AUSTRALIA’S Olympic swimmers are being underpaid by Swimming Australia and the head of their union, Daniel Kowalski, is outraged he was bypassed before the announcement of a pay restructure on the eve of the Games.
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A $10,000 lump sum payment from Swimming Australia into the bank accounts of the nation’s 47-member Olympic swim team was meant to be a pre-Games sweetener.

But according to Kowalski, who was arguing for a bigger slice of the pie after the federation signed a new three-year major sponsorship deal last year, swimmers are frustrated, confused and feel disrespected by their sports federation over the revamped deal.

Kowalski, an Olympic silver and gold medallist, has been in pay negotiations with Swimming Australia for the past six months and says federation president David Urquhart had given him a personal undertaking that the Australian Swimmers Association’s approval was critical.

Urquhart declined to comment to The Age last night about Kowalski’s concerns.

”The majority of the swimmers on the Olympic team are going to have to support themselves on far less than the minimum wage,” Kowalski told The Age. ”Swimmers are grateful to have received a payment at the start of July, but for some that may be all they get.

”As far as we’re concerned the negotiations and discussions need to recommence because to treat a stakeholder in such a way is almost unheard of.

”To not have that consultation is just so disrespectful to the swimmers.”

”The swimmers are frustrated and confused by what has taken place. The communication lines aren’t open to the point that they need to be because, as head of their representative body, I don’t know what has happened and how it is happening. And as far as we’re concerned, these discussions and negotiations aren’t over.”

Under the new model, Australia’s London Olympics swimmers will receive a minimum of $10,000 each from Swimming Australia from a pool of at least $750,000 from the federation’s commercial revenue.

Gold medallists in London will receive an additional $35,000 from Swimming Australia but Kowalski says those who fail to win a medal in London will be left severely out of pocket by the ”top heavy” model that favours high achievers such as Stephanie Rice and James Magnussen.

While anxious about creating disharmony before the Olympics that begin in 17 days, Kowalski – who presented his case to Swimming Australia’s board on June 21 – said he felt obliged to hold the federation to account. He called for negotiations to be resumed and said he intended to lodge the grievance with the federal Minister for Sport, Kate Lundy.

”For us, our most important thing right now is the swimmers’ welfare and wellbeing leading into the Olympics and this is the only comment we will make about the situation and we’ll take it up with Swimming Australia on the completion of the Paralympics,” he said.

In the statement announcing the new pay deal last week, Swimming Australia was unapologetic about supporting swimmers who performed most strongly on the international stage and claimed the revised pay model would ”see financial and training support go to more athletes than the ever before”.

Kowalski strongly denies this assertion and said some swimmers might be forced to give up before the 2016 Rio Olympics due to insufficient funds.

”Our concern is that those swimmers will be left having to make a decision about whether they can afford to keep striving to make the Rio Olympics.

”To get to some benchmark meets to perform, these guys need to be able to have the money available to pay their bills … [and] make ends meet, and the nature of the payments that they’re doing right now doesn’t allow for that because these guys are getting paid in a lump sum twice a year; it’s less than the minimum wage.”

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THE threat by ALP leaders to direct Labor preferences to the Liberals ahead of the Greens would have no impact in the House of Representatives. But it might cost the Greens a Senate seat or two – and give the Coalition control of the Senate.

If they mean it, it’s a high-risk threat. Like them or loathe them, the Greens are Labor’s ally. In 2010, 45 of Labor’s 72 MPs won their seats on Green preferences. In the whole of Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and both territories, every Labor MP got there on Greens preferences.

Labor’s tough guys brush aside the threat: except in five seats at most, Greens voters will ultimately have to choose between Labor and Tony Abbott. Election after election has shown that Greens how-to-vote cards make almost no difference: most Greens voters give their preferences to Labor whether told to or not.

But in the House, Labor’s threat is hollow. In the handful of seats the Greens have a chance of winning, Labor preferences will not be distributed. In seats such as Melbourne, and at a stretch, Batman and Wills, the fight would be between the Greens and Labor. Liberal preferences would decide it.

The Senate is different. Given the size of the ballot paper, most of us tick the box for our party and its preferences, rather than fill out our own. In 2004, Labor preferences put Family First’s Steve Fielding into the Senate instead of the Greens. They could do it again.

In 2010 it wouldn’t have mattered. The Greens’ vote hit record levels, and except in New South Wales, they won either a full quota or close to it. Where they got Labor preferences, they didn’t need them. But if their vote falls a bit in 2013, Labor preferences could be crucial. If Labor and the Coalition swap preferences, they could limit the Greens to Tasmania and Victoria.

For Labor, the risk is that it could give the Coalition control of the Senate. Ultimately it has to decide which party is its real enemy – and which its ally.

Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU

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Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will re-unite Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.Warren Spector is about as close as the gaming industry comes to royalty. He has been central in the design of some of most fondly-remembered games of the past three decades, including Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Thief, and Deus Ex, and he is known for his strong design philosophies and belief in interactive storytelling.
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In 2010, Spector took what many of his fans regarded as a sharp left turn into strange territory: Nintendo Wii exclusive Epic Mickey. In November, a sequel titled Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will be coming to Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC.

Spector was in Melbourne recently as a guest speaker at the ACMI Game Masters exhibition, and Screen Play was invited to talk to him. In part one of the interview, he talks about his life-long obsession with cartoons, his decision to make a Mickey Mouse game, and the choice of the Wii as an exclusive platform.

. . .

James Dominguez – It’s funny: your name was the first I ever associated with games, or at least among the first.

Warren Spector – Oh really? Shigeru Miyamoto, maybe?

JD – No, I was never a console gamer, so it was Jordan Mechner, Sid Meier, and you. I was playing Ultima Underworld, and I saw that ghost, the “upset spectre named Warren”, so I looked on the internet and found out what it was a reference to, and that name stuck in my head.

WS – I never asked for that! It’s funny, all of my teams have this thing about putting me in the game. I don’t ask for it, I don’t know why they do it. The only thing I insist that everybody do is there has to be a basketball court in every game I do, and – with one exception, I let them get away with it once – you can actually shoot a ball through the basket in every game I’ve made.

JD – I actually did that in System Shock II, where you find the basketball in the character creation level, and then if you hang onto it all the way to the end you get that little message from the monkeys.

WS – Yup, that was fun.

JD – Okay, I really should start asking about Epic Mickey. I suppose the big question I have regarding your current project is, looking back over the work that you’ve done… Why Mickey Mouse? It seems an interesting choice considering Deus Ex, System Shock, and so on.

WS – There’s a couple of answers to that. On one hand, when arguably the biggest media company on the planet says, “Hey, how would you like to play with our most important thing? How would you like to have as the star of your next game the most recognisable icon on planet Earth?” Now, you can sort of see where that would be an appealing prospect.

JD – Yeah, difficult to say no to that.

WS – And if you have ideas about what games should be, and you have an underlying philosophy that has made you, in a sense, the “king of the cult classics”, and you see an opportunity to reach mainstream, “normal” people? You know? Kids, adults, men, women, everybody has a relationship with Mickey Mouse. He’s the perfect way to get the idea that I now call “play style matters”, which I used to call “choice and consequence”, to get that out there to “normals”. Mickey is a great vehicle for that.

JD – Yeah.

WS – But you know, you’re right. In the electronic game world, I know I have a reputation for doing the cyberpunk thing, and for doing the serious epic fantasy thing, but if you go back to when I was a kid, I’ve been a Disney fan all my life. I remember when I told my Mom I was working for Disney, her response wasn’t “What?” It was “It’s about time.” That’s a quote! So there’s that, and when I was in college I was an animation freak. I wrote and published so many articles about Warner Bros cartoons and Disney cartoons and Max Fleischer cartoons. When I got the grad school I wrote my masters thesis on Warner Bros cartoons and how cartoon characters develop over time. The first thing I did in the table-top game world was Toon, the cartoon role-playing game. The second thing I did at TSR when I got there was the Bullwinkle and Rocky party role-playing game.

JD – Wow. I’ve played Toon, but I haven’t played Rocky and Bullwinkle…

WS – Not many people have played that one, but it’s got hand puppets and it’s really silly. So yeah, for the people who really know me, not just for my work in computer games and console games, this is just a return to my roots. Then finally, the last answer is, you know, after you spend 25 years making games about guys who wear sunglasses at night and trenchcoats in the middle of summer and carry two guns, and guys who wear chainmail and swing big swords… Let me do something different, will ya? I want all the Deus Ex fans to just chill. The core game philosophy is exactly the same, but I just had to do something where the content and tone were different, because I was going crazy.

JD – You can tell this is a proper game project, though. It’s not like one of those game IPs where they just take a popular character and shove it into a recognisable game format. It’s obvious that this has been designed from the ground up to be a quality game.

WS – Oh, absolutely. When Disney first approached me and asked if I wanted to do a Mickey Mouse game, I said no, as much as I love Disney. I said that I don’t make games for kids. I have a standard line, and this is absolutely memorised, so you’re not the first person to hear this, but I say this to every publisher I talk to: I make the games I want to make, I make them the way I want to, and if you don’t want that, let’s just part ways now and we’ll stay friends. But they said, “No no no! We don’t want a kids’ game! We want you to make your Mickey Mouse game.”

JD – They wanted Warren Spector to make a Warren Spector Mickey Mouse game.

WS – Exactly! At that point I was pretty hooked, and then they said, “Oh, by the way, we’re getting Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back.” So the opportunity to take Disney’s first cartoon star and re-introduce him to the world? At that point even if you make a dismal failure, you’re a footnote in history, and I admit that my ego found that pretty appealing. Who would say no to that? Come on! But yeah, I’m the luckiest guy in the game business. I have never made a game because I was told to make it. I’ve never had to make games just to keep the lights on. I’ve always made the games I want to make, and I know how lucky that makes me. This was a choice. If you like this it’s because I’m great and my team is great, and if you hate it it’s because I suck and my team is still great.

JD – What was the thinking behind making it a Wii exclusive the first time around?

WS – We were originally going to do all platforms on the first game, and I was at Disney, presenting my concept, showing them the game I wanted to make. The guy who ran Disney Interactive at the time, his name was Graham Hopper, we were in a meeting room with all these Disney execs, and he said, “Warren, come with me.” He took me back to his office and said words that no publisher has ever said before: “What does it take to make the game of the year?” I said, well, there are no guarantees, but it takes enough time and enough money to be competitive, and it’d be really nice to be able to focus on a single platform, so you can design right to the metal, right to the hardware. I didn’t have any expectations of what he was going to say, but he said, “What do you think about the Wii?” I think of it as my Spielberg moment, that moment where the camera zooms in and dollies back at the same time, like in Jaws, and the whole world distorts all around you. See, I was a high-end PC guy. I was the guy who hoped that the hardware would catch up to his games three years after he shipped them, and the Wii… I mean, I was thinking about all the things I could do on the 360 and the PS3… But then about five seconds after that I realised, do I really want to convince Halo fans or Grand Theft Auto fans to be Mickey Mouse for 20 hours? Or do I want to be the guy who says, you’re willing to be a blue hedgehog, and you’re willing to be a fat little plumber, so how about being a mouse for a while?

JD – But is it a gritty, edgy mouse? That’s what I want to know!

WS – He’s a little edgy! He trips! Oh, actually he doesn’t – I got rid of that in the second game. But we already had the paint and thinner stuff as the heart of the game, and as soon as you start talking about painting and thinning – I’m doing it now! – your hands start moving as if you have a brush. The Wii controls, it just sort of made sense. I think it was a great call, it was the right call for that game, but after we shipped it there was so much interest from people who didn’t have Wiis, so we just said, hey sure, let’s take it everywhere.

JD – So the decision to go multiplatform with the sequel was to reach a larger audience?

WS – Sure, I mean anyone who says they want to make a game that becomes a cult classic is kinda screwy, right? I mean, you want to reach the largest audience you can. I believe games are cool, I think they’re important, I think they’re unique, and I have a very specific idea about what kinds of games I want to make.

JD – So what you want is a smash hit that over time becomes a cult classic? I don’t know if that’s possible. Is that against the rules?

WS – Hey, as long as I get the do the games I want and enough people like them that I get to do another one, I’m a happy guy. That’s all I need. I need to be able to make another one. But yeah, it’s true, we heard from so many people after the first game who said, “I don’t know if I’m going to like this or not, but it sure is intriguing. Why can’t I have this on my hardware?” So sure, what business is going to say, “No, please don’t buy our product. We don’t want you.”

. . .

Part two of our Warren Spector interview will be online later in the week.

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There were “certainly arguments that suggest that [the mining tax] is going to treat different states in different ways” … Barry O’Farrell.The New South Wales Government has revealed it will not join Queensland in a legal challenge to the federal mining tax because there is little chance it will succeed.
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The decision leaves Queensland and Western Australia to put forward their arguments in the High Court challenge, launched by Fortescue Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group last month, against the constitutionality of the minerals resource rent tax.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell sought advice from the Crown Solicitor in March about joining the challenge after discussions with then Queensland opposition leader, Campbell Newman.

While the NSW government will not release the legal advice, it is understood to conclude that any challenge would have a minimal chance of success.

Fortescue will argue that the mining tax, which the federal government hopes will raise $13.4 billion over the next four years, discriminates between states and impedes their ability to encourage mining.

The Queensland government announced yesterday it would intervene in the case, meaning it will put forward its own arguments, but not formally join the Fortescue challenge.

The WA Premier, Colin Barnett, confirmed it would also intervene in the challenge.

But a spokesman for Mr O’Farrell said NSW would ”closely monitor” the proceedings.

”NSW will not intervene in the proceedings unless this review determines that intervention by the state of NSW is warranted.”

With the tax forecast to raise $3 billion this financial year, a successful challenge could threaten federal Labor’s vow to bring the budget back to surplus.

However, the federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, described the challenge as ”futile”. He was ”very confident” the government’s position would be upheld in the High Court, and had received legal advice that the Commonwealth would succeed.

Mr Swan accused Mr Newman, now Premier, of wasting taxpayer money to give billionaires a tax cut.

”Campbell Newman says he hasn’t got any money, therefore he’s got to sack thousands of workers in Queensland. But he’s got enough money to fund an expensive High Court challenge which will be futile and which would ultimately deliver a tax cut to the likes of Clive Palmer.”

But Queensland’s Attorney-General described the cost of the intervention as ”minimal”, estimating it would be up to $300,000.

Mr Palmer – who last week walked away from a plan to contest Mr Swan’s seat in Brisbane – said through a spokesman that he had not spoken with the Queensland government before its decision.

Mr Barnett described the tax as ”flawed economically” but could not predict the outcome of the challenge.

The decisions come as the federal government seeks to revive its fortunes by arguing that the mining tax will spread natural resource wealth across the community through cash handouts and business tax cuts.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, would not be drawn on whether the interventions were appropriate use of taxpayers’ money, but reiterated the Coalition’s plan to remove the mining tax. ”There is no doubt that the mining tax particularly targets the resource rich states and if the states in question wish to challenge it in court, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do,” he said.

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Cadel Evans is where he has been so many times – with his back against the wall in the Tour de France – and pledging to fight all the way to very end.
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While Evans (BMC) held on to second place overall in the Tour with his sixth place in the 41.5km stage nine time trial from Arc-et-Senans to Besancon, his overall deficit to British race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) slipped from 10 seconds overnight to 1 minute 53 seconds.

Wiggins and his team left Besancon with a second victory of sorts, with British teammate Chris Froome moving up from sixth overall at 1min 32secs to third at 2mins 7 secs after a brilliant second place in the stage, 35 seconds behind Wiggins. The leader agreed that it was Froome’s best ever time trial.

Wiggins claimed his first stage win in a Tour by clocking 51mins 24.5 secs on a technically demanding route that many thought suited Evans better.

Behind Wiggins and Froome was Switserland’s Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) at 57 secs. Evans finished sixth on the stage at 1min 43 secs after a slow start. He was 13th at the first split at 16.5km, 1min 2secs behind Wiggins, who was fastest, then sixth at the second split at 31.5km, 1min 19 secs in arrears.

For Evans, the result was certainly a setback. His time gap on Wiggins was exactly the same as when the pair squared off in the final time trial of the Criterium du Dauphine in France – although that course was longer at 53km. But after the stage, Evans showed no indication of giving up the fight to win.

Asked what could be expected from him when the Tour resumes on Wednesday after Tuesday’s rest day, Evans said: “Same as always … fight till the end and don’t give up. That continues. It hasn’t been optimal so far the Tour -1.53 down (is) not the best position to be in compared to last year. Being 2 seconds down was a lot more realistic. But you reassess the situation day by day and of course we don’t give up, that’s for sure. We don’t give up.”

Evans, who was the second last rider to start and had Wiggins closing in on him from behind after starting three minutes later, was disappointed to have lost so much time on Wiggins and Froome who is now in a box seat to follow any moves that the Australian is likely to launch in the mountains.

“I am a little disappointed to lose that time, but Froome and Wiggins rode really, really well,” Evans said.

“I didnt know what to expect. We spoke (about it on Sunday). It’s the first longer time trial. I didn’t know what to expect and what the level of the others was in time trialling here in the Tour.

“It was not my best time trial and certainly it was not a bad one in comparison with the other (pure) time triallists – Cancellara and (German world champion Tony) Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep, 12th at two minutes 16 secs) … I wasn’t so far off the mark. But Sky had two very strong riders.”

BMC team president Jim Ochowicz remained calm about the time loss, but he conceded that while Evans was the defending Tour champion he is also now the challenger, with the Tour due to enter the Alps on Wednesday for the 194.5km 10th stage from Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.

“He’s got to take – right now – two minutes from Wiggins, but we’ve got a lot of bike racing ahead of us,” Ochowicz said.

“We’re not calculating our strategy for next week. We’re going to analyze what happened today, (Tuesday is) a rest day and we come up with a strategy for Wednesday’s race, which is our first tough stage in the Alps. We’ll evaluate between now and then.”

Ochowicz also warned not to underestimate Evans’ mental toughness, saying: “You can’t have done what he’s done in his career — (be) world champion, Tour de France winner … these guys are tough when they get to this point. He’s not an amateur. He’s a pro. He’s been in the game for a lot of years.

“And he’s up for the challenge. It’s a challenge to be the leader. It’s a challenge to be the challenger. We’re the challenger now.”

Wiggins, meanwhile, is far from complacent, despite the strong positions that he and Froome are in.

“The Tour has still two weeks to go. Until I wake up in Paris (after the race finishes on July 22) in yellow, there’s a fight. I’m only human, there’s always a possibility of a bad day,” the Briton said.

But he didn’t deny his satisfaction for winning the stage and taking so much time on Evans.

“I didn’t set out to win the stage,”  Wiggins said.

“To come away with the stage is great, I was only thinking of the GC. To have the stage is just like Christmas when you are a kid. It’s brilliant.”

Twitter: @rupertguinness

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