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

Ok, it's 8.30am and that's it from me on Morning Rush this morning. Stay with us throughout the day as news breaks at www.illawarramercury.com.au 

8.25am 

After the sad tale of how Copenhagen Zoo keepers ended the life an 18-month-old male giraffe, named Marius, then dissected the animal before a crowd of onlookers and then fed the remains to its lions, this is an interesting look at life and death at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

Last year, Taronga Zoo in Sydney killed 74 animals. A Himalayan mountain goat, a palm squirrel, a forest monkey with pneumonia, a mountain sheep with joint disease, and an infant gibbon abandoned by its mother at birth were among the animals killed. Five animals - two mice, two rats and a rabbit - were put down to manage populations.

None of the dead exotic wildlife nor native animals was fed to the zoo carnivores, a Taronga spokesman said, with the remains handled either by incineration or deep burial to meet government regulations on disposal. However, domestic animals from its farm exhibit were used to provide meat.

8.20am LOCAL SPORT

*The Illawarra Steelers and St George junior teams have invested in homegrown talent this season with just three players in the four teams drawn from outside local catchment areas.

*Veteran defender Lewis Roberts-Thomson believes the Swans have the right mix of youth and experience to return to the top of the AFL this season. The 30-year-old was instrumental in the Swans' 2012 premiership triumph but missed most of last season with a knee injury as the Swans bowed out in the grand final qualifier.

Illawarra District Rugby League manager Chris Bannerman believes a restructure of the Illawarra's junior ranks will increase the number of players filtering into top grade. The Illawarra Coal League has struggled with a player drain in recent seasons that has seen the competition reduced to just six senior teams in 2014.

8.15am In national news, here's what's making headlines in the SMH

* The gripping saga of Simon Gittany's sentencing continues, with this report into how Justice Lucy McCallum came to give the man 18 years jail for murder, after he was last year found gulity of throwing his fiancee Lisa Harnum off the 15th-storey balcony of their Hyde Park apartment.

* The trial of Daniel Morcombe's alleged killer also continues, with police giving evidence in a Queensland court about how the tracked Brett Peter Cowan to uncover Daniel's body.

* A senior government staffer who demanded a new healthy food rating website be taken down is married to the head of a lobbying outfit that works for the junk food industry, it has been revealed. In senate question time on Tuesday, Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash admitted that both she and her chief-of-staff, Alastair Furnival, had personally intervened to insist health department staff pull down the new “health star rating” site on the day it was launched.

*The debate about Channel 7's paid interviews rages on todayafter two of the network's stars clashed over Mike Willesee's reported $2 million interview with Schapelle Corby yesterday. Breakfast host David Koch has riased questions about whether the convicted drug smuggler should be allowed to benefit from the proceeds of crime. The clash came as a bidding war between media organisations netted $20,000 for the first photo of Corby without her mask.

*We're sad to hear about the passing of depression era child star Shirley Temple, who has died aged 85 in California. The screen legend was a box office hit from 1935 to 1938 and set records which no other star of the time could match. 

8.10am Impressive Aussie blues musician Ash Grunwald will return to the Wollongong UniBar tomorrow night. Get details about the gig at the UniBar website. Tickets are only 20 bucks!

8.05am It's just over a week until the Port Kembla stack falls, and our countdown is on.

As part of our coverage, we're asking residents to come forward with their memories. Here, long time resident of the suburb Robert Eastman describes how he would look out the kitchen window of his Port Kembla home and marvel at the construction of the suburb's iconic stack in the 60s.

Share your own stories about the Illawarra landmark.

8am Good morning Illawarra citizens and welcome to this damp February Wednesday. Here's the top local news stories this morning.

Horror stories of drivers working 23-hour days, shooting up heroin before getting behind the wheel and operating defect-riddled trucks have emerged after a Unanderra trucking company was charged with 235 fatigue-related breaches.

* UnitingCare Ageing's plans for a $119 million seniors housing complex in the Shellharbour City centre have been given the final seal of approval by the Joint Regional Planning Panel.

* Miltonbrook chairman Neville Fredericks has weighed into the debate over the $57 million Shellharbour City Hub project, arguing it should be built on the site of Shellharbour City Council's existing administration building Lamerton House. Do you think the hub should go ahead?

*A ‘‘skyrocketing’’ number of mental health patients addicted to the drug ice in the Illawarra is putting extra pressure on police, according to Wollongong crime manager Tim Beattie.

7.55am Here's the latest trains, traffic and weather

WEATHER It’s humid and grey this morning and is expected to remain much the same as yesterday for most of the day. The Bureau of Meteorology reckons Wollongong will be "a bit drizzly". It’s 21.2 degrees, but it feels more like 23.4 degrees because of the high humidity. The tide is now falling and there's hardly any wind about.

TRAFFIC It’s not too bad out there this morning - the earlier breakdown at Macquarie pass has cleared up, according to the RTA's Live Traffic. 

TRAINS There is good service on the South Coast line with no service interruptions.

7.50am Our biggest story today: Wollongong trucking firm neglects drivers' safety, whistleblowers say.

Horror stories of drivers working 23-hour days, shooting up heroin before getting behind the wheel and operating defect-riddled trucks  have emerged after a Unanderra trucking company was charged with 235 fatigue-related breaches.

A number of former McCabe Transport employees contacted the Mercury yesterday after learning the company had been charged with breaches of driver fatigue work diary laws.

The men, who have asked to remain anonymous, have painted an alarming picture of McCabe Transport drivers being forced to travel 7000 kilometres a week, often putting in 18-23 hour days to meet company demands.

If they failed to do so, they were verbally ‘‘abused’’ or subjected to dozens of calls trying to persuade them to ‘‘push on’’, the men alleged.

Read the full story by Bree Fuller here.

7.45am Police appeal for missing Wollongong man

Police are appealing for information to locate a man missing from the Wollongong area.

Arno Badziong, aged 55, contacted his family by telephone yesterday, but he has not been seen or heard from since.

There are concerns for his welfare as his disappearance is out of character.He is described as being Caucasian in appearance, about 175cm tall, with a thin build and grey hair. Mr Badziong walks with a limp.

Police are appealing for anyone with information about Mr Badziong’s whereabouts to come forward.

7.40am VICTORIAN BUSHFIRES UPDATE

Bushfires continue to burn across Victoria with at least 34 homes destroyed since the blazes started on the weekend and five firefighters hurt. 

18 fires continue to burn with Kilmore-Wallan, Morwell and East Gippsland the largest. It is believed that 12 of the fires were deliberately lit.

Police have charged a man with lighting a fire in Fawkner, in Melbourne’s north, that burnt out of control.

The 40-year-old man was arrested on Tuesday night and charged with lighting the fire on vacant land between Lorne Street and Merri Creek about 1.30pm on Sunday.

The man will appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

7.35 NATIONAL NEWS - Closing the gap report deliver in Parliament today.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will demand a ramp-up of indigenous employment rates and school attendance as he hands down a mixed report card on Australia’s efforts to close the gap.

Mr Abbott will tell parliament about his government’s efforts to improve school attendance and employment rates, create safer communities and his commitment to the constitutional recognition of indigenous people.

After then prime minister Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the stolen generations, federal, state and territory governments agreed on six ambitious targets to tackle indigenous disadvantage.

This year’s report shows no progress has been made against the target to halve the employment gap within a decade. Efforts to improve literacy and numeracy rates of indigenous school children are also lagging behind. - AAP

7.30am Learning to swim is one of the most important and potentially lifesaving lessons children can learn. 

Four-year-old Charli Squires spent last year petrified of the water after he almost drowned in the family pool.

Big brother Kyle saved the then two-year-old in 2012 with quick thinking and CPR, and later received a NSW Ambulance award for courage for his efforts.

Charli's fear of the water was conquered only when he started one-on-one lessons at Nippers 2 Flippers in Figtree.

Read about his experience here.

7.25am Merrigong's new production, The Man Who Dreamt the Stars opens this Friday and is on until Saturday 22 February at IPAC.

Based on a true story, the play revolves around actor Malcolm Allison’s childhood battle with a rare cancer. The story starts in Mr Allison’s head, where his cancer is personified, and moves to the outside world, replete with dreamy backdrops and costume designs.

This new work has come out of a long-term partnership between Merrigong and The Disability Trust. 

7.20am LOCAL SPORT

*The Illawarra Steelers and St George junior teams have invested in homegrown talent this season with just three players in the four teams drawn from outside local catchment areas.

*Veteran defender Lewis Roberts-Thomson believes the Swans have the right mix of youth and experience to return to the top of the AFL this season. The 30-year-old was instrumental in the Swans' 2012 premiership triumph but missed most of last season with a knee injury as the Swans bowed out in the grand final qualifier.

Illawarra District Rugby League manager Chris Bannerman believes a restructure of the Illawarra's junior ranks will increase the number of players filtering into top grade. The Illawarra Coal League has struggled with a player drain in recent seasons that has seen the competition reduced to just six senior teams in 2014.

7.15am In national news, here's what's making headlines in the SMH

* After the sad tale of how keepers ended the life an 18-month-old male giraffe, named Marius, from Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark then dissected the animal before a crowd of onlookers and then fed the remains to its lions, this is an interesting look at life and death at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

* The gripping saga of Simon Gittany's sentencing continues, with this report into how Justice Lucy McCallum came to give the man 18 years jail for murder, after he was last year found gulity of throwing his fiancee Lisa Harnum off the 15th-storey balcony of their Hyde Park apartment.

* The trial of Daniel Morcombe's alleged killer also continues, with police giving evidence in a Queensland court about how the tracked Brett Peter Cowan to uncover Daniel's body.

* A senior government staffer who demanded a new healthy food rating website be taken down is married to the head of a lobbying outfit that works for the junk food industry, it has been revealed. In senate question time on Tuesday, Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash admitted that both she and her chief-of-staff, Alastair Furnival, had personally intervened to insist health department staff pull down the new “health star rating” site on the day it was launched.

7.08am 

Freekah, chipotle chillies, cassava and instant nnodles have been named among some of this year's essential ingredients, according to SMH Good Food . Fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut and kimchi, are going to be big, as is kale and dried Chinese sausage. 

Top Sydney chef Dan Hong recommends a late night snack of "healthy" instant noodles (they exist?) as a snack with a few pork rinds, fresh vegetables,some shallots, and skimchi on the side. Mmmm, reminds me of poor university student days... 

7.05am Here's a selection of local news stories from the Mercury today.

Horror stories of drivers working 23-hour days, shooting up heroin before getting behind the wheel and operating defect-riddled trucks have emerged after a Unanderra trucking company was charged with 235 fatigue-related breaches.

* Miltonbrook chairman Neville Fredericks has weighed into the debate over the $57 million Shellharbour City Hub project, arguing it should be built on the site of Shellharbour City Council's existing administration building Lamerton House. Do you think the hub should go ahead?

*A ‘‘skyrocketing’’ number of mental health patients addicted to the drug ice in the Illawarra is putting extra pressure on police, according to Wollongong crime manager Tim Beattie.

* It's just over a week until the Port Kembla stack comes down. As part of our coverage, we're asking residents to come forward with their memories. Here, long time resident of the suburb Robert Eastman describes how he would look out the kitchen window of his Port Kembla home and marvel at the construction of the suburb's iconic stack in the 60s.

7am Good morning all, it's 7 o'clock!

WEATHER Still grey and gloomy one out there today, with the clouds keeping it humid despite the low temperature of 21 degrees. At the beaches, it's just about high tide and there's hardly any wind.

TRAFFIC There's a car broken down on Macquarie Pass, but otherwise it's not too bad on the roads this morning. Still plenty of road works going on to the south of the region at Gerringong, so exercise caution there.

TRAINS No service interruptions on the South Coast line.

6.50am Do you have plans for Valentine's Day this Friday? 

According to a report on news.com.au, some ladies may have trouble snagging a date this V-Day.  Six out of Australia’s eight states and territories are currently experiencing a man drought, according to McCrindle Research — and there are almost 100,000 more women than men. Yes, the man drought is real!

6.43am Police appeal for missing Wollongong man

Police are appealing for information to locate a man missing from the Wollongong area.

Arno Badziong, aged 55, contacted his family by telephone yesterday, but he has not been seen or heard from since.

There are concerns for his welfare as his disappearance is out of character.He is described as being Caucasian in appearance, about 175cm tall, with a thin build and grey hair. Mr Badziong walks with a limp.

Police are appealing for anyone with information about Mr Badziong’s whereabouts to come forward.

6.38am We're sad to hear about the passing of depression era child star Shirley Temple, who has died aged 85 in California. The screen legend was a box office hit from 1935 to 1938 and set records which no other star of the time could match. 

6.35am The debate about Channel 7's paid interviews rages on today, after two of the network's stars clashed over Mike Willesee's reported $2 million interview with Schapelle Corby yesterday. 

Breakfast host David Koch has riased questions about whether the convicted drug smuggler should be allowed to benefit from the proceeds of crime.

The clash came as a bidding war between media organisations netted $20,000 for the first photo of Corby without her mask.

''I reckon we should have nothing to do with her as a network. Totally disagree with paying a convicted drug smuggler $2 million,'' Koch said on Sunrise.

What do you think?

6.30am Have you ever donated blood? And would you consider donating your bone marrow?

Gerringong dad Shane Wicks added his name to the bone marrow donor registry 17 years ago for an old friend. But today, the NSW Ambulance paramedic attached to Kiama station will undergo surgery at Westmead Hospital after he was found to be a match for a stranger with serious health problems.

He was one of about 50 area surf lifesaving volunteers who signed on to the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry in 1997, when Gerringong lifesaver Bob Churton was diagnosed with leukaemia and required a transplant.

Read the full story here.

6.25am Local sport news

*The Illawarra Steelers and St George junior teams have invested in homegrown talent this season with just three players in the four teams drawn from outside local catchment areas.

*Veteran defender Lewis Roberts-Thomson believes the Swans have the right mix of youth and experience to return to the top of the AFL this season. The 30-year-old was instrumental in the Swans' 2012 premiership triumph but missed most of last season with a knee injury as the Swans bowed out in the grand final qualifier.

* Illawarra District Rugby League manager Chris Bannerman believes a restructure of the Illawarra's junior ranks will increase the number of players filtering into top grade. The Illawarra Coal League has struggled with a player drain in recent seasons that has seen the competition reduced to just six senior teams in 2014.

6.15am Here's some of the headlines in the SMH today.

* After the sad tale of how keepers ended the life an 18-month-old male giraffe, named Marius, from Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark then dissected the animal before a crowd of onlookers and then fed the remains to its lions, this is an interesting look at life and death at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

* The gripping saga of Simon Gittany's sentencing continues, with this report into how Justice Lucy McCallum came to give the man 18 years jail for murder, after he was last year found gulity of throwing his fiancee Lisa Harnum off the 15th-storey balcony of their Hyde Park apartment

* In politics, the Abbott government has begun laying the groundwork for a $4 billion privatisation of Medibank Private without having received expert advice on whether the health insurer should be sold off.

6.10am Today in the Illawarra Mercury...

* Horror stories of drivers working 23-hour days, shooting up heroin before getting behind the wheel and operating defect-riddled trucks have emerged after a Unanderra trucking company was charged with 235 fatigue-related breaches.

*A ‘‘skyrocketing’’ number of mental health patients addicted to the drug ice in the Illawarra is putting extra pressure on police, according to Wollongong crime manager Tim Beattie.

* It's just over a week until the Port Kembla stack comes down. Here, long time resident of the suburb Robert Eastman describes how he would look out the kitchen window of his Port Kembla home and marvel at the construction of the suburb's iconic stack in the 60s.

6.05am Here’s the latest weather, traffic and trains.

WEATHER It’s a bit grey and wet this morning and is expected to remain much the same as yesterday for most of the day.  The Bureau of Meteorology reckons Wollongong will be "a bit drizzly". It’s already 21.3 degrees, but we’ll only reach tops of around 23 today.

TRAFFIC It’s not too bad out there this morning. Don't forget those roadworks on Mt Ousley near Picton and on the Princes Highway at Waterfall, as well as the continuing work at Gerringong.

TRAINS There is good service on the South Coast line with no service interruptions.

6am 

Welcome to todays' edition on the Morning Rush! I really hope everyone reading this has been able to stay in bed as long as possible on this drizzly day.

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