A beaten-up opening par on the front page of today’s Australian
announces that we could have the obese, the vision-impaired and the
wheezy leading our military into battle, after the army, navy and air
force plan to relax their weight, eyesight and other key entrance
criteria to fill their recruitment quota. The falling number of
Australian military recruits has prompted a review of the entrance
criteria, with the government looking to increase the size of
Australia’s military in the face of increasing global instability. Some
more Richard Pratt news, with the Oz saying the head of Pratt’s
Visy empire was recorded meeting with Amcor executives – who have been
given immunity from any prosecution for their cooperation – to discuss
the alleged price fixing cartel
between Visy and Amcor. Pratt has denied the collusion allegations, and
the scene is set for what could be the biggest price-fixing case in
Australia’s corporate history.

And former Media Watch producer,
now freelance journalist Anne Delaney, has been found guilty of
interviewing a prisoner convicted of manslaughter for the death of her
infant son. A Brisbane court fined Delaney $750 and placed her on a
good behaviour bond.

Sydney motorists leaving the big smoke for the holidays will
be hit with sharply higher petrol prices in the country, reports The Sydney
Morning Herald
, with the gap between the city and the regions more than doubling in recent
months. Motoring associations have accused petrol sellers of price gouging
after figures revealed prices in country areas were kept high, despite the
recent falls in crude oil costs that reduced prices in the city. Meanwhile, the
building process in NSW is so flawed it’s open to abuse at almost every stage,
the Independent Commission Against Corruption has found. The corruption
watchdog produced a damning report that identifies nine areas
at risk, ranging from conflict of interest among councillors to
political
donations and the use of consultants.

And the Herald‘s Baghdad
correspondent, Paul McGeough, writes that Australia’s
$270 million wheat trade with Iraq
is in jeopardy because of a wrangle over shipping costs in the wake of an
investigation into Saddam Hussein’s rorting of the UN’s oil-for-food program.

“Prison terms for price fixers,” leads The Age
this morning, as the news of Richard Pratt’s price-fixing charges prompts
the paper to look at the government’s proposed new price-fixing laws,
which could see jail terms of up to five years for executives convicted
of engaging in the practice. The laws will not come into effect in time
to affect the Visy cardboard king’s case, although Pratt,
along with two other executives, still faces hundreds of millions of
dollars in fines if convicted. Meanwhile, beleaguered Victorian Opposition leader Robert Doyle
has come under fire after he dumped two of his main critics from
important shadow cabinet portfolios in yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle.
The move will increase the likelihood of a leadership challenge before
next year’s state election, with potential challenger Ted Baillieu
expected to come under pressure to take a shot at the leadership early
next year.

And two days before the big day, Scrooge is overshadowing
the Christmas cheer, with the paper reporting that despite a huge surge
in profits, productivity and the national economy, the long held
traditional Christmas bonus is almost a thing of the past.

“State warned of black Christmas,” says The Daily Telegraph, with the news that firefighters across NSW are preparing for “horrendous
bushfire conditions today, as an extreme fire danger warning was issued. Temperatures are expected to climb to a
sweltering Christmas Eve peak of 38C, and the Rural Fire Service has warned
that strong winds could fan flames over much of the state – with a total ban on
all fire extending until midnight tomorrow. And
in keeping with the season, Penrith captain Craig Gower has been described as
drunk and out of control” on the night he allegedly groped a teenage
girl. The claim was levelled at Gower by Olympic champion Dawn Fraser, who says
she had to comfort the “highly embarrassed and extremely upset”
daughter of league legend Wayne Pearce after she was reportedly assaulted by
Gower. Gower is sticking with his plans to wed Footy Show regular Amanda
Flynn in three weeks all the same.

Oh wow, the Telstra dome is up for grabs, says the Herald Sun.
Channel Seven are reportedly looking to sell up its stake – estimated
to be worth about $200 million – in the Melbourne sporting stadium,
with all the naming rights, food and beverage rights, signage rights
and parking rights up for grabs. The AFL, who will take ownership of
the stadium in 2025, said they would be interested in buying the
management rights if they came up for sale. And speed limit buffer zones
around small Victorian towns and are set to be axed, and 40km/h zones
to be rolled back, after the Victorian Government plans to make speed
zoning easier for the public to understand and free up traffic
congestion.

“Boom times to roll for WA,” says The West Australian,
with the WA Chamber of Commerce forecasting the state’s economy to grow
by 6.6% next financial year, which, according to the paper, is a
“nation-beating” growth rate.

The Courier-Mail
reports that a couple of Sunshine Coast police have been suspended
after allegations they offered four female prisoners cigarettes in
exchange for oral sex, with one of the women alleging that an officer
“digitally raped” her. No charges have been laid, but the Queensland
Police Service’s Ethical Standards at Command will conduct a lengthy
investigation into the accusations.

And it’s a “whale ship showdown” at The Mercury,
which reports that a Japanese whaling ship will sail into a political storm and
a flotilla of protesters when it unloads a stricken crew member in Hobart
tomorrow. Tasmanian police are expected
to help with the transfer of the sick Keiko Maru skipper, by transferring him
to a police boat in Storm Bay.
But news that the vessel would dock in Hobart fuelled outrage against whaling in
the Southern Ocean, and Greens senator Bob Brown and Greenpeace are calling on
the Federal Government to impound the boat to prevent its return to the whaling
fleet.

“I’ll kill you,” screams the rather alarming front page of
The Advertiser, with the report of more, ah, Christmas spirit: Adelaide Crows
star Simon Goodwin physically assaulted and threatened a photographer after a
drunken night with teammates spilled on to the street outside a city hotel at
about 11am yesterday. The paper
reports that a “clearly intoxicated” Goodwin pushed Advertiser photographer Tait Schmaal against a wall, before
threatening him: “If you run any photos, I’ll f…ing kill you.” But
the pictures did appear – and on the front page no less. Oops.

There’s more grizzly news at The Canberra Times. ACT police have launched “yet another murder investigation” –
this time into the brutal murder of a Chapman mother of three who was found
dead in her home. The body of 50-year-old Nanette “Sandy” Porritt, who worked as a laboratory
technician at CSIRO, was found by an unidentified family member on
Wednesday night. Police have declined to say how Mrs Porritt died, saying it’s
too early in the investigation, but Territory Investigations Group head
Detective Superintendent Leanne Close has revealed that she suffered
“severe injuries”.

And the Northern Territory Government has signed an in-principle agreement
that will guarantee the Territory’s gas supply for at least 22 years. The Northern Territory News
reports the Power and Water Corporation hydrocarbon company ENI
Australia Limited have agreed to use the Blacktip field’s deposits,
because the Territory’s current gas supply – in central Australia – is
set to run out towards the end of the decade.