John Howard is likely to reshuffle his cabinet within weeks
after Peter Costello formally and publicly rejected any leadership challenge
and resigned himself to staying on as Treasurer until the Prime Minister
decides to step aside, says The
Australian
‘s political editor Dennis Shanahan,
leading news on the paper’s front page. The prospect of a ministerial shakeout
has become more likely because Costello’s declaration means the tension between
the pair has been defused and Howard can now work with his deputy on the
changes without sparking a leadership challenge.

And back to the AWB oil-for-food scandal,
kickbacks paid by Australia’s
monopoly wheat exporter to the regime of Saddam Hussein were put into a bank
account used to finance a $13 million slush fund for families of Palestinian
suicide bombers, says the paper. US Government and CIA
documents reveal a trail of blood money flowing from companies now known to
have taken bribes into bank accounts in Jordan,
which were then used by the Iraqi Government to pay money for deadly bombings
or to buy weapons.

The Oz‘s front
page also carries a photo of Barry Marshall,
a professor of microbiology at the University of Western Australia, being
measured up the tuxedo he will wear to this weekend’s Nobel award ceremony in
Stockholm – where he will be the co-winner of the world’s most prestigious
prize for medicine. And Australia’s
literacy looks set to be reignited today with the release of a damning report
into teaching methods that supports a push for back-to-basics learning.

“City divided as symbol laid to rest,” says the lead
headline in The Age, “the symbol”
being recently hanged drug trafficker Van Tuong Nguyen, whose funeral in Melbourne
yesterday was attended by hundreds. Dozens were mourners, “but some had also
come for the spectacle,” writes the paper’s Karen Kissane – who was presumably
part of the latter group – “keen to immortalise their own small fragment of it.”

The paper also gives front page space to Costello‘s
major
backward step in his push for prime ministership; and to the news that
three-quarters of the $1 billion pledged by the Australian
government for Indonesia’s tsunami reconstruction is being directed away from
the devastated areas.
Of the $663 million in grants and loans detailed by Foreign Minister Alexander
Downer in Jakarta yesterday, only
$35 million is allocated for the tsunami-hit province
of Aceh. Of the $950 million so far
allocated in grants and loans after the Boxing Day tsunami, just over $220
million will be spent directly in the province, says the paper.

The front page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald
reports on the most important change to family law in 30 years, with
the federal government today expected to introduce a bill into the
House of Reps that forces the court to consider whether children in
custody disputes should spend equal time with both parents. Attorney
General Philip Ruddock’s office said the changes were designed to make
sure both parents could spend significant amounts of time with their
child, and not just be “Disneyland dads or Movieworld mums.” And on the
same day a youth was arrested for bashing a lifeguard,
violence has broken out at Sydney’s Cronulla beach after ethnic gangs
flocked to the popular beach, urged in an email to re-claim the beach
as their own.

And there’s a change
among the NSW legal fraternity, with the age old traditional dress of
magistrates, the mufti, being shelved in favour of the more nondescript plain black robe.
The idea behind the change is to give magistrates, particularly women,
greater anonymity and offer them a greater degree of security, although
a spokesperson for the NSW Attorney General said the robes were not
compulsory dress.

“Ghost town,” says the Herald
Sun
‘s intriguing front page headline, the story reporting Victoria
will be locked down if bird flu strikes.
Under radical plans unveiled by the State Government, Melbourne would become a
virtual ghost town as sporting venues, concerts, churches, cinemas, the casino
and other areas where “many people congregate” would be shut down should a case of
human-to-human bird flu occur. In other news, Premier Steve Bracks’s teenage
son was the victim of a suspected drink-spiking at schoolies celebrations in
Lorne, says the paper. Nicholas Bracks,
18, was found wandering “dazed and confused” on Lorne beach after going out for
drinks with friends. Bracks Jr did not tell his father he suspected someone had
slipped him a mickey until he returned home at the weekend, at which time a
branch of Victoria Police responsible for the safety of politicians, foreign
dignitaries, diplomatic staff and their families, was immediately notified.

“Costello’s Surrender,” screams the front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph
after the Treasurer, for the first time, publicly ruled out challenging
John Howard for the Liberal leadership and Prime Minister’s post,
saying he was likely to still be Treasurer come next May. The Treasurer
told journalists yesterday that he was sick of talking about the
leadership, and that he wouldn’t challenge Howard, full stop. And
breaking news that’s probably not in your copy of the paper this
morning, after US air marshals shot and killed a man
fleeing from a plane at Miami Airport after he claimed he had a bomb in
his bag. He fled from the plane and was shot in the jetway between the
plane and the airport.


A senior Liberal MP has called for widespread reforms and
cuts to South Australia’s
taxation system, claiming the tax take has risen 35% since the election of the
Rann Government, says The Advertiser.
Martin Hamilton-Smith,
who in October mounted a failed challenge for the party’s leadership, has
broken ranks with his colleagues to demand tax cuts.

“I did it” – The
Mercury
splashes its front page with the Perry Mason-esque confession, made by a Tasmanian man yesterday, when he revealed at an attempted murder
trial that he – not his sister – injected his mother with insulin. Michael
Grant’s revelation came after the presiding judge, Acting Justice Michael Hill,
granted him immunity from prosecution in the case.

The Courier-Mail
reports that Former Queensland primary industry minister Gordon Nuttall
is likely to be saved from prosecution after the state’s Crime and
Misconduct Commission recommended criminal charges be laid over claims
he lied to parliament. State Parliament will decide whether Nuttall
faces prosecution, with Premier Peter Beattie expected to recall
parliament and use his Labor majority to spare the disgraced minister
the shame of facing criminal charges.

The Northern Territory News
goes into tourism mode as it reports, and we use the term loosely, on
the “raw beauty” that has befallen Kakadu and other parts of the
Territory after unexpected early wet season rains. The contrast between
now and a few months ago is, reportedly, “stark.” And The West Australian
reports that controls on the sales of “hundreds” of types of cold and
flu tablets will tightened next month across the state, with many
customers forced to hand over photo id before purchasing the drugs. The
move is intended to restrict people from using the common drugs to make
illicit drugs such as speed. While The Canberra Times
has the intriguing story of an Australian Protective Services officer
who has been accused of performing unauthorised medical procedures on
patients at a Canberra public hospital. David John Cantello was caught
masquerading as a medical student, giving injections and using testing
equipment on the unknowing patients.