Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

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Kristian Dowling / Getty

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

President Obama holds his first meeting with the leader of one of America's closest allies on March 24, a man whose climb to power in many ways mirrors his own. Like Obama, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd beat an older, more conservative rival to lead his country, riding a wave of opposition to the Iraq War and support for more action on issues such as health care and climate change. Both men are intellectuals from modest backgrounds, they lost fathers to car accidents at young ages, and a series of international crises are filling both their inboxes. Two of those Outback-sized dilemmas are expected to dominate their White House meeting: the global financial meltdown and the deteriorating war in Afghanistan, where Australia has roughly 1,000 soldiers. (Read "A New Face for Australia.")

Respected as a shrewd political operator with brains, Rudd, 51, is not known for personal charisma, however: a profile in London's Telegraph summed him up as "nerdy and ruthlessly determined." An online video showing him apparently eating his own earwax during a session of Parliament prompted a national chorus of guffaws, as did the revelation that the straitlaced Rudd visited a New York strip club during a visit in 2003 (he claimed not to remember much because he was drunk). The racy foray didn't cause lasting damage — in fact, one newspaper poll found 85% of respondents thought the evening's entertainment showed Rudd to be "a normal bloke." (See the special report: Australian Journey.)

Fast Facts:

•Born Sept. 21, 1957 in Queensland, Australia, the youngest of four children. Grew up on a dairy farm, where he learned horseback riding and clay target shooting.

•His father died following a car accident when Rudd was 11. His family was later evicted from their farm, and Rudd temporarily slept in a car until his mother found a place to stay.

•Joined Australia's Labor Party when he was just 16.

•Studied Chinese language and history at Australian National University and later at a university in Taiwan. Speaks fluent Mandarin. Traces his interest in the country to a book on ancient civilizations his mother gave him when he was 10. (Read "Kevin Rudd's Balancing Act.")

•Served as a diplomat in Beijing and Stockholm. Later rose to prominence in Australia's Parliament as the Labor Party's "shadow foreign minister" and as an outspoken critic of Prime Minister John Howard's support for the war in Iraq.

•Soundly defeated Howard — Australia's second-longest-serving Prime Minister — in November 2007, in a rout dubbed a "Ruddslide." Drew support by pledging to withdraw combat forces troops from Iraq and focus attention on the environment, health and education.

•Signed the Kyoto Protocol on his first day in office, fulfilling a campaign pledge and leaving the United States as the only developed nation not to ratify the climate change pact.

•Made world headlines in February 2008 with a 4-minute apology to Australia's Aborigines for their mistreatment under previous governments. He resists calls, though, for financial reparations.

•Married with three children. His wife, self-made millionaire Therese Rein, started a large employment agency and is the first Prime Minister's wife to remain in the workforce and keep her maiden name.

Quotes from Kevin Rudd:

• "The Parliament is today here assembled to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nation's soul, and in a true spirit of reconciliaton to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia."
— Delivering a historic apology to Australia's Aborigines. (New York Times, February 13, 2008)

• "I have never tried to present myself as 'Captain Perfect' — I'm not. Never have been 'Captain Morality' or anything like that. I'm not, never have been and we all make mistakes and I've made one here."
— On visiting a strip club during a 2003 taxpayer-funded trip to New York. (The Times of London, August 20, 2007)

• "How could it be that we're one of the only two developed countries in the world to refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol? I don't understand. I just don't get it."
— To then-Prime Minister John Howard, whome he later defeated, during a televised debate. (BBC, October 21, 2007)

• "My mother, like thousands of others, was left to rely on the bleak charity of the time to raise a family. It made me think that a decent social security system designed to protect the weak was no bad thing."
— Recounting his family's difficulties after his father's death during his first speech to Parliament in 1998. (The London Telegraph, November 25, 2007)

Quotes about Kevin Rudd:

• "Four years ago Kevin Rudd got drunk and took himself into a strip club. Four years ago John Howard, sober, took Australia into the Iraq war. I think the electorate can judge which one did the more harm."
—Australian Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Green party, defending Rudd after the revelation of his strip club visit (The Times of London, August 19, 2007)

• "He had a lot of power. In order to get to his boss, you had to pass the spider and he would tangle you up in his web. Everything had to go across his desk."
—Nicholas Stuart, a Rudd biographer, on his role as a state government official. (The Guardian, November 24, 2007)

• "He seems more personable, approachable. He doesn't seem arrogant — yet — and I have respect for him."
—Marcelle Freiman, an Australian voter, who backed Rudd in the country's 2007 election. (The New York Times, November 25, 2007)

• "There's a clinical side to him, and sometimes he keeps his passion under wraps. But he's genuinely funny."
—Bruce Hawker, a friend and political consultant. (BBC, March 23, 2007)

• "Possibly the most enigmatic prime minister Australians have ever elected."
—(The Economist, Jan. 17, 2008)

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See pictures of the faces and emotions as Australia's Parliament apologized for abuses against Aboriginal people.