“Houdini Hewitt,” screams the front page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald,
as the paper provides readers with a fantastic close-up image of Hewitt
in action in his first-round five-set thriller against Czech Robin Vik.
Hewitt’s “goose was plucked” as his opponent served to take the match
in four sets, says Richard Hinds. But an hour later, following Hewitt’s
remarkable victory, the crowd had seen one of the most exciting matches
held at Melbourne Park for quite some time.

And the AWB scandal continues to grow as more evidence comes to light
that former AWB executives met with members of Saddam Hussein’s regime
to use the UN oil-for-food program
to pay Aussie oil company Tigris Petroleum millions of dollars owed to
it by Iraq. The second day of the inquiry into the scandal found that
AWB officials had discussed the move – a breach of UN sanctions against
Iraq – with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials.

And an issue of great national significance, with Australian manufacturers finally winning the right to call their woolly boots ugg boots,
following years of confusion after it was discovered that an American
company had bought the naming rights in the 70s. This week the news
came through that the Australian trademark regulator, IP Australia,
would remove the term ugg from their trademark database, which would
allow anyone in Australia to use the name.

“Downer told of Iraq deals,” leads this morning’s Australian,
following more news out of the AWB inquiry that Foreign Minister
Alexander Downer had met with Defence Minister Robert Hill on a “number of
occasions” to discuss the Iraq deals. The new evidence is bad news for
the Howard Government which has sought to distance itself from the
corruption allegations in the UN oil-for-food scandal, directly
implicating Downer, who may be separately investigated by the inquiry.

Australian uranium being sold to China could end up being used in a nuclear weapon,
after the emerging superpower failed to make the guarantee to
Australian diplomats negotiating the sale. Australia is expected to
push for the safeguards, although similar agreements struck with
nuclear weapon states do allow Australian uranium to be mixed with
uranium from different sources for defence purposes.

Those looking to make a buck out of the property market have been turned off by cooling house prices
and a lacklustre market, with loan approvals falling 3.7% in November
according to the ABS. But while investors may have gone elsewhere,
first home buyers are looking to get in on cheaper prices.

Melbourne’s Age reports that local doctors have stepped up their pressure to lift the ban on a
controversial abortion pill. David Grundmann, a high-profile abortion doctor
whose Melbourne clinic performs most of Australia’s late-term abortions, is
among a growing list of specialists applying for permission to import the
abortion pill RU486 – adding to pressure on federal Health Minister Tony Abbott
to lift the ban on the drug.

Meanwhile, the paper has the latest on
the AWB scandal, reporting that the local wheat exporter plotted with officials from Saddam
Hussein’s regime in Iraq to rip off the UN’s oil-for-food program. The revelation came
at a commission of inquiry yesterday, where evidence of the plot and secrecy
surrounding it, emerged in damning internal AWB memos that were tabled at the
inquiry. It was also confirmed during yesterday’s hearing – headed by Terence
Cole, QC – that investigators are examining the role of the Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade in the AWB affair.

And then there’s “the agony and the
ecstasy
” of Lleyton Hewitt’s “awfully close” first-round win over 25-year-old Czech Robin
Vik. It mightn’t have been an easy victory, but it was won Hewitt-style, writes
Alan Atwood: “fall in a hole; flirt with disaster; squeak out of danger –
somehow – and live to fight another day.”

Sydney is in the midst of a “house price crush,” according to The Daily Tele.
A record number of NSW families lost their homes last year as growing numbers
struggled to meet mortgage commitments, reports the paper. The number of
homeowners facing the threat of a court repossession order on their property
has risen by a third – and they’re typically “traditional Aussie mum and dad
families” between 30 and 50 years of age. And you’ve been warned – the Olsen twins are
coming

to Sydney. The American stars made famous in the sitcom Full House – and
now more famous for their eccentric fashions – are heading down under to promote
the launch of their clothing lines Boho Fever and To Dye For.


“Comeback King,” is how the Herald Sun
runs the Hewitt story this morning, while elsewhere, the paper reports that Aussie actor Heath Ledger was obviously
very disappointed by his loss to Philip Seymour Hoffman for the Best
Actor gong at yesterday’s Golden Globes in Hollywood. His film
Brokeback Mountain won Best Picture, but Ledger failed to show up to
talk about the film following the award ceremony – obviously, says the
Herald Sun, because he was downright disappointed. Organisers of the
Amazing Human Body Exhibition in Melbourne have dismissed criticism of
the exhibition, which includes 20 skinned human corpses,
saying the perfectly preserved bodies will be informative and
interesting. The exhibition has been flushed with controversy in the
US, Britain and Asia, where it was criticised for its graphic nature
and detail.

The
Courier-Mail
has more on the Caboolture Hospital fiasco, reporting that closure of the hospital’s emergency
services could cost Queensland $67 million in health funding, after the Federal Government
yesterday ordered an investigation into possible breaches of the Medicare
Agreement. The State Government yesterday announced it was a step closer to
restoring full services at Caboolture, with an agreement for three senior staff
from the Mater Hospital in Brisbane to reopen the emergency department on Friday.

Tasmanians are suffering at the hands
of bullies
, with one in four Tasmanian public-service workers saying
they’ve been bullied in the past 12 months, says The Mercury. In a survey of nearly 11,000 state public servants,
26% said they had been bullied or harassed in the past year, and 40% (or two in
five) said they had witnessed bullying and harassment. And continuing its
campaign for increasing road safety
in the state, the paper tells the story of country police officer Angela Lang,
who sees first-hand the “devastating impact fatal road crashes have on
Tasmanian families.”

The
Advertiser
reports that the speaker of the SA parliament, Bob Such, has called for teenage
vandals to be forced into “dinkum” work camps as an alternative to current
community service penalties. His call was prompted by new figures showing
vandalism cost councils up to $775,000 each in 2004-05. Such has called for
vandals to do “real physical work to understand the damage they cause… not Mickey
Mouse pretend work picking up lolly wrappers.”

And in the wake of Geoff Gallop’s
resignation as WA Premier, The West
Australian
reports that state Energy Minister Alan
Carpenter returns to Perth in the front of the race for the top job. And as chief
rival Jim McGinty yesterday called on Labor to avoid a damaging ballot brawl,
the party was rocked again when Environment Minister Judy Edwards announced her
resignation from Cabinet, hot on the heels of Gallop’s shock announcement. With
Labor desperate to return stability to government, Mr Carpenter, 48, is
expected to come to an arrangement with Mr McGinty by the weekend with the
Labor caucus endorsing the deal early next week

Oh and there’s a goodie this morning from the Northern Territory News,
as the paper breaks the important news that pranksters broke into the
headquarters of the Darwin City Council and urinated in the helmets of
the Council’s parking inspectors. The council is not holding its breath
about when or if the offenders will be caught, but the helmets have
been replaced – at a cost of $950 – and everyone is happy again.