SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull became one of the first world leaders to speak to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump this week, but only after one of Trump’s old golfing buddies was asked to chip in.
Turnbull confirmed that Australian golfing great and former world number one Greg Norman had been tapped to help facilitate the introduction to Trump, who includes building golf courses among his many business interests.
The connection enabled Turnbull to jump the line of world leaders waiting to get the new U.S. leader on the phone, well ahead of larger allies like Britain and Japan, after Trump’s surprise win in last week’s presidential election.
“In diplomacy and policies, you use lots of networks. All I can say is we have great networks, great connections and Greg Norman is a great Australian,” Turnbull said on Thursday.
“(Norman) is a great advocate for strengthening the Australian-American alliance. One of our greatest assets is the more than million Australians who live overseas,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Australia’s unconventional diplomatic approach reflects the apparent confusion that surrounds the incoming Trump administration as it works on the transition before he is sworn in as president on Jan. 20.
Norman, a U.S. resident, described Republican Trump as a friend and said he was happy to help.
“Donald, for all his bluster, rhetoric and aggressive style of messaging, caught the attention of those that needed a rudder for their forgotten ship and beliefs,” Norman said in a statement.
“Like it or not, he made a poignant and powerful impact on a base that sat sadly alienated,” he said.
Damon Hunt, a spokesman for Turnbull, said Australia had already been using its network of expatriates in the United States to canvass both candidates well before Trump unexpectedly defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s contact information was handed on to Australia’s ambassador in the United States, Joe Hockey, who then relayed it to Turnbull, Hunt said.
“The only thing that was unusual about it was that we built relationships with both sides. A lot of countries and certain politicians just picked the Democrats, we were never going to back just one horse,” Hunt said.
Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait