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

8.30 That's it from me this morning. Have a lovely day, and hopefully get out outside to enjoy the beautiful weather.

8.28am A quick recap of the roads and skies this morning. Weather - sunny. Roads - clear. Trains - not bad, except for a slight hiccup between Port Kembla and Wollongong.

8.26am Well, this is odd. Actor Colin Farrell had a relationship with Elizabeth Taylor.http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/celebrity/colin-farrell-reveals-romance-with-elizabeth-taylor-20131217-2ziax.html

8.23am Indeed, what is eggnog? Can you even buy it in Australia?

8.20am Most Illawarra schools are wrapping up for the summer holidays today. No doubt there are excited kids and teens everywhere. Have a safe and happy break!

8.15am Looking for something to do tonight? Drinks and food are going cheap at Little Prince

8.10am What are your fave food moments in a movie? I can't go past the choc-making scenes in Chocolat, but somehow they didn't make it onto this list!

8.05am Let's take a look at the national news, courtesy of the SMH

The federal government has cut billions of dollars from programs ranging from the environment to health and indigenous legal aid. The cuts come after Treasurer Joe Hockey yesterday released an update on  the federal budget.

* Nine ‘Brothers for Life’ gang associates have been arrested in a series of raids in Sydney's south-west that have also netted drugs, weapons and cash. Police swooped into homes in Yagoona, Villawood, Merrylands, Bankstown, Chester Hill and Georges Hall during the operation.

*Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has deflected questions over whether he's positioning himself for a tilt at the United Nations' top job.

* Discount website Scoopon was yesterday hit with $1 million fine by the Federal Court for deliberately misleading consumers and businesses.

8.02am Here’s what’s making headlines in the Mercury today

*Berkeley Eagles Baseball Club members are in shock after vandals used stolen cars to inflict more than $50,000 worth of damage at the community sporting facility.

*A lack of public housing and the high cost of rental properties had forced many people in the Illawarra to couch surf or to become homeless. A new federal government survey showed 244,000 Australians used homelessness services in the past financial year - an increase of 3 per cent.

*An Illawarra facial surgeon convicted three years ago of sexual offences against patients has come before Wollongong Local Court on fresh charges, receiving a 12-month suspended suspended jail sentence on appeal in 2010 after admitting to devising a bogus university study in which he tricked three young men into masturbating in front of him in 1999 and 2007.

*Wollongong Mayor Gordon Bradbery is making no apologies over the metal cages installed around gum trees in Wollongong's Crown Street Mall. He said the council had no alternative after six of the 14 tree were vandalised.

8am Let’s check out what’s happening on the roads and in the skies today

WEATHER: It’s going to be gorgeous out there this morning, with a mostly sunny day expected. Temps will reach between 25 and 30 degrees, so slip, slop, slap if you’re outside today. It's currently 20 degrees in Wollongong and warming up.There is a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon.

TRAFFIC: It’s an easy early morning run from Nowra to Sydney this morning, with no accidents or disruptions reported at this early hour.

TRAINS: There is good service on the South Coast Line.

7.58am TRAFFIC ALERT: Access to Keira Street between Market and Crown Street and Crown Lane will be closed from Monday to Wednesday nights until mid December for building work associated with the West Keira shopping complex. Night work will continue until Dec 18, weather permitting. Detours will be in place to direct motorists and pedestrians around the work. Motorists are reminded to follow reduced speed limits and the directions of traffic controllers. 

7.55am Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts, SoPopera, the Roo Theatre, Moonglow Productions and The Illawarra Grammar School have more than 40 nominations between them in the annual Canberra Area Theatre Awards, in almost every category from costume design and orchestra to best actor and actress.

7.52am Amanda Knox declared her innocence in her room-mate's 2007 murder in a highly unusual email on Tuesday to the Italian court hearing the case against her. 

Knox  spent four years in jail in Italy for the murder of Meredith Kercher. She was permitted to return to the United States in 2011 after she was acquitted on appeal, but the decision was overturned in March by Italy's highest court, which sent it back for a second appeals trial.

7.47am This restaurant in Manila has a menu dedicated to Spam. That's right, Spam. Specialties include spam and spaghetti, spam baked macaroni and spam nuggets. I'm going to say it's not at the top of my list of most-visit restaurants.

7.43am I will admit to asking my partner one or more of these questions about the cricket game that seems to last for weeks. I'm sure there are others who can relate.

7.39am Two celebrity deaths and a royal birth dominated Australian Google searches this year. The late actor Paul Walker was the year's top-trending search, the company said on Wednesday. The 40-year-old star of the Fast and the Furious movies died in late November when the the sportscar in which he was riding smashed into a tree.Another showbiz death, that of actor Cory Monteith, propelled the Glee star to the second top-trending search of the year. He died from a drug overdose on July 13, aged 31. - SMH

7.37am Pope Francis celebrated his 77th birthday yesterday, but instead of celebrating with a party at the Vatican, he spent the morning having breakfast with four homeless people often seen near the church.

7.34am With just seven sleeps until Santa gets here, think about donning your own red and white hat to help out the less fortunate. All donations for the Shellharbour Mayor’s Giving Tree appeal can be placed on the giving box located on the ground floor at the Customer Care Desk at Stockland Shellharbour and under the giving tree which will be located on level one of Council’s Administration Building, Lamerton House. Donations will also be accepted at Blackbutt Youth Centre and at the public libraries throughout the city. Residents are encouraged to leave any unwrapped gifts at any of the locations until 21 December 2013. St Vincent de Paul staff will distribute all gifts in the week before Christmas. 

7.30am Pop princess Katy Perry and John Mayer have released their debut singer together, "proving" that they're back on.

Check it out: 

7.26am And now for the daily cute animal pic! Look, the baby hedgehog is smiling!

7.21am Any additional assistance is always welcome as we head into the bushfire season.

7.18am LOCAL SPORT NEWS: Coalcliff's Billie Melinz has been selected as part of the Australian team headed to South America for the World Junior Surfing Championships in April next year.

7.14am A bus is replacing the 7.56am Port Kembla to Waterfall train between Port Kembla and Wollongong.

7.11am One very, very, very lucky person has won the country's biggest ever lotto prize. There was only one winning entry in last night's Oz Lotto draw, but who they are remains a mystery.

The ticket was purchased in Queensland, so sadly I think my chances of winning are null.

What would you do with $70 million?

7.08am TRAIN UPDATE: The 6.13am Waterfall to Kiama train will make additional stops between Thirroul and Wollongong due to cancellation of another service.

7.05am TRAIN UPDATE: The 6.59am Thirroul to Port Kembla train has been cancelled.

7.02am Let's take a look at the national news, courtesy of the SMH

The federal government has cut billions of dollars from programs ranging from the environment to health and indigenous legal aid. The cuts come after Treasurer Joe Hockey yesterday released an update on  the federal budget.

Read Ross Gittins' take on it here.

*Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has deflected questions over whether he's positioning himself for a tilt at the United Nations' top job.

* Discount website Scoopon was yesterday hit with $1 million fine by the Federal Court for deliberately misleading consumers and businesses.

7am Here’s what’s making headlines in the Mercury today

*Berkeley Eagles Baseball Club members are in shock after vandals used stolen cars to inflict more than $50,000 worth of damage at the community sporting facility.

*A lack of public housing and the high cost of rental properties had forced many people in the Illawarra to couch surf or to become homeless. A new federal government survey showed 244,000 Australians used homelessness services in the past financial year - an increase of 3 per cent.

*An Illawarra facial surgeon convicted three years ago of sexual offences against patients has come before Wollongong Local Court on fresh charges, receiving a 12-month suspended suspended jail sentence on appeal in 2010 after admitting to devising a bogus university study in which he tricked three young men into masturbating in front of him in 1999 and 2007.

*Wollongong Mayor Gordon Bradbery is making no apologies over the metal cages installed around gum trees in Wollongong's Crown Street Mall. He said the council had no alternative after six of the 14 tree were vandalised.

6.56am Let’s check out what’s happening on the roads and in the skies today

WEATHER: It’s going to be gorgeous out there this morning, with a mostly sunny day expected. Temps will reach between 25 and 30 degrees, so slip, slop, slap if you’re outside today. There is a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon.

TRAFFIC: It’s an easy early morning run from Nowra to Sydney this morning, with no accidents or disruptions reported at this early hour.

TRAINS: There is good service on the South Coast Line.

6.53am Two University of Wollongong students shared a prestigious award  at their graduation ceremony yesterday. Elise Perger and Hannah Walker were both awarded the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health medal at the University of Wollongong yesterday in a rare case of the accolade being shared.

6.49am They might drive you nuts over the festive season, but the bugs you keep swatting out at may not in fact by Christmas Beetles.

Experts from the Australian Museum say the Christmas beetles reported in Sydney's more populous areas are likely two impostors, an Argentine lawn beetle and the native chafer.

Still, my sister continues to be terrified of whatever they are.

6.46am NEWS:  Nine ‘Brothers for Life’ gang associates have been arrested in a series of raids in Sydney's south-west that have also netted drugs, weapons and cash. Police swooped into homes in Yagoona, Villawood, Merrylands, Bankstown, Chester Hill and Georges Hall during the operation.

6.43am Today is Bake Cookies Day! What a great excuse to try out some biccie recipes for next Wednesday! 

6.38am 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. With this subscription package, you’ll get the best of both worlds with the Mercury delivered to your door each morning, plus full access to the Digital Edition. Hurry, offer ends December 18, 2013. Subscribe by calling 4221 2234 between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

6.32am It's officially one week until Christmas today. If you too are stressed about hosting the big day at your place, check out former Masterchef Adam Liaw's tips to a more organised, and therefore more relaxed, lunch.

6.28am A big shout out to everyone celebrating their birthday today (cough, which may include myself, cough)! You share your special day with Christina Aguilera, Katie Holmes, Keith Richards and Joseph Stalin. Oh, and Brad Pitt hits the big 5-0 today. Can you believe it ladies?

6.24am SPORT NEWS: Australia has finally brought home the Ashes. I may not personally enjoy having the cricket dominate my television all summer, but good on you guys!

6.21am Singing Christmas carols is a special tradition to share with your family and friends during the festive holiday. So round up your family, grab a picnic rug and head to the city’s beautiful Botanic Garden on Saturday 21 December 2013, 6pm to 9pm. There will be Christmas carolling and musical and dance performances from The Conservatorium of Music. Free entry!

6.18am LOCAL SPORT NEWS: The Illawarra's premier rugby league competition will feature just six teams next year after Berkeley notified the Illawarra Coal League board that it will not field a first grade side in 2014. Read the full story here.

6.16am Can you spot yourself and your kiddies at the Wiggles concert yesterday? Check out our gallery here.

6.13am HSC students across the region have been able to access their results from 6am this morning. Good luck to all!

Two Illawarra students, Caitlin Strattton and George Lysandrou were recognised for their outstanding efforts at an awards ceremony in Sydney for students who had come first in one or more of their subjects.

6.08am Let's take a look at the national news, courtesy of the SMH

The federal government has cut billions of dollars from programs ranging from the environment to health and indigenous legal aid. The cuts come after Treasurer Joe Hockey yesterday released an update on  the federal budget.

*Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has deflected questions over whether he's positioning himself for a tilt at the United Nations' top job.

* Discount website Scoopon was yesterday hit with $1 million fine by the Federal Court for deliberately misleading consumers and businesses.

6.05am Here’s what’s making headlines in the Mercury today

*Berkeley Eagles Baseball Club members are in shock after vandals used stolen cars to inflict more than $50,000 worth of damage at the community sporting facility.

*A lack of public housing and the high cost of rental properties had forced many people in the Illawarra to couch surf or to become homeless. A new federal government survey showed 244,000 Australians used homelessness services in the past financial year - an increase of 3 per cent.

*An Illawarra facial surgeon convicted three years ago of sexual offences against patients has come before Wollongong Local Court on fresh charges, receiving a 12-month suspended suspended jail sentence on appeal in 2010 after admitting to devising a bogus university study in which he tricked three young men into masturbating in front of him in 1999 and 2007.

*Wollongong Mayor Gordon Bradbery is making no apologies over the metal cages installed around gum trees in Wollongong's Crown Street Mall. He said the council had no alternative after six of the 14 tree were vandalised.

6.02am Let’s check out what’s happening on the roads and in the skies today

WEATHER: It’s going to be gorgeous out there this morning, with a mostly sunny day expected. Temps will reach between 25 and 30 degrees, so slip, slop, slap if you’re outside today. There is a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon.

TRAFFIC: It’s an easy early morning run from Nowra to Sydney this morning, with no accidents or disruptions reported at this early hour.

TRAINS: There is good service on the South Coast Line.

6am Welcome to the hump-day edition of the Morning Rush! Kate Walsh is joining you for the rest of the week while Emma Spillett takes a break.

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