It’s all about billionaire cardboard king Richard Pratt in
the papers today, with Australia’s third-richest man facing
multi-million-dollar fines for allegedly orchestrating a huge price-fixing
racket in the $1.8 billion box market. In the biggest price-fixing case since
three cement companies were fined $21 million 10 years ago, competition
watchdog Graeme Samuel yesterday launched legal action in the Federal Court
against the 71-year-old industrialist, philanthropist and Liberal Party donor
and his packaging business Visy Group, reportsThe Australian. The company is accused by the Australian Competition and
Consumer Commission of colluding with rival packaging company Amcor to fix
prices of corrugated cardboard and of agreeing not to poach each other’s
customers, including companies like Foster’s Group, Coca-Cola Amatil and
Cadbury Schweppes.

In other news, for those of you worried Australia
is becoming a racist outpost, fear not, says the Oz.
Support for multiculturalism has fallen over the years but most people still
strongly back the concept and believe Australia
is not a racist society. After the widespread publicity and debate over the
beachside race riots in Sydney, a
Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, has found
support for multiculturalism has fallen from 78% in 1997 to 70%.

Moreover, says the paper’s editorial,
confounding Germaine Greer’s prediction of “a bloody summer in Australia”, Sydney’s southern beaches have calmed down nicely. Blanket policing
has been a success, and on Tuesday NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney urged
Sydneysiders to go back to the beach.

And in breaking news, the paper reports that an Australian school teacher
who was held for seven hours last night by
Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip has been freed. Victorian Brian
Ambrosio,
assistant principal of the American International School, was hauled
from his
blue Honda sedan with his boss, Dutchman Hendrik Taatgen, about 7.30am
(4.30pm
AEDT) as they approached the school in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza.
Gunmen with ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine claimed responsibility for the abduction on the last day of
term
before Christmas and demanded the release of an imprisoned militant
leader.

Yes, of course, this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald
leads with the ACCC’s legal action against
billionaire paper and cardboard mogul Richard Pratt and his company
Visy. The ACCC lodged claims with the
Federal Court in Melbourne yesterday, naming Pratt – who faces up to
$425 million in fines if convicted – among others who the watchdog
alleges were involved in 14 separate incidents of price fixing. And the
states have launched their challenge against the Howard Government’s workplace changes,
after the NSW Government yesterday lodged papers with the High Court
alleging the new workplace laws are unconstitutional because corporate
regulation does not include the right to regulate employment
conditions.

Meanwhile, in local nightclub news, a Perth man who slipped while
trying to pull off a handstand on a second floor rail of a Perth club and fell on an unsuspecting clubber has been charged with causing grievous bodily harm.

And “King Richard” is front and centre of The Age‘s front
page too, with no less than eight stories on the
packaging-tycoon-and-philanthropist. If Pratt didn’t
exist already, some movie producer might have had to make him up, writes James
Kirby
.
Victoria’s richest man is a billionaire
(four times over), a philanthropist, an actor and a former footy player. He’s
also a driven, irascible, impatient outsider who is that most entertaining of
business identities, a maverick tycoon. His family came from Poland
before World War II and began making boxes for the orchard owners of
Shepparton. Pratt taught his parents to speak English and took over the family
box-making business only after a career as a professional stage actor stalled.

From one Melbourne
icon to another, Victoria’s Chadstone
shopping centre
– Australia’s
biggest – is about to get a lot bigger with a State Government decision to
allow a $200 million expansion. In a contentious pre-Christmas move, Planning
Minister Rob Hulls will today formally approve a 40,500-square-metre increase
of the Gandel-owned centre – almost half the existing shopping space.

Over at the Herald Sun,
Pratt shares the front page with “gay superstar” Sir Elton John (or something) who last night married his longtime Canadian
partner David Furnish. The 58-year-old singer and Furnish, 43, chose the
unimposing 300-year-old Windsor Guild Hall, in the shadow of Windsor
Castle to tie the knot under Britain’s
new civil partnership laws.

“Courts tough on bail at last,” says The Daily Telegraph,
reporting that two of Sydney’s “highest profile” alleged rioters were
denied bail yesterday following new laws passed in NSW Parliament, which make it difficult to be released on bail for offences
committed during riots or disturbances. And in the battle against the
bulge, the government has announced plans to hold a review into the role
television commercials play in Australia’s childhood obesity rate, with concerned parents lobbying to have junk food commercials banned from screening during children viewing times.

No Pratt for The Courier-Mail,
the paper leading with the same report – that junk-food advertisements during
children’s television shows could be banned to stem ballooning obesity among
Australian youngsters. Nutritionists and academics will argue for the bans
before a wide-ranging review of the 15-year-old standards governing children’s
television.

And ever defying the national trend, Hobart’s
city centre is having one of its busiest festive seasons on record as cashed-up
shoppers flock to town for a Christmas spending spree, reports The Mercury.
With a spell of warm weather and state schools breaking up for the year
yesterday, retailers are predicting record sales.

The Canberra Times
is shining the spotlight on Eric Hawley, a stockbroker who has been
accused of stealing away retirement savings of more than 30 clients by
engaging in churning – the process of turning over lots of shares to
generate brokerage fees. ASIC has admitted that they are investigating
Mr Hawley in relation to around $7 million.

And The Advertiser
reports on some big road works planned for Adelaide as the state
government gets ready to buy up to 100 homes to prepare the way for plans to improve access to one of Adelaide’s busiest
freight routes. The government plans to widen South Rd, between Port Rd
and Torrens Rd, and would forcibly acquire property if the owners would
not sell.

“100,000 heist was ‘a shambles,’ ” says the Northern Territory News,
as the lawyer for the man accused of stealing more than $100,000
worth of jewellery from a Darwin shop described the robbery as
“shambolic,” saying the man left his hat at the scene of the crime and
was
not in a good state of mind.

“Meet your neighbours,” says The West Australian‘s front page, the paper reporting that Indonesia
has launched a blistering attack on Australia’s treatment of illegal fishermen,
saying it should share its wealthy fish stocks with its impoverished
neighbours. An Indonesian Government spokesman told The West yesterday that Australia
was too heavy-handed in its dealings with the fishermen and should be more
trusting and flexible. He also warned Australia
should not to shoot at illegal fishermen in its waters – as Indonesia
does with illegal Chinese fishermen – because the Indonesian public’s view was
very important and the country had 230 million people.