Bolt on leave from politics. From Andrew Bolt’s prolific Herald Sun blog overnight …

Huh? As Crikey reported yesterday, Bolt was caught out digging up false 16-year-old claims against Julia Gillard (which he later acknowledged). But has the usually unflappable columnist been burnt? On 2GB this morning, debating Paul Howes in a regular segment, he provided this cryptic response to the matter:

“What I can safely say is Julia Gillard is a fantastic prime minister, she really does her best for us, I think anyone trying to criticise her, well really, we should just shut them down and not answer what they say and I don’t think that’s in the national interest. So I think she’s doing a fantastic job and I can only say good on her.”

No, really. Pushed further by presenter Ben Fordham, he responded:

“I’d like people to check what was said before and what the prime minister responded to. It would be nice if they could check with what was said now and has been withdrawn completely and see what difference there is, but you can’t do that. There is to be no debate and maybe that’s fantastic, maybe that’s great and what people want.”

We called Andrew Bolt this morning but he’s yet to get back. We’ll keep watch on this self-imposed exile …

QR managers in the money. The management of newly privatised QR National have handed themselves huge pay increases, with executive remuneration trebling to more than $17 million from 2010 levels, yesterday’s financial results revealed. But, unusually, the huge pay rises aren’t itemised against individual executives. As anticipated by a Crikey tipster, instead, remuneration has been lumped together into a single “key management personnel compensation” component of the preliminary final report that only shows an increase from $5.3 million in 2010 to $17.1 million in 2010-11. Nearly all of the increase is a massive rise in salaries and incentive payments. The trebling was predicted by unions opposed to the privatisation last year, and contrasts with the slightly over 3% per annum rise QR National negotiated with its workers in 2010.

QR National sources say that CEO Lance Hockridge’s remuneration package was more than $4 million, nearly as much as the entire remuneration of the senior QR executive before privatisation — QR National denied this yesterday and said details of Hockridge’s remuneration would be published in the lead-up to the November AGM. Chairman John Prescott is also the beneficiary of an arrangement with QR National to reimburse him “for office lease expenses incurred while working on group matters throughout the year”. Prescott received $120,000 for the lease costs, down from $144,000 in 2010. The company unveiled a 17% lift in EBITDA off the back of an 11% lift in revenue, despite a big fall in coal transport revenue.

ACS deputy chief quits. Neil Mann, a 2IC at Australian Customs Service, has resigned. Crikey confirmed the split with the department yesterday. Mann, who was the deputy CEO of passenger and trade facilitation, has been with Customs since 2006. He’ll leave on September 28. We put a series of questions to Customs on reports from inside the department on disharmony but there has been no response.

Loading the tax forum bases. How many union representatives will be at the federal government’s tax forum as “general public” invitees? “I know at least one is,” says a reader, “and considering they already have a large number of  ‘official’ reps at the forum this rather loads the bases.”

Roxon’s undercover Dobell visit. ALP members in Dobell are complaining they were told about the visit to the Central Coast today of the Minister for Ageing Nicola Roxon to the scenic Gosford Golf Club after it was too late to be there. “There are retired people in Dobell,” one helpfully reminds.

Unhealthy appointments in Victoria. Health insiders in Victoria are bemused at some of the senior board appointments the new Liberal minister David Davis is making. Apart from the now traditional knocking off of previous government appointees, however qualified and competent, and replacement by political mates, our tipster claims the less-than-stellar form of some of the new appointees has been ignored: “Two recent  appointments are head honchos who were sacked by the hospitals they previously served while another, more worryingly, rorted the hospital system to the tune of $1 million by being paid out for accumulated, untaken sick leave. In the latter instance, the gent even persuaded hard-headed businesspeople on his board that this was standard CEO contract practice (it may be in the private sector but certainly wasn’t in health).”

Optus net catches too much. Optus, like other internet service providers, is voluntarily blocking child s-xual abuse material from the Interpol list of websites. But it seems an innocuous forum on digital cameras has also been caught in the net. When one user of the Whirlpool forum said the page from camera maker Canon dedicated to modifying firmware was blocked, an Optus rep responded:

“We’ve temporarily blocked this site due to receiving a report of a phishing website being hosted in the same location. Can confirm the site has now been suspended/taken down so we’ll arrange to have the block removed today. I’ll let you know once it’s been done if I hear back today :)”

So all good. But it shows just how easily websites can be caught in the net. As one forum user retorted: “If I didn’t complain on here, how long would the block be there?”

Sydney foodie steals Melbourne show. Melbourne foodies descended on The Age Good Food Guide awards last night only to watch Joanna Savill, sitting front row, present three awards. Local food queen Larissa Dubecki only presented one.

Reports one guest: “Savill was as funny as salmonella when she announced on stage that Melbourne was the second food capital. It was her “joke”. Pass the Quick-Eze. Savill is co-editor of the SMH Good Food Guide and told the crowd she’d be presenting the awards next Monday. Sydney, Sydney, Sydney. No one cares. Savill is director of the Sydney International Food Festival in October and Citibank is the “presenting partner”. Citibank also jumped on board The Age Good Food Guide to become principle partner. Guests wondered if Sydney-centric Citibank insisted on shoving Savill on stage for three awards.”

Churchill farewelled in quiet affair. One bitchy Age staffer reports a “meagre” crowd for publisher Don Churchill’s farewell lunch at Maya restaurant last week. Age COO David Hoath gave what insiders say was an “embarrassing” talk about Churchill’s exploits including why Melbourne bars were happy Churchill was not returning to New Zealand and Churchill falling asleep. The man of the moment reminded those present of his “stellar career” in an apparently rambling repeat of his message to Age employees two weeks earlier. We’re told the event was devoid of leading Melbourne figures except for Tennis Australia honcho Steve Wood.

An abdication next year? A probably crazy whisper from London: “The new £50 bank note which was supposed to have been released late last year has been held up because the Bank of England has been told the Queen will abdicate before 2012, and that would have meant withdrawing the little-used denomination and replacing it prematurely.” You heard it here first.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey