Senate Finance Committee staffers are back from their 13-day fact-finding trip to Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam to prep for the upcoming debate on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement being negotiated between Washington and 10 other countries.

When we wished them a hearty bon voyage, we were told they were going to meet with senior government officials and trade and industry leaders in those three countries.

The embassy in Canberra began working in early March to also put together a meeting with some representatives of civil society — union folks, enviros, public health advocates, indigenous groups and so on — to “give their perspectives on the TPP and some of the specific issues in the agreement,” according to an an e-mail to one of those invited.

The embassy contacted leaders from those sectors and a meeting was tentatively set for March 25.

But a week before the meeting, the embassy e-mailed the civil society folks that the committee staffers were no longer able to meet with them. Seems they had a very busy schedule and many other people to get to, so there was simply no time.

A committee source says they were invited to meet instead with the U.S. ambassador at a “larger gathering with a wide variety of business, government and civil society groups.” Doesn’t seem quite the same thing.

Well, maybe the committee aides met with reps of similar groups in New Zealand. (Civil society not being very big — pretty much non-existent — in Vietnam.

There are scurrilous reports that some of the committee staffers found time while in New Zealand to squeeze in a visit to the site of the Hobbit village in “The Lord of the Rings.”

We’ll believe that only if we see photographic evidence.