The Nationals are planning a direct assault on safe Liberal
Party seats at next year’s election as part of an Australia-wide campaign to
win back support in the bush, says the lead story in The Australian today. After days of consideration, senior Nationals
MPs and party figures will hold a council of war in Sydney
today to plot a strategy to win back lost esteem and territory.

But support for the embattled Nationals has kept the
Coalition well ahead of Labor as parliament prepares to return to Canberra,
says Dennis Shanahan in the paper. According to The Australian‘s
latest Newspoll, the Howard Government has maintained a clear lead over the ALP
despite Coalition tensions over the defection of Victorian senator Julian
McGauran and bad publicity over the AWB deals with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The Sydney Morning Herald‘s latest
Herald Poll concurs, showing voters are also apparently convinced John Howard will
stick around to fight the next election.

Meanwhile, the head of the Iraq kickbacks inquiry, Terence Cole, is
considering recommending “a large number” of criminal charges, reportsThe Australian, as new evidence
emerged yesterday of a culture of bribery inside the government-controlled
Australian Wheat Board stretching back to 1997. The inquiry into Australian
involvement in the UN’s oil-for-food scandal heard that wheat deals with Pakistan
in the late 1990s, when the wheat board was still under Howard government
control, included $US12million in payments to an “agent.”

And it took just two hours into the trials for one of Australia’s
champion swimmers to christen Melbourne’s
new Commonwealth Games pool with a world record yesterday, says the paper, with 23-year-old Queenslander Jade Edmistone breaking her own 50m breaststroke
record in her first race in what will become “the nation’s pool of dreams” in
just six weeks.

It is not Snowtown yet, says Stephen Gibbs in The Sydney Morning Herald.
But the
gruesome reputation that must follow news of fire-fighters finding two
bodies
burning in barrels in bushland South of Sydney is being shared around
the
Shoalhaven towns of Nowra, Tomerong and Huskisson for now. Acting on
information given voluntarily by 27-year-old
Stacey Lea-Caton – that a man and woman had been tied up at a house in
Nowra and were to be killed – detectives have arrested two suspects.

The Productivity Commission’s latest report comparing the
performance of the states has painted a lacklustre picture of NSW in key areas
of health, aged care, policing, jails and some parts of education, despite big
rises in spending in recent years, reportsThe Sydney Morning Herald.

“Kindergarten cops,” says the front page of The Daily Telegraph, the paper reporting that an exodus of senior detectives and a recruitment drive in the past three
years has left NSW with its most inexperienced force in a decade – one third of
the state’s police having less than five years experience on the beat. Also gracing the Tele‘s
front page, a photo of “Cypriot giant-killer” Marcos Baghdatis and his model
girlfriend, the paper reporting the popular young tennis star is heading to Sydney
to catch up with relatives and to thank his supporters in the Harbour city.

The Age also leads
with the news that Federal Government ministers face being called before the AWB wheat
scandal inquiry after a warning from Cole yesterday that he was looking at
a “large number” of criminal offences. Prime Minister John Howard was
also forced to concede that he would consider widening the inquiry, says the
paper, as he defended himself against suggestions he knew AWB was
paying hundreds of millions in bribes to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

In international news, Denmark has warned citizens not to go
to Saudi Arabia and Gaza gunmen said any Danes or Norwegians who came there
would face attack, as Muslim fury mounted over newspaper cartoons of the
Prophet Mohammad, reportsThe Age. Denmark
has defended the Jyllands-Posten newspaper’s right to publish the satirical drawings that seemed to portray the
prophet as a terrorist and which a Norwegian paper has run too.

Victorian breast cancer patient Tania Calley has been forced
to sell the family home in a desperate bid to buy the expensive drug Herceptin,
says the Herald Sun‘s lead story, the
paper reporting that the mother of four needs up to $70,000 to get the drug,
which isn’t subsidised by the Federal Government for women in the early stages
of breast cancer.

“Race hate base,” says The
Advertiser
‘s front page headline, the paper reporting that white supremacist “crusaders” have gained a foothold in Adelaide,
setting up a racist website attacking “Jews, niggers and mud races,” and
soliciting for donations. Advocates of a racial holy war, the group operates
through an Oaklands Park
post office box linked to an Australian Business Number, says the report. The
website of the
White Crusaders of the RaHoWa (racial holy war) contains blatantly racist
material, including statements bemoaning the fact Adolf Hitler “unfortunately
did not break the back of the Jewish monster.”

Canberra Defence staff had to crawl for their lives to avoid
being trapped by the collapsing roof of their two-storey building, reportsThe Canberra Times. Rescue workers were amazed that only four people suffered
minor injuries after the top of the Australian Staff and Command
College’s Geddes building – only five years old – gave way. Workers said they heard what sounded like a “small
explosion” in the roof before it collapsed. An investigation into the accident is now under
way.

Millions of dollars worth of property contracts signed in Queensland
in the past two months appear to be flawed, reports the Courier-Mail, with seemingly
minor errors, including documents being faxed in the wrong order or the wrong
sized typefaces used in contracts, potentially rendering sales void.

Tasmania’s “road rules shame” dominates The Mercury‘s front page,
a report from the state’s peak motoring body, RACT, claiming that as many as
two-thirds of Tasmanian drivers are putting their own lives and the lives of
others at risk because they don’t know basic road rules.

Grim headlines dominate NT
News
‘s front page, with the news that a 15-year-old girl has died after she was brutally bashed and raped
outside an Alice Springs school. Police said the girl
was dragged from Grevillea Drive
to a sandy mound near Centralian Senior
Secondary College’s
entrance where she was raped by at least one man early Saturday. Police are
still searching for her attackers.

And new food labelling laws are a shambles, according to the
front page of The West Australian
today,
with a string of State Government departments refusing to take responsibility
for policing new laws forcing retailers to reveal where food comes from, despite
them being due to come into force in just four months.

Peter Fray

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