In today’s Australian,
Caroline Overington reports that Robert Bowker, Australia’s ambassador
to Egypt, has been named as a key player in the Iraq wheat sales
scandal. Bowker, one of Australia’s most experienced diplomats, has
been revealed as the Department of Foreign Affairs official who assured
the UN that Australian monopoly wheat exporter AWB (formerly the
Australian Wheat Board) was not paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s
regime. But under the terms of the Howard Government’s inquiry into
corruption in the UN oil-for-food program, he may never be questioned.

Meanwhile, police in central Australia have created a multi-jurisdictional intelligence unit to tackle trafficking in drugs, alcohol and petrol in a bid to curb substance abuse in Aboriginal communities, reports The Oz.
The Substance Abuse Intelligence Desk – to be opened in Alice Springs
this week – was set up in response to petrol-sniffing and has $500,000
in federal government funds in its first year to gather intelligence
and run police operations against traffickers. And under an agreement
between police forces in South Australia, Western Australia and the
Northern Territory, criminals who supply illegal substances to
communities will face fines or lengthy jail terms.

And the paper looks at a phenomenon that’s growing as much as our waistlines: the urge to exercise.
The number of fitness centres opening across the country has soared 20%
in five years to 1,200, and with an estimated1.5 million to two million
Australians sweating it out, our bank accounts are taking a beating.

It’s a slow local news day today so the Sydney Morning Herald
leads with “Iranian leader baits West on nuclear plans.” Things are
getting heated over in Iran, with new Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad still refusing calls from US President George Bush and
European leaders to halt its nuclear program. Iran faces sanctions from
the UN Security Council if it continues to push ahead with plans to
continue its uranium enrichment program, the first step in creating a
nuclear warhead. All members of the UN Security Council, except for
China, now support taking the country to the world body.

And
another front page international yarn, although with a more solidly
Australian angle, as Fairfax Indonesian correspondent Mark Forbes
reports on tomorrow’s court appearance by “Bali Nine”
member Michael Czugaj before a Denpasar court. Within fives weeks all
nine, accused of smuggling heroin into Indonesia, will know whether
they’ll receive the death penalty. And with guilty verdicts almost
certain, a death sentence for the accused would almost certainly open a
“diplomatic timebomb for Australia and Indonesia.”

And the
political year begins to gear up, with speculation rife that Defence
Minister Senator Robert Hill, will fly off to New York to become Australia’s US Ambassador.
More speculation then as to who will fill Hill’s gap. Will it be the
new member for Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull, or Melbourne’s Andrew Robb?
Meanwhile Amanda Vanstone and an underperforming Kay Patterson may have
something to worry about if there’s any cabinet reshuffle early this
year.

Bullying is rife in the Victorian Public Service, reports The Age,
with at least one in five public servants reporting to have been
bullied in the past year, according to the government’s own statistics.
The paper reports that most of the intimidation comes in the way of
verbal threats or psychological abuse. The survey looked at 5% of the
Victorian Public Service, and was conducted by the state’s new public
service watchdog, the State Services Authority. And when not much else
is happening in the country our attention turns to sport – specifically
the Commonwealth Games and the opening of today’s Australian Open. And
Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell,
the fastest man to have ever run 100-metres, is on the borderline of
pulling out of the March Commonwealth Games, as the Melbourne gathering
starts to lose its international appeal.

“Desalination won’t work,” leads The Daily Tele,
after Sydney Water warned the State Government that a desalination
plant was not a viable option to secure Sydney’s water supply. The
rejection was delivered in a formal briefing from the head of Sydney
Water, Greg Robinson, to the then minister responsible, Frank Sartor,
as long ago as December 2003. It’s proof of official advice to the
Government from its own experts that it would be unwise to proceed –
despite Premier Morris Iemma’s plans to push ahead with a $1.3 billion,
500-megalitre plant for Kurnell. And then there’s the mafia love triangle,
involving the mafia wife, a sniper shooting, a kneecapping and secret
love. Yes, the Tele has it all today – including the Australian link to
Kate Moss’s new love… but that’s another story.

And university offers are out tonight and The Herald Sun
reports that almost 17,000 Victorians will miss out on a first-round
uni place. Both applications for HECS funded places and the total
number of tertiary places fell this year. And it’s all Hewitt and the
Australian Open in today’s paper, but in slightly more serious news,
the government has announced it will attempt to crack down on fake
emergency calls, with 61% of 000 calls estimated to be not genuine.
The Victorian Government announced it would join together with Telstra
to crack down on any emergency call pranksters. The maximum jail term
for the offence is three years.

And The Courier-Mail
reports that the massive population boom in Southeast Queensland could
be causing havoc for the state’s water supply, with water capacity
falling dramatically over the past two decades. Per-capita, water
capacity has fallen 40%, and as Queensland continues to struggle with
the effects of the drought, the problem looks set to continue, the
paper reports. And Liberal MP Jackie Kelly
has attacked the federal government’s current childcare system,
describing it as a “shambles.” She said the system was overly
complicated, and her attack is likely to put even more pressure on the
federal government to overhaul childcare.

In South Australia, there’s “fury” over a rise in parking fines, as The Advertiser
reports that councils earned a record $13 million through the fines in
the last financial year – and the extra 65,662 infringement notices are
causing concern among retailers and residents. Last year, motorists
were fined 471,833 times, an increase of 15% on the previous
year and Adelaide City Council alone employed eight new parking
officers and added an extra $1 million to its coffers through fines.
But according to retail experts, the fines are keeping people away from
the city.

The West Australian
reports that the construction union plans to issue workers on the Perth
to Mandurah rail project with disposable cameras so they can photograph
safety breaches, sparking accusations it’s looking for excuses to
justify more strikes. The Master Builders Association claims the union
is attempting to find breaches now that safety concerns are the only
valid reason for which it can legally go on strike, since the
Australian Industrial Relations Commission last month issued a ban on
strikes unless there was reasonable concern for the workers’ health or
safety which could not be addressed by other means.

Families Minister Kay Patterson says we can expect child care to be a Budget priority, reports The Canberra Times,
after prominent Liberal MP Jackie Kelly broke ranks with the Federal
Government to call for a radical overhaul of the system. An estimated
175,000 children are on waiting lists for care nationwide, and Kelly
says that Australia’s child-care system should be rebuilt from scratch,
with the Government’s $11.5 billion surplus fuelling the revamp.

And in the Northern Territory, paramedics are refusing to work from a base station because of safety fears, reports the NT News.
Ambulance officers at the St John Ambulance Parap depot plan to move to
the Casuarina centre this morning – because the building’s health and
safety problems includes a rat infestation, building debris, structural
defects, the presence of asbestos and a lack of beds for paramedics.