Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has urged the international community to put pressure on major oil producing countries to curb high fuel prices. Mr. Rudd said OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, has to increase supply. The Australian leader made the comments as he prepared to travel on an official visit to Japan. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Kevin Rudd has insisted that a "blowtorch" should be applied to OPEC to put pressure on the oil cartel to increase production to help alleviate high fuel prices. The Australian Prime Minister said countries around the world were struggling with rising fuel prices, which he believes could be eased an increase in the supply of oil.

He will take his message to Japan, where leaders of the G8 grouping of major industrialised nations meet next month.

Mr. Rudd says OPEC needs to act decisively.

"Every head of government across the world is dealing with this challenge now and it goes to global oil supply in large part - the role of OPEC," he said. "OPEC need to open the production lines to a greater extent, increase global oil supply. They've done it a bit in response to representations from President Bush. The G8 provides an opportunity to apply the blowtorch to the OPEC organisation and it's time that happened."

Last week, Kuwait's Oil Minister Mohammad al-Olaim said while OPEC was willing to produce more oil if the market required it, the organization was not responsible for high prices. OPEC produces 40 percent of the world's oil. Its current output stands at about 32 million barrels per day.

Australia's fuel prices are relatively low by international standards, but petrol is more expensive than ever at about US$1.63 a litre.

The country's reliance on private cars and rising inflation make fuel prices a potent political issue.

The Rudd government came to power in a general election last November, promising voters that it would tackle the rising cost of fuel.

Analysts say the Prime Minister's failure to do so is threatening to damage his popularity.

Mr. Rudd's visit to Japan will be dominated by talks on trade and is also likely to feature the sensitive issue of whaling.

Australia has made no secret of its distaste and opposition to Japan's annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean. Earlier this year Canberra sent a Customs ship to monitor the whaling fleet to gather evidence for possible international court action.

Mr. Rudd's four-day trip will be the longest visit to Japan by an Australian Prime Minister.