Agri-businessman David Crombie took over last Friday as
chairman of the so-called National Farmers Federation and his major task will be
to make the body national in fact as well as in name.

The organisation whose leadership he inherits from the
outgoing cotton-grower Peter Corish is really nothing more than a body
representing the farmers of New South Wales, Victoria and
Tasmania. The state farmer’s federations of Western Australia, South Australia
and Queensland are no longer even members.

Because of the word national in its title, the NFF still
has an influence in a Canberra where politicians and public
servants find it easier to deal with representative industry bodies than to find
out what real participants in an industry think. This was nowhere more evident
than when Mr Corish sold out the views of an overwhelming majority of Australian
farmers by having the NFF eventually support the sale of the remaining
Government shares in Telstra. That decision might have made it easier for the
National Party to pretend it was heeding the views of its rural constituents but
it severely decreased the chances of rebuilding a truly national organisation of

One result of the departure of the three state
federations was a $600,000 a year drop in the NFF’s income and with that has
come a difficulty in keeping good staff and attracting
replacements. The scuttlebutt in Canberra, incidentally,
is that Mr Corish will be endorsed by the Nationals to replace former party
leader John Anderson in the seat of Gwydir.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey