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Tonight - the shock death of

the Australian actor Heath

Ledger. Very tragic untimely

and accidental passing of our

dearly beloved son, brother and

doting father of Matilda. Stocks bounce back -

now it's interest rate trouble

again. An elevated inflation is

the Liberal Party's parting

gift to the Australian

people. And kidnapped in

Colombia - an Australian

rescued by secret police.

Good evening. Joe O'Brien

with ABC News. On a day when Hollywood's elite gathered to announce this

announce this year's Academy

Awards nominations came the

stunning news. Australian actor

Heath Ledger was dead. His body

was found in a Manhattan

apartment. There's speculation

he died from an overdose of

sleeping pills. His family says

the death was accidental. Heath

Ledger was 28. ABC correspondent Michael Maher is

in New York. The news that

Heath Ledger was dead spread

Heath Ledger was dead spread

quickly through the spreets of

New York. Within hours,

hundreds of people had gathered

outside his apartment in the

trendy area of Soho in

Manhattan where his body was

found. You may be a

sinner... Heath Ledger shot to

fame as a gay cowboy in the

award winning film 'Brokeback

Mountain', a role which earned

him an Oscar nomination. He was

discovered at the foot of his

bed late Tuesday afternoon New

York time by his housekeeper

and a ma accuse - masseuse. The

masseuse has a regular

aportment and they found the

deceased at about 2:45 this

afternoon. Unresponsive in his

bed room. Police say that a bot

- bottle of prescription

sleeping pill s was found on a

nearby night table but at this

stage they don't know if the

pills have played a role in his

death. An autopsy report will

be released tomorrow. Together

with the heavy media presence,

scores gathered on his street,

some lay flowers at his front

door: I can't believe it. He

was so young and so

vibrant. It's just such a

loss. He was so unbelievable.

You believed in him, he was

energetic, he was full of life.

He was so genuine, you know in

his work. I don't know what to

say. I can't believe he's

dead. Ledger had separated from

his fiance Michelle Williams

late last year. They had a

2-year-old daughter Matilda

roesz. My life changed from

meeting Michelle. I have a

family, a beautiful family and

a two beautiful girls thanks to

'Brokeback Mountain'. In his

hometown of Perth, Heath

Ledger's family said he was a

doeth father and his death was

a strajic accident. Heath has

touch sod many people on so

many different levels during

his short life but few had the

treasurer vr pleasure of truly

knowing him. He was a generous,

kind hearted and selfless

individual who was inspiration

le to many. Ledger had just

finished work on his latest

film, a new instalment on the Batman series playing the

Joker. Today, fellow Australian

stars paid tributes to the

28-year-old actor. Mel Gibson

described his death as tragic.

Nicole Kidman said her heart

went out to Ledger's family

went out to Ledger's family and

blan blan blan, who was bsh - -

Kate Blanchett said she was

shocked and very saddened by

the news. A teenage soap star

from Perth, Heath Ledger rose

quickly to become a respected

talent and Oscar nominee in

Hollywood. Anne Maria Nicholson

reports on his career. This thing grabs

thing grabs hold of us again in

the wrong place at the wrong

time. Heath Ledger never

resiled from controversy,

including THAT role as the gay

cowboy in 'Brokeback Mountain'

that catapulted him into

Hollywood's front line: I don't

think the topic is

controversyial, nor do I think

it should be. 2005 was a golden

year. He became a red carpet

regular, starring in slee films

simultaneously - 'Brokeback

Mountain', 'Brothers Grimm' and

'I'm Not There'. He was a most

amazing actor. Heath Ledger was

born in NT 1979. He was drown

drawn to the stage and screen

from a young age and played a

gay boy in the TV series

'Sweat'. You don't have to rub

it in. Film roles followed and

widespread credit for his work

in 'Two Hands'. I've got a

new job. I'm moving on. What

are you doing? At 19, Hollywood

beckoned with 'The Patriot'.

But he was constantly drawn

back home to see family and to

act in films like 'Ned

Kelly'. I love Australia. I

love coming home. But his

visits were blighted by

conflict with the paparazzi.

With the Sydney Premier of

'Brokeback Mountain', he was

sprayed with water pistol,

prompting himg to sell his home

and leave the country. He was

hounded by paparazzi. Neil

Armfield directed Heath Ledger

and Abby Cornish in 'Candy', a

love story between two drug

users. He said Heath Ledger did

not use hard drugs He did

smoke a bit of marijuana. Heath

Ledger found personal happiness

with American actor Michelle

Williams. They had a daughter

Matilda: It's completely

fulfilling, it's quite miraculous. But the couple

separated last year. Heath

Ledger was hailed as a

brilliant actor and still to be

released, perhaps his best

performance, the Joker in the

Batman series 'Dark Knight'.

So a lonely end to a

crowded life and a death that

will take some time for people

to come to grips with. From

broom Street on Manhattan, this

is Michael Maher for ABC

News. What a difference a day

makes. Australian shares

rallied today after the US

central bank slashed interest

rates to ward off a

rates to ward off a recession.

After 12 straight days of

declines, local stocks reversed

some of the losses from

yesterday's free fall. But now

interest rate speculation has

been rekindled by the worse than expected inflation

figures. Finance correspondent

Philip Lasker begins our

coverage. It's been a long time

coming - stock market boards

dominated by the colour of a

rising market. The All

Ordinaries Index finished more

than 233 points up over 4%,

clawing back more than half of

yesterday's losses. The

professionals see bargains but

they also see on going problems

thrown up by the credit crunch: They're quite deep and

quite pervasive and complex. So

they remain. In the face of

unprecedented volatile ity, and

after talking to the Reserve

Bank, Treasury and banking

leader, Treasurer Wayne Swan

has reached a conclusion. All

the advice I am receiving is

that we are well placed to

withstand that international

turbulence. But not so well

placed to withstand higher interest rates. Inflation is

now at a 16-year high. This was

an ugly inflation result. It

will be run that makes the

Reserve Bank nervous and

chances are rate also rise when

the Reserve Bank meets early

next month. Annual inflation

jumped during the December

quarter, hitting 3%. But the Reserve Bank's own measures are

worse - rising at least 1% for

the quarter with the annual

number well above its comfort

zone of 2 to 3%. This data is

proof that elevated inflation

is the Liberal Party's

is the Liberal Party's parting

gift to the Australian

people. What Wayne Swan is

doing is raising expectations

about greater inflation. He's actually exacerbating our economic problems. And

authorities in the US are far

from finished tackling their

economic problems. We're

expected the Fed to ease

another 50 basis point s on top

of the 7 a bases points they

did last night. The economists

have their view s but in this

thrill a minute financial

environment it's impossible to

be confident about what

Australia's central bank will

do about interest rates.

Australia's share market

recovery was in direct response

to a dramatic move in the

United States to avert a

financial meltdown. The Federal

Reserve slash add key interest

rate by 0.75%, prompted a wild

day on Wall Street. Frightened

traders hoped the Fed would

ride to the rescue but no-one

expected anything this

dramatic. The Fed has to take a

measured step here and this is

a big first step. We would like

to have seen it a few weeks

earlier. One economist called

the decision a once in a

generation I vent. It's the

biggest single cut to the

interest rate in more than two

decades and the first time the

Fed has acted between its

scheduled meetings since 2001.

The bank has held an emergency conference call after

a tsunami of selling hit global markets. The Bush Administration called the

decision constructive. What I

think it shows to this country

and the rest of the world is

that our central bank is nimble

and able to move quickly to

respond to market conditions

and I think that should be a

confidence builder. There

wasn't much confidence when the

market opened. The Dow Jones

plunged more than 460 points.

It then staged an impressive

combeak but still closed at its

lowest level in 1.5 years. The

best time to buy is when

there's blood in the streets. I

think expects are more selling

before things get better. You

may see a dead cat bounce. You

will not see a men meaningful

rally until the facts on the

ground change. The Government

wants to inject $150 million

into the economy but are yet to

agree on how. Everybody wants

to get something quickly but we want to make

want to make sure it's done

right and that everybody is

real istic about the time table. The White House

maintains the United States is

not heading for a recession.

Many dispute that, though, and

today's dramatic action by the

Federal Reserve is an acknowledgement of how serious

the situation is. An

Australian woman kidnap ed in

Colombia two weeks ago has been

residued by secret police.

Bobbi McGeachin was being held

for ransom at a private home

near Santa Marta on Colombia's

Caribbean coast. After a raid

on this home by Colombian

secret police, Australian tourist Bobbi McGeachin was set

free. The 22-year-old from

Perth wasn't kidnapped by

left-wing rebels who are known

to abduct foreigners. Instead,

the captor was a local woman

demanding a ransom.

TRANSLATION: The information we

lock is the woman locked the

Australian citizen up in her

house and would not let her out

un less she paid her $30,000

US. People say Bobbi McGeachin was initially lured into the

home by the kidnap er who

offered to give her a tour of

Colombia but the Perth girl

seen her on a modelling

website, was locked up in the

house. She raised the alarm

house. She raised the alarm

with her family on the

Internet. They contacted

Australian authorities who

asked the Colombia secret

police to investigate.

TRANSLATION: They authorised

the search and rescue of the

foreign tourist. Police raided

the home, arrested the

kidnapper and freed the girl.

The of Foreign Affairs says

Bobbi McGeachin is expected to

arrive back in Australia within

the next few days. A father

has accused the army of a

cover-up and blamed its poor

health care for the death of

his son. Captain Andrew

Paljakka committed suicide in a

Kings Cross hotel after a tour

of duty in Afghanistan. Today a Defence Force inquiry into the death was open to the public. Andrew Paljakka's

father says the army ignored

his calls for an inquiry into

his son's death to be heard in

public. And this indicates some

other elements have something

to hide. After three weeks of

evidence in secret, the inquiry

has now opened its doors.

Today, it heard that Andrew

Paljakka committed suicide in a

room at this Kings Cross hotel

in February last year. He was

suffered from post traumatic

stress disorder after wa wha he had seen in

had seen in Afghanistan. He'd

lost 13 kilos in weight and

turned to alcohol and hard

drugs to ease the pain. He

wasn't the same man, not at

all. The court was told he'd

attempted suicide before and on

separate occasions he said to a

friend, "Go on, shoot me." And,

"I wish I was dead."

Alexander McFarlane told the Psychiatrist Professor

court the army health system

failed the soldier. Captain

Paljakka was assessed by self-

doctors in at least three

different hospitals but the

inquiry was told they didn't

share information about his

condition and no-one took

overall responsibility for his

mental state. The Chief Medical Officer at Balmoral Naval

Hospital referred him to a drug

and alcohol rehabilitation

centre, but refused to tell

them he was suicidal. He's

previously told the inquiry:

Andrew Paljakka's father

says the most important thing

is ensuring this doesn't happen

again. Central Queensland's

multibillion-dollar mining

industry has ground to a halt

into as the Emerald floods spread

into pits and inundate

equipment. In town, the

evacuation's continue with

another 280 Emerald households

placed on stand-by. The damage

from the floods spreads far

afield from Emerald. The region's multibillion-dollar

mining industry has ground to a

halt, pit s are full of water,

drag line s swallowed as

well. It's clear that some of

them will be out of operation

for anywhere up to flee to six

for anywhere up to flee to six months. Some have lost their

homes an livelihoods with the

water causing mine shaft s to

cave. In That was a concrete

floor, that was a fridge, that

was the kitchen area In

Emerald, there's water almost

as far as the eye can see. We

have knee-deep water through

and it's still rising down the

back. It's only a rental but we

have lost a lot of stuff. The

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh

today surveyed the damage. She

says people could be homeless

for weeks. She stayed the night

at an emergency centre with

some f the 2,500 residents who

have been evacuated from their

homes. It was a bit sleepless,

in a new environment and the

kids were getting used to a

mattress rather than their own

bed. I feel like an orphan at

flew in the minute. Geoffrey Neighbour

flew in from London last week.

Now he is stuck at the local

hall. Just mind blowing. It was

a tense night for two police

officers who had to be rescue.

They were on their way to a job

when their 4WD was swept from

the road. Farmers too are

hurting. Maurie Iddles lost all

his citrus to disease several

years ago now his house is

under water. Pretty ordinary

and we have had three or four

days and not much sleep. There

are fears of more flooding downstream. The city of

Rockhampton and the surrounding

towns this water is on its way

and we're doing our best to

prepare for it. In Charleville,

life is slowly getting back to normal. As the Warrego River

recedes, they've started

dismantling part of the

make-shift levee on the bridge which stopped the town from

flooding. The recent rain and

floods in NSW have helped half

floods in NSW have helped half

of the State break free from

drought. New figures show the

State went from being 93%

drought declared in January

last year to 52% this year. The

figures don't include the heavy

rains from the new year. In

some instances like Walgett and

Burke, it's the first time

they've been out of drought

declaration for seven years.

That just shows how long this

drought has been going in many

parts of the State. Rain is

still needed in the Riverina

and the central west. There's

no better sign of the drought

clearing up in some areas than

at a dam near Goulburn. Today

they were stocking it with

15,000 baby fish. A move that

's pleased local anglers no

end. Rain brought this dam back

to life. And today thousands of

tiny lives were brought to the

dam. We haven't been able to

stock Pejar since 2003. Today is the first stocking since

then. Ed at the height of the

drought, this parched earth

came to symbol ise the region's

suffering. All aquatic life disappeared It was a

wipeout. We had people coming

from all over the State and

difference places to fish here and it was just heart breaking to see the

to see the drought. But heavy

clouds have since passed this

way. It's still only 40% full

but that's reason enough to

release thousand of rangebow

and brown trout fingerlings. To

see today it's fantastic and we

can finally put the fish in and

give the angler s something to

come back and fish for in the

future. This now today is the

start of re building what we

used to have. So it means a

great lot to

great lot to me. Expectations

are high because this eyesed to

be a well-known spot for trophy

trout. There's reports of fish

around the 14-pound mark. We

used to have sailing boats on

this. So it will be great to

see that happen again. This is

just stage one. The fish will

take about two years to grow

big enough to catch and keep.

They won't breed here but they

will be supplemented by more

fingerlings in coming years.

The same process is now

The same process is now going

on all over NSW, with Fisheries

staff criss-crossing the region

to put fish back into streams

and dams that have been left barren for years. The message

for anglers is have your reels

at the ready.

The State Government has formally cancelled the contract

with the company working on the

T-card project. It now plans to

sue the ERG group for $95

million over the failed

integrated tick etting system

for buses, ferries and trains.

The Transport Minister says the

final cost blew out by another

$30 million because of

appalling project management

and technical problems. We've

taken this step of cancelling

the contract because of on

going delays, setbacks and

chronic fail ure s to meet

filestones. - milestones. This

is incredible incompetence from

the Iemma Government. The

T-card is used by school children will continue to

function this year. As you

heard earlier, odds of an

interest rate rise have firmed.

That sent the Australian dollar

upwards. Here is Alan Kohler.

First the bouncing share market

and I thought this graph was

pretty interesting. It shows the All Ordinaries Index this

week and we can see what

happened today was that the

market's previous downtrend has

simply been resumed. On Tuesday

morning it dropped 233 points

on opening, and then trended

down at the same rate as it did

on Monday. And then this

morning it jumped 268 points on

the opening, after last night's

US rate cut and then proceeded

to trend down at exactly the

same pace as it did Monday and

yesterday. This is not the

picture of a healthy market. It

wants to fall and that's really

what id did today. Here is

where the index ended the day -

up 4.3% as the bargain hunters

and hedge funds did their thing

in the morning. BHP Billiton

jumped a massive 10%, Rio Tinto

5%. CBA 2%, Telstra instalment

Babcock and Brown, which had receipts Wendt up 11% and

taken a special hammering,

recovered 7.5%. But it wasn't

all good news. Allco Finance

copped it again, down 26%.

Investors stayed awhich from

Centro Property, so it fell 11

Magistrates Court and Babcock

and Brown POW err fell 8% to a

new record low. And today's

inflation report didn't really help market sentiment. The Reserve Bank's underlying

inflation rate is 3.6%. As this

graph shows, it's now the

highest it's been since 1991,

when the Reserve Bank brought

on a recession to fight

inflation. Despite all the

global market turmoil and the

probability of a recession in

the US, the RBA will probably

have to raise interest rates

here again in February. That

drove Australian dollar back

above 86 US cents today as

pirntds placed some bets on a

rate hike here, just as the US

central bank cuts as fast as it

can. That's finance. Young

Serbian tennis stars Ana

Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic have won through to the

Australian Open smfrs in

impressive style. Last night,

Maria Sharapova stunned world

number one Justine Henin. Today, Daniela Hantuchova won

and Ivanovic out muscled Venus

Williams. While Djokovic barely

raise add sweat in reaching the

final four. Novak Djokovic took

on quiet achiever David Ferrer

from Spain. But it was a noisy

young tennis fan who drew the

early attention. Please give

our crying friend a

bottle. Ferrer could have been

excused the odd tear after

conceding the first set 6-0.

The Spaniard produced a few

highlights but struggled to

hold serve, despite a late

stumble, Djokovic wrapped up

the match to move into the

semis without dropping a set.

Djokovic will play the winner

of tonight's match between

Roger Federer and James Blake.

Venus Williams has been a bogey

player for Serbian starlet Ana

Ivanovic. She hadn't won a set

against the American in four

previous meetings. But with

Williams offtarget, that

changed today.

changed today. Williams won the first three giexs the

second set, but the Serbian

struck back with some

spectacular winners. Serena

Williams bowed out yesterday.

Ivanovic ensured Venus

followed, also in straight

sets. I just love playing

here. I feel so comfortable

here on court and it was an

amazing match. I am just so

thrilled to be

through. Ivanovic will play

Daniela Hantuchova of she toyed

with the Polish teenage

Agnieszka Radwanska on the way

to booking her first semifinal

berth. It's like watching a

game of chess. Last night,

Maria Sharapova claimed the

tournament favouritism. She

blitzed Justine Henin to break

the world number one's 32-match

winning streak. It's over. The

result was slightly soured by

the actions of Sharapova's

father in the crowd. Also last

night French man Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rolled Mikhail Youzhny

last night to set up a

semifinal against Rafael Nadal.

The with no locals left in the

townment, the Australian focus

has shrifted to the Davis Cup.

Lleyton Hewitt and Chris

Guccioane will spear head the

teem against Taiwan next month.

Australia will weight until tomorrow morning to name its

line-up for the fourth Test

against India at the Adelaide

Oval. Both teams are keeping

their selections under wraps,

the choice of bowler s is

causing headaches for Australia

and India. The Australians had

a short session in the nets

this morning, although spinner

Brad Hogg was still there long

after the other bowlers had

left. While Hogg is likely to play, South Australian spaceman

Shaun Tait is still in the

running. An assessment of the

pitch will decide who makes the

11. It's actually quite dry at

the moment so we've just got to

toss up in our head whether a

spin option is the way to go or

if we try to use pace with

variable bounce late in the

game. Local experts favour

Hogg. As we get into days

three, four, five it will turn.

There's no question about

it. Ponting has spent this week

analysing Indian spinninger

Harbhajan Singh who has taken

the Australian captain's wicket

three times in the series.

Singh is set to return as the

tourists consider playing five bowlers, a tactic Australia is

ready for. If they do play

Pathan and Harbhajan in the

side, I think their overall

balance does probably work out

to be a bit better for them as

far as their bowling goes. It

is an option and that's

something we will assess once

we have a close look at the

pitch. Back to back victories

would not only square the

series but provide a lasting

memory for several of India's

veterans who are playing their

last Test in Australia. I think

this time for sure it will be

my last one in Australia, so it

will be nice to go back with a victory. Some rain is possible for the first three days of the

Test. The Socceroos new

coach hasn't quite put his

finger on it in the past but

his thought thoughts on the A

league are now clear. The

Dutchman has given a damning

assess. To local game while

naming his first national

squad. The new Socceroos coach

has had five weeks to evaluate

the standard of the A league

and he's got concerns. I saw

the important games last

weekend. You could see the

players under pressure and they

didn't have the same

performance as I 've

seen. German-based players Josh

Kennedy and Beachamp beef were

named in the 39-man squad for

next month's World Cup

qualifier against Qatar, even

though they've been short on

match prak sis in recent

weeks. If you train for three

weeks at Nuremberg or at

Karlsruhe, I have to be very

honest I still think that's

better than players A league

games. Queensland captain Craig

Moore had questioned the depth

of the original train on squad.

Today the experienced

international experience

received a late

call-up. Constructive criticism

is something I've received

throughout my career and I've

taken that to help me learn the

game. Sydney FC has two players

in the national squad but John

Kosmina was more prepared with

preparing for the semifinal

against Queensland. I am not interested in the national

team. We're playing on Friday

night. Can we talk about the

game Friday or we finish? Seven

Newcastle Jets players have

been selected including

uncapped James Holland but

Verbeek also has other overseas players to consider when it

comes to making the final cut.

Now let's look at the

weather - in Sydney today the

top temperature was 24 degrees.

That was two below the average,

up to 25 in the west.

The satellite image shows

cloud building over the

northern troughics - cloud is

also forming over SA and

there's low cloud over the east

with onshore winds. On the

synoptic chart, trough also

trigger shower s and storms

over the southern inland. A

weak monsoon trough will cause

heavy showers and storms in the

northern tropics. Rain tomorrow

- a few heavy showers and

storms over Northern Australia,

patchy light rain and the odd

storm over SA and onshore winds

will bring further showers

along the east coast. In the

capital cities tomorrow:

That's ABC News for now. The '7:30 Report' is next.


Closed Captions by CSI

CC It's just like this

knife has come in and just cut

off this life, this incredible

potential. Tonight on the 7:30

Report - a brilliant career cut

tragically short. The life and

art of Heath Ledger. I don't

know what to say. I'm sure as

hell sorry. You know I am. I'm

an actor. I made it my

responsibility to, you know,

investigate different walks of

life and try my best to portray

them. He was a

down-to-earth, generous, kind

hearted life-loving and selfish

individual who was extremely

inspirational to many. And the

home movies offering an