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QR National escapes first strike over pay


Freight firm QR National has averted a "first strike" over its executive pay levels and received the go-ahead to change its name to Aurizon Holdings.

Just 14 per cent of shareholder proxy votes at the company's annual general meeting on Wednesday were lodged against the executive pay report.

Some investors had expressed concern ahead of the meeting about the use of accounting changes to increase executive bonuses.

But support from major shareholder, the Queensland government, prevented a "first strike", which requires a quarter of shareholders to vote against a company's remuneration report.

The government's decision to support the report came just hours before a separate vote by shareholders to allow the government to reduce its stake in QR from 34 per cent to 16 per cent.

During a heated annual general meeting, chairman John Prescott said a first strike would have been avoided regardless of how the government voted on the remuneration report.

"I can assure you there would not have been a strike," he told shareholders following a series of questions from Australian Shareholders Association activist Stephen Mayne.

He said the company had not given its executives a "free kick" thanks to accounting changes.

"Contrary to what you may read in the media, these are not simply end of year adjustments," he said.

"Quite frankly, they're what we expect management to do to enhance shareholder value."

Meanwhile, a proposal to change QR National's name to Aurizon Holdings was less controversial with 99.24 per cent in favour, despite concerns from shareholders the name change could hurt the share price or be confused with a Canadian mining company.

A separate vote on the company buying back 288 million Queensland government shares for $1.5 billion, allowing it to reduce its stake in QR, also passed with 99.65 per cent of proxies in favour.

Earlier, chief executive Lance Hockridge said haulage volumes in the first four months of the 2012/13 financial year were down one per cent from the same period in 2011/12.

The fall was due to lower volumes in Queensland, as those in NSW were higher.

He expected full-year coal haulage volumes to be at the lower end of the company's previous guidance of 195 to 205 million tonnes.

The response to QR's voluntary redundancy program had been stronger than expected, he added, with more than 820 people leaving, rather than the previously advised 750.

That takes the total number of departed staff since the company was privatised in 2010 to about 1,600.