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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3698

Senator TEAGUE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister's failing to keep an appointment with the National Farmers Federation, led by Mr Ian McLachlan, yesterday here in Parliament House by holding the meeting up for several hours and then by kicking the NFF delegation out after a few minutes. Was this a deliberate political decision on the Prime Minister's part, as was the case with Mr Pendarvis recently, or was it a Government decision to insult the rural sector, our primary industries and country people generally?

Senator BUTTON —First of all, let me say that the Government has great sympathy and concern for the plight of many farmers in Australia and particularly those who are growing wheat. The question is how the interests of farmers are best represented to the Government and by whom. Having had over some time the pleasure of having discussions with Mr McLachlan about one issue or another, I am not convinced that the best interests of farmers are in any way represented by Mr McLachlan, just as I am not convinced that the best interests of some manufacturers are represented by Besco Batteries, and just as I am not convinced that the interests of a wide range of sections of this community are best represented by people who have ideological commitments over and above their representational role.

It is extraordinary for anyone to approach any government, I believe, anywhere, and turn that request for consultation into a stunt before the consultation has taken place. That is what happened yesterday. Mr McLachlan turned that visit into a stunt, and it was not a genuine attempt to consult with the Government about a variety of issues. It is not at all a new experience for the Government, and I believe that that action reflected a quite deliberate decision which was made for reasons which have nothing to do with the interests of the people whom Mr McLachlan purports to represent and about whom every Australian citizen with any concern is correctly concerned.

I do not know whether I can take the answer to the question any further than that, but that is what happened yesterday and that is not a good example of the very great attention which this Government has given to consultation with various community groups-attention to consultation which is recognised-in comparison with previous governments. This Government has been prepared to indulge in a very high level of consultation.

Senator Lewis —You don't even confer with your own back bench. What are you talking about? You don't consult with anyone.

Senator BUTTON —It is all right for Senator Lewis on his tax-free allowance muttering away in the front row waiting around for another bus strike in Canberra so he can say something and contribute something to the Parliament. The honourable senator will be waiting a while, I think. It is all right for him to sit here muttering about these sorts of things, but what I have said happened yesterday is correct, and I do not want to repeat it.