Treasury officials are predicting a near-record
budget surplus of more than $14 billion next year, giving Peter
Costello the chance to deliver big tax cuts, reports The Australian today. The Treasurer is about to announce an upgraded budget forecast on the
back of strong company tax revenue and lower government spending. And gangland lawyer Zarah Garde-Wilson has accused
Victoria Police of engaging in an elaborate conspiracy aimed at forcing
her out of the legal profession. Garde-Wilson, who represents a string of
Melbourne underworld figures, said the plan to target her had been put
together by officers of the Purana gangland taskforce.

The SMH splashes with the headline, “Water solution a drop in the ocean”: Sydney’s planned desalination plant will be smaller than
expected and funded by taxpayers, not the private sector, after the
NSW Government decided it needed more flexibility on operating the
energy-intensive plant, announcing it will commission the smallest plant on its drawing board – one
capable of producing 125 megalitres a day – at a cost of up to $1.3
billion. But critics of the decision say Sydney’s water shortage should be tackled with a host of little initiatives, like
funding backyard water tanks and giving lessons in washing machine use.

The Age leads with news that consumers can expect to pay more for their favourite fish as the
Federal Government prepares to buy back as many as 600 commercial
fishing licences in a $220 million package bid to rejuvenate
dwindling stocks. And senior Liberal MP Bruce Baird, chairman of the parliamentary Amnesty group, has called for federal cabinet to “take into
account” the execution of Nguyen Tuong Van when it decides whether
to give Singapore Airlines access to the lucrative Australia to Los Angeles air
routes.

The Courier-Mail reports the death of Kenyan-born Brisbane
woman Rita Sula, who died along with her 15-year-old daughter in a fire in her
Toowoomba home, which police are saying could have been murder. As her
21-year-old son clings to life at Brisbane’s
Princess Alexandra
Hospital, the deaths have “ripped
out the heart of Toowoomba’s African community in which Mrs Sula was regarded
as a matriarch.” Meanwhile, the Federal Government’s IR shake-up faces possible defeat or amendment in the face of a stand by the Nationals in Queensland.
Their stance will be decided by a 45-member committee on Friday, and if they
agree to oppose the Bill, and Senator Barnaby Joyce follows its ruling, the
Government will be unable to implement their changes.

The Daily Telegraph runs with an exclusive by Luke McIlvern, featuring a letter outlining the
reasons Nguyen Tuong Van has been condemned to death by hanging for attempting
to smuggle heroin into Australia. The letter, from the Singapore Government to
the Speaker of Australia’s parliament, says that the 25-year-old must die for
his crime as he was carrying enough “for more than 26,000 doses of heroin for
drug addicts. He knew what he was doing and the consequences of his
actions.” And in other news, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has been
transformed
from “grinch to great” according to the paper, now that she’s promised to put
on a world-class Christmas light show – after last year she was accused of
skimping on the city’s festive decorations.

Aside from the picture of Dame Edna Everage
– “A vision in glittering green and
gold. Dripping with necklets of sparkling diamonds. Emerald rings, exotic
gemstones, twinkling on every finger” – the Herald Sun’s front page is dominated by the continuing tale of the battle for the Victorian
Liberal Party leadership. Current party leader, Robert Doyle has issued a “battle
cry,” daring Ted Ballieu to challenge him for the leadership – or get on with
the job.

“Abolish the Upper House,” screams the front page of The
Advertiser
, quoting the desire of SA Premier Mike Rann. In the biggest change to the
electoral system in the state’s history, voters will be asked to choose between
the total abolition of the council, significant reform of the chamber, or no
change to the current situation. South Australians will vote on the issue in 2010.

At The Canberra Times, the ACT has been accused of “using water as a weapon” to stifle cross-border
development (at sites like the Queanbeyan area) so it can protect its revenue
base, which is dependent on land and house sales. Also making the front page is
World Vision chief Reverend Tim Costello’s National Press Club address
yesterday, in which he said that rather than swatting “the mosquitoes” of terrorism,
democratic governments should be looking to “drain the swamps” of
poverty where they breed.

At The Mercury, it’s all about Betfair, as the Bill goes through the final rounds of the Upper
House before it’s passed. But in a presentation to the ten independent members
of the Legislative Council, officials from the Australian Racing Board warned
that Betfair in Tasmania would
lead to “an influx of criminals to Tasmania,
money laundering through banks and rigged and crooked horse races.”

The NT News
leads with the latest developments in the Peter Falconio murder trial,
with a woman giving the court details of a “drug-fuelled night” she
spent
travelling across the Nullarbor with Bradley John Murdoch and that he
had also tried to sell her a gun.