudd, whose Labor Party on Saturday swept conservative Prime Minister John Howard's government from power after 11 years, has made ratifying the Kyoto pact on limiting greenhouse gas emissions one of the first tasks of his rule -- one of two campaign promises that will likely rile close ally the US.
While security, economic and diplomatic ties between Canberra and Washington will probably remain friendly under Rudd's government, the White House is losing a key confederate in opposition to the Kyoto Protocol on fighting climate change and is getting watered-down support for the Iraq War.
Ratifying Kyoto would overturn a decade-old environmental policy and leave the US isolated as the only industrialized country not to have signed the pact.
Rudd's promise to pull Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq in a phased withdrawal was also likely to ruffle relations with US President George W. Bush's administration. Hundreds of other Australian forces will remain in Iraq in supporting roles, and the country's commitment of about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan will not change.
Rudd said he spoke by telephone with Bush late on Saturday, shortly after his victory, but declined to give details, citing diplomatic protocols. Aides said the men agreed they were looking forward to working together.
Rudd yesterday said he was still taking advice on the mechanics of ratifying Kyoto, but that he hoped to make a full statement on the issue by Monday, before traveling to Bali, Indonesia, for international discussions on a successor pact.
Rudd said Gore called him on Monday to congratulate him on Labor's election, and he joked about the details of the conversation.
"`G'day Kevin.' That's what he started by saying," Rudd told reporters. "I've taught Al how to say G'day -- as you know, with some of our American friends it's very hard to get it quite right."
Rudd said: "We talked a lot about climate change, and some of the important things which need to be done globally. We will resume that conversation in Bali over a strong cup of tea -- or something stronger."
The exchange Rudd described contrasts with a period of interaction between Gore and Howard last year.
Rudd, whose government is not expected to be formally sworn in until next week, has not spelled out a timetable for implementing his plan to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq. The topic will be on the agenda when he visits Washington next year.
Rudd is already working on his domestic agenda, including curtailing unpopular labor reforms perceived to hand too much power to bosses, boosting resources for schools and preparing a formal apology to indigenous Aborigines for past government practices.
Rudd said yesterday the apology would be worded in consultation with Aboriginal people.
"The content of it will be real, meaningful, substantive," Rudd said. "It's important to get it right."
Polls show most Australians support the idea of an apology for practices that helped make Australia's 450,000 Aborigines the country's most impoverished minority -- though the issue remains divisive.