MORNING RUSH: news, weather, sport, traffic and online buzz

8.23am That's it from us this morning as Emma Spillett attends to other duties. Have a great Thursday & enjoy the sunshine.

8.18am Don't forget the Santa Claus pub crawl is on this Saturday. Dress up, drink responsibly.

8.13am SPORT: NRL premiers Sydney Roosters have finally locked in a new one-year contract with their veteran captain Anthony Minichiello

8.11am LOCAL NEWS: Around 100 Heart Foundation walking group members gathered at North Wollongong on Wednesday to walk the Blue Mile and promote heart health. 

8.06am BREAKING: ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher believes any High Court decision to strike down the territory’s same-sex marriage laws will force the federal parliament to act. The court is scheduled to hand down its decision on a Commonwealth challenge to the laws at midday today. (AAP) 

8.04am WORLD NEWS: The German state of Bavaria announced on Wednesday it had scrapped plans to publish a new academic reprint of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" with critical commentary when its legal power to ban the book expires in 2015. (SMH)

8.01am Peppa Pig is going to be at Stockland Shellharbour today!

7.59am LOCAL NEWS: A Mangerton man who stabbed another man in the stomach during a heated argument was acting in self-defence, a court has heard.

7.57am Let's have a look at what's making news in your Mercury today - there is plenty of good stories including:

*Gujarat NRE Coking Coal employees have been told the company needs to shed 20 per cent of its workforce by January. Chairman Jasbir Singh announced a "workforce restructure" on Wednesday, saying about 90 job losses would come mostly from voluntary redundancies

*Wollongong police have urged the public to pick up a phone instead of taking to a keyboard when reporting crime. The advice came after a Facebook group called "Move the junkies out of the Wollongong Mall & CBD", had been established in response to "drug-affected, undesirables who congregate and infect the local community".

*A baby boy police allege was violently shaken by his father a week ago has died in hospital.

*BlueScope Steel will lose at least $33 million in revenue a year when Holden shuts down local car manufacturing in 2017. BlueScope Steel supplies 14,000 tonnes of steel worth about $18 million directly to Holden to make vehicles in Australia each year.

7.55am Good morning & happy Thursday if you're just joining us! Let's have a look at the weather, traffic and trains to ease you into this lovely Thursday.

WEATHER It's going to be a partly cloudy day but much cooler than yesterday with a top of just 24 degrees. (It was gorgeous yesterday though, right?!) There will be some wind around & there is a high fire danger. Right now, it's 19 degrees in Albion Park and 21 in Bellambi. (And about a 100 in this office as the a/c doesn't come on until later!)

TRAFFIC Everything looks clear on our roads and for the drive to Sydney. Don't forget Macquarie Pass will be closed today from 9am to 3pm for road works. Motorists are advised to use Picton Rd.

TRAINS There is a good service on the South Coast line.

7.52am Want a family pass to the Hawks v Wildcats game on January 4? We're giving them away! Enter here but do it quick, entries close Sunday.

7.50am Asylum seekers are being subjected to humiliating treatment and appalling conditions on the Manus Island detention centre in a deliberate effort to pressure them to go back to where they came from, Amnesty International has alleged.

7.48am LOCAL NEWS: The work of Wollongong's art scene will jump from walls and computer screens into your living room, with the launch of a new publication documenting the region's current crop of creatives. Art collective OKYO has published Wollongong Creatives In Print, a collection of work from 58 photographers, artists, designers, illustrators and creative businesses.

7.46am BREAKING:  A teenager has been charged with bashing a fellow motorist with a wheel brace on the NSW Central Coast. About 8.15am yesterday, a 30-year-old man was driving an orange Ford Fiesta at West Gosford and spoke briefly through his car window to the 17-year-old, who was driving a silver Mitsubishi Lancer. At an intersection on the Central Coast Highway, police say both drivers stepped out of their cars, the teenager armed with a wheel brace. He allegedly assaulted the man, before fleeing the scene. Police soon found the teen and he was charged with reckless wounding and affray.He was granted conditional bail to appear at children’s court on January 17. (AAP)

7.44am LOCAL SPORT: International triathlon stars Aaron Royle and Gwen Jorgensen will headline a red-hot field at the upcoming Wollongong Australia Day Aquathon.

7.42am Keen to keep your calories in check while dining out this festive season? Check out this great article from the SMH today.

7.38am STRANGE BUT (MAYBE) TRUE: The South African government says it is trying to get to the bottom of a scandal of the fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. The international deaf community is up in arms as claims emerged the interpreter on stage at Mandela's memorial service was a fake.

7.36am LOCAL NEWS: An Illawarra commuter claims afternoon trains are now so crowded under the new timetable, people have been unable to get on. Read more from Blackbutt's Bob Cooper here.

7.33am I got all excited yesterday when I thought there was going to be a Love Actually 2. But this spoof trailer filled my heart with gladness all the same.

7.31am BREAKING: Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he wants Toyota to continue manufacturing in Australia and has already been in touch with the company in the wake of Holden’s departure. Mr Abbott says he spoke with Toyota Australia president and chief executive Max Yasuda on Wednesday night, after Holden announced it would cease manufacturing in Australia in 2017.He says Toyota is different to Holden. (AAP)

7.29am SPORT: Darren Hibbert is scheduled to be interviewed by ASADA tomorrow after his legal representatives fast-tracked the meeting to help resolve the drugs scandal. Hibbert, an employee of Advanced Sports Nutrition and an associate of Stephen Dank, was originally scheduled to appear before ASADA on December 19. However, with the drugs probe threatening to drag on into next year, the man dubbed ''The Gazelle'' has welcomed the chance to tell investigators his side of the story

7.26am Don't forget to grab copies of the Mercury next week - we'll be covering the UOW graduation ceremonies & the region's HSC results.

7.24am HSC students are picking easier subjects and arriving at university ill-prepared partly because universities have decided not to mandate required knowledge for entry into certain degrees, education leaders acknowledge. (SMH)

7.22am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Rumours are abounding that Ryan Gosling has had a nose job. I choose not to believe this one - the man is perfect in every way :)

7.20am The Figtree Community Carols are on this Saturday. Entry is free, with entertainment and singing provided by primarily local talent. Low cost barbecue and other food vendors are available together with a selection of rides for all ages. The evening concludes with a fantastic fireworks display.

7.18am LOCAL NEWS:The Illawarra's pubs, bars and taverns have the lowest workplace law compliance rate in the state. Just 38 per cent of the region's drinking hot spots audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman were found to be adequately following workplace requirements, compared with 70 per cent statewide.

7.16am BREAKING WORLD NEWS: New Zealand police searching for missing Australian tennis coach Paul Arber say a body has been found in the Waikato River. Arber, 38, was last seen early on Sunday morning walking in and out of the river in north Hamilton, about 120km south of Auckland.

7.14am It’s the season of giving so we’d like to give you a $100 Coles Group and Myer Gift Card. Simply subscribe to an Illawarra Mercury print and digital subscription package for just $25 every 4 weeks. Hurry, offer ends December 18, 2013. Subscribe by calling 4221 2234 between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

7.12am Saw this post on Mamamia yesterday  - a photographer tracked down two strangers who look identical and made them pose together. There was a similar story in Marie Clare magazine a few months ago. Amazing - goes to the theory that everyone has a twin out there, right?

7.10am The South Coast Labour Council has called on state and federal government leaders to distance themselves from a councillor who made disparaging comments about Wollongong City Council workers and their union. Read more on the ongoing stoush between Bede Crasnich & the USU here.

7.08am STRANGE BUT TRUE: An Australian publisher has acquired the global rights to bring the lives and loves of the American daytime TV drama The Bold and the Beautiful from the small screen to the page.

7.06am LOCAL SPORT: Hawks guard Tyson Demos is wary of a resurgent performance from the Sydney Kings' big three when the two sides meet for the second time in a week on Saturday.

7.04am Don't forget Birds of Tokyo are playing @ Waves this Sunday @ 7pm. General Admission $41.50 + bf (presale).

7.02am CELEB GOSS ALERT: They'll be no flying for Angelina Jolie - find out why the FAA has reportedly banned her from piloting her personal plane.

6.59am WORLD NEWS: The photographer who caught Barack Obama in the act of taking a ‘selfie’ at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service says he’s sad that such a trivial moment has eclipsed the emotion of the ceremony.

6.57am Let's have a look at what's making news in your Mercury today - there is plenty of good stories including:

*Gujarat NRE Coking Coal employees have been told the company needs to shed 20 per cent of its workforce by January. Chairman Jasbir Singh announced a "workforce restructure" on Wednesday, saying about 90 job losses would come mostly from voluntary redundancies

*Wollongong police have urged the public to pick up a phone instead of taking to a keyboard when reporting crime. The advice came after a Facebook group called "Move the junkies out of the Wollongong Mall & CBD", had been established in response to "drug-affected, undesirables who congregate and infect the local community".

*A baby boy police allege was violently shaken by his father a week ago has died in hospital.

*BlueScope Steel will lose at least $33 million in revenue a year when Holden shuts down local car manufacturing in 2017. BlueScope Steel supplies 14,000 tonnes of steel worth about $18 million directly to Holden to make vehicles in Australia each year.

6.55am Good morning & happy Thursday if you're just joining us! Let's have a look at the weather, traffic and trains to ease you into this lovely Thursday.

WEATHER It's going to be a partly cloudy day but much cooler than yesterday with a top of just 24 degrees. (It was gorgeous yesterday though, right?!) There will be some wind around & there is a high fire danger. Right now, it's 15 degrees in Albion Park and 20 in Bellambi. (And about a 100 in this office as the a/c doesn't come on until later!)

TRAFFIC Everything looks clear on our roads and for the drive to Sydney. Don't forget Macquarie Pass will be closed today from 9am to 3pm for road works. Motorists are advised to use Picton Rd.

TRAINS There is a good service on the South Coast line.

6.53am TV/FILM NEWS: The nominations for the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Awards are out - check out all the nominees below.

6.51am LOCAL NEWS: Illawarra motorists who use LPG are being hit with a double whammy – higher prices and gas shortages. The two issues are unrelated but have come at a bad time with Christmas holidays just weeks away

6.49am Rugby league star Blake Fergusonhas been convicted of indecently assaulting a woman at a Cronulla nightclub while out celebrating his State of Origin selection.

6.47am Have you entered our Christmas lights competition yet? Entries close this Sunday - we'd love to see your finely dressed house! Enter via the Merc's iphone app for your chance to win great prizes.

6.45am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Drew Barrymore has revealed the gender of her second baby - she's having another girl!

6.43am Hundreds of people may have been exposed to HIV and other infectious diseases after they received treatment at a Macquarie Street hair replacement clinic. An investigation by public health authorities has found evidence of poor infection control practices, including problems with the cleaning and sterilisation of surgical instruments and equipment at the clinic run by Angela Katarina Campbell in Suit 23 at 193 Macquarie Street.

6.42am The Mercury will be giving out player cards at the Hawks upcoming home games. Come and see the gang at the Mercury table to collect each card. Get the whole team!

6.39am TV NEWS: The cast & crew of Channel 10's The Project teared up last night as they farewelled co-host Dave Hughes. Oh, sniff!

6.36am LOCAL SPORT: Don't miss this Saturday's paper for the top 10 national sport moments of 2013, as voted by the Merc sport desk.

6.34am Don't forget the Shellharbour City Carols by Candlelight event are on tomorrow night at Reddall Reserve, Lake Illawarra. The festivities get underway with kids entertainment from 5.30pm followed by the two-hour carols spectacular from 6.30pm. Santa Claus will make a special appearance along with some of the region’s most talented singers and musicians, and the will end with a grand finale of fireworks. A fun night for the whole family!

6.32am LOCAL NEWS: A baby alligator, two pythons measuring more than two metres in length and a chameleon were among the more unusual animals seized during a police raid on a house in Bingara Avenue, Dapto yesterday.

6.30am A baby born on Wednesday in Hunters Hill can expect to live two years longer than one born in Bankstown, according to data to be released today. And rates of avoidable death in suburbs such as Liverpool, Fairfield and Campbelltown are 50 per cent higher than those on Sydney's north shore. The figures from the National Health Performance Authority give an unprecedented insight into the variation in life chances between different parts of the natiom.

6.28am LOCAL SPORT: A jury has found Illawarra champion harness racing driver Greg Bennett not guilty of bribing a corrupt steward, who the defence said had told a "big fat lie" to shift blame from himself.

6.27am WORLD NEWS: Time magazine has named Pope Francis its person of the year, hailing the head of the Catholic Church as a new voice of global conscience since taking office in March.

6.26am Wollongong City Gallery is holding audio description tours of its artworks for vision impaired adults today from 10.30am to 11.30am.

6.25am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Could baby no. 2 be on the way for Beyonce and Jay Z?

6.23am Did anyone check out Alicia Keys at Allphones Arena last night? Apparently the show was quite good, check out a review here.

6.22am LOCAL NEWS: Hubba bubba, orange sorbet and burnt caramel gelato are on the menu at Bulli Tops after a $500,000 transformation within the Southern Gateway Centre. Gelato Emporium, which also sells coffee, savoury snacks and wholesale quantities of gelato, opened this week under blue and white-striped awnings.

6.19am Can you help us solve the mystery of the missing presents? Reader Esther wrote to us: "My husband found a box on the side of the road near waterfall about 12pm today. The box is full of Christmas presents, with the present tags stating from Joe, Beth and Samuel. Maybe someone knows these people so we can return the gifts." Let us know if you can assist!

6.17am This is a picture of a dog wearing a onesie. I repeat, a onesie. I'll be over in the corner exploding from the cuteness.

6.15am Want to win passes for you and four friends to see "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues?" Then enter here, because we're giving them away! Comp closes Sunday so get in quick. 

6.13am BREAKING: Three 14-year-old boys in Year 8 have agreed to leave Sydney's elite Cranbrook School after a sexual incident involving a 14-year-old girl at “a gathering” in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

6.12am So, I may have been a little premature in announcing yesterday that Morning Rush will wrap up for the Xmas break this week. Watch this space, we'll have an announcement on our Xmas plans soon!

6.10am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Kate Winslet has given birth to a baby boy with her new man. Awww sweet.

6.08am  Let's have a look at the national headlines, courtesy of the SMH:

*The PM flew back into the country yesterday and into a ferocious blame game over the Holden closure and the immediate threat of worse to come if Toyota also goes.

*Toyota will learn at lunchtime today if it will be given the chance to put a new pay deal to its 2500-strong Altona workforce.

*ABC chairman Jim Spigelman has sought to defend the national broadcaster against attacks from ‘‘conservative’’ critics, announcing a number of external audits to assess any bias in its reporting.

*Mitchell Johnson has welcomed England’s intention to try and hit their way out of their funk against him with a simple message: ‘‘Go ahead.’’

6.07am Let's have a look at what's making news in your Mercury today - there is plenty of good stories including:

*Gujarat NRE Coking Coal employees have been told the company needs to shed 20 per cent of its workforce by January. Chairman Jasbir Singh announced a "workforce restructure" on Wednesday, saying about 90 job losses would come mostly from voluntary redundancies

*Wollongong police have urged the public to pick up a phone instead of taking to a keyboard when reporting crime. The advice came after a Facebook group called "Move the junkies out of the Wollongong Mall & CBD", had been established in response to "drug-affected, undesirables who congregate and infect the local community".

*A baby boy police allege was violently shaken by his father a week ago has died in hospital.

*BlueScope Steel will lose at least $33 million in revenue a year when Holden shuts down local car manufacturing in 2017. BlueScope Steel supplies 14,000 tonnes of steel worth about $18 million directly to Holden to make vehicles in Australia each year.

6.02am If you're just waking up on this glorious Thursday morning, let's have a look at the weather, traffic and trains.

WEATHER It's going to be a partly cloudy day but much cooler than yesterday with a top of just 24 degrees. (It was gorgeous yesterday though, right?!) There will be some wind around & there is a high fire danger. Right now, it's 14 degrees in Albion Park and 19 in Bellambi.

TRAFFIC Everything looks clear on our roads and for the drive to Sydney. Don't forget Macquarie Pass will be closed today from 9am to 3pm for road works. Motorists are advised to use Picton Rd.

TRAINS There is a good service on the South Coast line.

6am Good morning Illawarra and happy Thursday, December 12 - only 13 sleeps until Christamas. Gee whiz, where has this year gone?! Stay with us this morning for all your news and goss - we've got plenty!

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