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News in 5: Mum's chilling phone call before drowning her 5yo son; McLachlan seeks $6.5m in defamation case; Monster Qld bushfire.

-With AAP

1. Mother’s chilling phone call before she drowned her five-year-old son.

A New South Wales mother who drowned her five-year-old son and told his older brother to put his head in the river made a chilling phone call before the killing, a court has heard.

The 28-year-old Deniliquin woman cannot be named for legal reasons. She is on trial for the murder of her youngest child and the attempted murder of her eight-year-old son in the Murray River at Moama in March 2017.

As reported by news.com.au, the woman pled not guilty to both charges by way of mental illness in Wagga Wagga court on Monday.

Crown Prosecutor Max Pincott told the court of the chilling phone call the woman made just hours before the killing. The woman appeared angry and called her mother to say: “You won’t see us anymore”, she said.

The court was told a few hours later the accused took her sons to the riverbank and forced them underwater. A witness heard screams and ran to the river where they saw the older child being viciously attacked by a dog. The witness carried to older boy away and the boy told him he thought he was the only survivor, news.com.au reported.

Another man reportedly saw the woman floating down the river on her back not long after.

Following the dog attack, the child was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries and severe pneumonia from the attempted drowning.

The court heard he told police that his mum told him to put his head in the river and dunked him in there.

“I was starting to suffocate as she was hopping on me and then I got out and my mum dunked my brother and the dog started biting me”.

His young brother’s body was found in the river two days later following an extensive search mission.

The court heard the woman walked into the work of local resort owner Michael Falzon about 9pm that night – soaking wet, bleeding and crying.

Pincott said the woman told Falzon she “had to” drown her children and he took her to the police station.

In his opening address, defence barrister Eric Wilson SC said his client believed she was saving her children by killing them.

He said his client was delusional and believed she was going to be raped or tortured and needed to “prevent her children witnessing that”.

“She was suffering from a seriously disturbed mental state,” Wilson said.

Crown witness Dr Jonathon Adams, a forensic psychiatrist who assessed the accused, told the court she appeared to have a borderline personality disorder and was likely to have been suffering delusional beliefs at the time of her children’s deaths.

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The court heard the woman was subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse as a child and as an adult. She also had a family history of schizophrenia.

Dr Adams said years of chronic substance abuse had worsened her condition and that she had most recently tried to starve herself behind bars.

The trial continues.

2. McLachlan seeks $6.5m in defamation case.

Actor Craig McLachlan is seeking special damages of $6.5 million in his defamation case against Fairfax Media and the ABC, a judge has been told.

Tom Blackburn SC, for the media companies, referred to the amount on Monday during his Supreme Court submissions relating to their further amended defence.

McLachlan is suing the companies and former co-star Christie Whelan Browne over articles and reports claiming he bullied and indecently assaulted her and two other female cast members during a 2014 production of The Rocky Horror Show.

The actor has denied the allegations and the defamation hearing is set down for four weeks from February 4.

On Friday, McLachlan’s lawyer Matthew Richardson applied to have the proposed further amended defence struck out, saying three new complaints had been added relating to the actor’s time on the TV show The Doctor Blake Mysteries.

He said the conduct alleged was mostly verbal, while there was one unwanted kiss and one instance of inappropriate touching.

Arguing against the application on Monday, Mr Blackburn named the women as Kate Wolfe, Anna Sampson and Tamzen Hayes and a fourth woman as Teagan Wouters from another Rocky Horror production.

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He said that initially when spoken to the potential witnesses said they did not want to be involved in the case but more recently indicated they were willing to give evidence in the proceedings.

Referring to Mr Richardson’s submission about the prejudice caused to his client by these late amendments, Mr Blackburn said the trial was two months away.

But Justice Lucy McCallum noted there was only three weeks left of the law term this year and half a week next year before the trial started.

Mr Richardson said it was “completely unfair” for the actor’s lawyers to have to “go back to ground zero” to investigate the claims by, for example, finding the scene and footage Ms Sampson referred to and finding out who was present.

The defendants have pleaded the defences of truth and contextual truth.

Meanings Fairfax has pleaded in its contextual truth defence include that McLachlan was “calculated, manipulative and a sexual predator”.

Mr Richardson said “calculated” could be regarded as a compliment, “manipulative” was an excessively vague term and “sexual predator” could be anything from some kind of targeted flirting to sexual assault.

He is expected to make further applications on Wednesday.

3. Credit cards now accepted on NSW trains.

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Sydneysiders can now tap on and off the city’s train network using their credit cards and smartphone wallets under an expansion to the Opal card system.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance says the change – which took effect on Monday – will make it easier for Sydneysiders to get around the city and surrounds and also help tourists who will no longer need to buy an Opal card during short visits.

“Contactless payments will also make purchasing higher one-off fares a thing of the past for occasional train customers and visitors to NSW,” Mr Constance said in a statement.

Credit card and mobile payment were rolled out for light rail and ferries earlier this year.

Mr Constance said the payment method would be available on buses in 2019.

4. PM’s criticism of strike fires up students.

Scott Morrison’s pleas for children to stay in school has only emboldened a national student strike demanding action on climate change.

The prime minister said he wanted more learning and “less activism in schools” after hearing about a protest on government climate policy.

Mr Morrison furiously reacted to Greens MP Adam Bandt during question time on Monday, who asked if he supported the School Strike 4 Climate Action movement.

“We do not support our schools being turned into parliaments,” Mr Morrison said.

But his response drew sharp criticism from Mr Bandt, students and protest organisers.

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Melbourne-based high school student Jagveer Singh said students would be striking whether Mr Morrison likes it or not.

“We’ve tried many different ways to deal with climate change ‘outside of school’ but prime minister, you have failed to represent us, you have failed to stand up to the climate deniers in your party,” he said.

Sydney protester Jean Hinchliffe said students would not have to put away the books for a day if politicians “listened to the science”.

“We’re sick and tired of politicians playing politics with our futures. We’re striking to say enough is enough. People’s lives are on the line,” Jean, 14, said.

Students as young as eight are vowing to put the books away and converge on MP offices and parliaments around the country this Friday.

Events are planned in all capital cities, along with about 20 regional areas.

5. Qld monster bushfire, hundreds flee.

Hundreds of central Queenslanders have fled or are being urged to flee from a monster bushfire with 12 metre high flames that has already engulfed at least two houses.

Firefighters were battling more than 70 bushfires around the state on Monday, with the worst an inferno between Gladstone and Bundaberg that has already destroyed two homes although no injuries have been reported.

At 5pm on Monday that fire was affecting the Deepwater community and was expected to start to impact Baffle Creek, Rules Beach and Oyster Creek.

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Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford has declared a disaster area for Baffle Creek Catchment, Wartburg, Deepwater, Agnes Water, Round Hill, Miriam Vale and Bororen.

People have either left or were being ordered to leave to seek shelter with family or friends or two evacuation centres.

The Deepwater area bushfire has a perimeter of 66 kilometres and has burned 17,000 hectares.

Queensland Fire Commissioner Katarina Carroll said they were fighting the blazes around the state in unprecedented heatwave conditions.

“The next seven days are extremely concerning for us,” she told reporters on Monday.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Queensland had not before seen the like of these conditions.

Hot, dry, erratic winds mean the blaze is highly unpredictable and fanned flames more than 10 metres high as winds escalated.

Earlier, fire service inspector Andrew Sturges said everything was being thrown at the fire, but warned: “Under some conditions, we can’t suppress the fire.”

“The fire front is the easy part, we can see that and manage it,” fire service operations director Paul Smeath has told locals at a midday meeting in nearby Agnes Water.

“It’s the ember storms that happen back behind it (that are difficult).”

More than 45 ground crews and seven water bombers, including a Boeing 737 capable of dumping 20,000 litres of water, were fighting the fires.

Agnes Waters local Synon Holland had seen fire crews shield two nearby homes on Monday afternoon, hours after waking to see flames not far from his own property.

“It’s almost the perfect firestorm for us … it’s not a surprise but we didn’t initially expect it to have the impact that it has had,” he told AAP.

“I just helped the neighbour over the road put out a grassfire in front of his house that had reignited,” Mr Holland said.

Mr Holland said the 100 firefighters coming from NSW on Tuesday would bring a welcome relief.

“The fatigue is really starting to set in on some of these guys because they had a huge day yesterday, they’ve had a few hours sleep last night and then a huge day again today on multiple fronts,” he added.

Locals forced to flee their homes have been met with an outpouring of support on social media from residents offering to house pets and families.

Others have expressed their gratitude to the crews battling the blaze on the ground.

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