“PM protects Christmas Day holiday” trumpets The Australian‘s front page, reporting that employees who refuse to work on key public
holidays such as Christmas Day and Anzac Day will be protected from the
sack under changes to the Howard Government’s industrial relations
reforms. The family-friendly concession comes as the
Government begins a push to secure parliamentary backing for its
industrial relations package in the next fortnight, before the
Christmas recess. Meanwhile, as church leaders and members from both sides of
Australian politics have called for the nation to stop and observe a
minute’s silence on Friday when convicted drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong
Van is due to be hanged, John Howard warned Singapore yesterday that
Australians’ anger would linger if Van was executed.

But the SMH
leads with the story that the Prime Minister will attend the PM’s XI
cricket match
on Friday, the day of Nguyen’s scheduled
execution – and he believes Australians will understand his decision.
Mr Howard says he has a duty to attend the game in Canberra,
and it’s not his decision to schedule the hanging on that day. And more
revelations about the Michelle Leslie
case have come to light this morning, with her Sydney lawyer, Ross
Hill, conceding that more than $130,000 sent by wealthy friends to
figures in Jakarta
to help free her had disappeared and was rumoured to
have been used for bribes. Hill said he had sacked two men from
Jakarta, and several
associated lawyers, after he took control of the case about three
weeks after Leslie was arrested with two ecstasy tablets in

The Daily Telegraph
reports that the mother of Nguyen Tuong Van has begged Singaporean authorities to
allow her to hug her son one last time. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer yesterday backed Kim Nguyen’s plea,
asking the Singaporean Government to relax their prison protocol so Mrs
Nguyen can physically touch her son before he is hanged at 6am on
Friday. Mrs Nguyen has so far only been allowed one-hour daily visits
with her son but in this final week she will be able to stay with him
between 9am and 5pm each day. The paper also reports that the NSW Liberal Party has
been “plunged into open warfare” after losing the blue-ribbon seat of
Pittwater in one of the largest swings against a party
in political history. The parliamentary wing and the party organisation spent yesterday
brawling over the loss of the jewel of NSW seats – vacated by former
leader John Brogden – and what was once thought “impenetrable Liberal

The Age, like The Oz,
runs with a front page photo of the two Melbourne friends of Nguyen,
Brownyn Lew and Kelly Ng, who have arrived in Singapore to say goodbye
to their friend. After leading a “passionate campaign to save his
life,” the paper reports that Ng and Lew realise that only a miracle
can save
convicted drug smuggler Nguyen from the hangman. With his mother, Kim
and brother Khoa, Ms Ng and Ms Lew
will be among the last people to see Nguyen alive. And in local news, the Royal Children’s Hospital will be rebuilt in Parkville, in a
controversial move critics say will not be in the best interests of
patients, their families or the sensitive environment of Royal
Park. After a search across Melbourne for
a suitable site, Premier Bracks is expected today to announce
the exact location of a 340-bed hospital, which will occupy part of
Royal Park.

The Herald Sun splashes with “VCE CHEATS”:
VCE students have been caught sending messages on mobile phones, taking calls
during toilet breaks and getting others to sit their final exams. Exam centres
lodged 73 reports with the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority this
year about rule breaches – including alleged cheating – during this month’s
VCE exams.

Wild weather is making news in Queensland, with The Courier-Mail
reporting that tens of thousands of
homes were blacked out, a mini-tornado wreaked havoc and flash flooding
reported in low-lying areas as a line of storms swept through southeast
Queensland yesterday afternoon. And almost half of all Australians
aged under 25 have used illicit drugs and view their use as acceptable, reports the paper. Although possession or use of
most illicit drugs could result in a jail sentence, research shows more than
six million people of all ages were undeterred. Almost half of them took
illicit drugs other than marijuana and 2.5 million in total had used illicit
drugs of some kind in the past year. The most common reason given
for taking drugs was curiosity, according to the National Drug Strategy
Household Survey.

The Advertiser reports that a dying mother of
nine-year-old triplets is pleading with the state’s MPs to pass legislation
this week so that her children and others can receive compensation. Asbestos victim Melissa
Haylock’s only wish before she dies is to know her children will be looked
after when she’s gone. But time is running out for
Mrs Haylock, 42, because there are only four parliamentary sitting
days left to get the Dust Diseases Bill through. In the nation’s capital, The Canberra Times reports that the number of executive level staff in the ACT Public Service earning
more than $120,000 a year has ballooned by 20 positions at a time when
the Government is working to shed up to 260 rank-and-file jobs.

And in Tasmania, the State Government risks
blood on its hands by refusing to upgrade the Derwent Valley’s horror highway, says a
community spokesman, reports The Mercury. Derwent Valley Chamber of
Commerce president Lester Blackwell yesterday warned the Government against
waiting until calling an election to fund a major Lyell Highway upgrade. His warning comes in the wake
of another crash at the weekend on the notorious stretch of the highway between
Granton and New Norfolk. It was the fourth serious crash on the road this month
and two people have been killed in as many weeks.

In WA, Attorney-General Jim McGinty
is considering referring to the Corruption and Crime Commission Opposition
Leader Matt Birney’s admission that he added 18-month-old share information to
the parliamentary financial interests register without telling anyone, reports The West. Mr McGinty said he had
received preliminary legal advice that Mr Birney’s behaviour was in breach of
the law and that the early indications were that he was in trouble. And another croc story for The NT News
front page – “Croc caught where kids walk” – with a 2.2m saltwater
crocodile, believed to have escaped from the Darwin Crocodile Farm,
found on a road in a residential area.