Source: Prime Minister of Australia
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I move that the House record its deep sadness at the death on the 22nd of August 2019 of the Honourable Timothy Andrew Fischer AC, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Leader of the National Party, Minister for Trade, and Member for Farrer, and place on record its appreciation of his remarkable public service and tender its profound sympathy to his family.
Mr Speaker, Timothy Andrew Fischer was Australia all over. He was an Australian original, the boy from Boree Creek. He was loved, he was admired, he was respected, he was revered.
He became from humble beginnings in Boree Creek and at the recent memorial service which the Leader of the Opposition and I and many in this place had the opportunity to attend, we learned of his humble family beginnings in a very loving and hard-working family, and coming from such a modest start, to become the titan for regional Australia, was his greatest achievement.
Like Bob Hawke, who we remembered in this Chamber just a few short months ago, Tim transcended the political divide probably more than any I could nominate in this place.
That’s why, I think, so many of us in this Chamber, and those who have been in this Chamber, we all have a Tim Fischer story, I suspect.
If you ever wanted to know what it’s like to tour with Elvis, go on the Indian Pacific with Tim Fischer for three days. I did. And as you walked up and down the carriages, among so many other railway enthusiasts, there was none greater than Tim Fischer.
He would stop, he would sit, he would listen to their stories. Those big hands would shake the hands of his fellow Australians and people would just light up as they engaged with him. Because Tim had this amazing ability just to focus all of himself on whoever was opposite him and he made them the centre of the universe.
There was no trick to it. No performance in it. It was 100 per cent pure Tim, and they got 100 per cent of him when he was in that moment. This is why, Judy, he was so loved. So, so, so loved.
Tim knew this country like few others and he loved it as much as anybody possibly could. He was the best of us, and he made all those he encountered better too by knowing him.
Tim lived a life bigger than I suspect he could have imagined as a young boy on the family property. At just 11, Tim left the farm to board at Burke Hall and then Xavier College in Melbourne. It was a lonely time as his brother reminded us, but Tim was always willing to have a go, and by his final year he was made a prefect thanks to his dependability and trustworthiness in the reports. Characteristics that many in politics would later come to appreciate.
He also joined the school paper, that is where he got all his insights I’m sure, Mr Speaker, into his knowledge of the media and its wiles. A precursor to his habit later in life of writing columns for the local paper, and calling into newsrooms around the country to make sure they had his view of whatever the issue of the day might be.
Educated by the Jesuits, Tim embodied their core to be a man for others. It was always the Tim for others.
When the call came to serve his country in Vietnam, Tim served proudly and courageously. Given the option of going to university or serving, instead, in a special rural youth service at Holsworthy Barracks, he said no. You either do something properly or not at all.
Recognising the opportunity to gain something from his military experience, Tim applied and was one of the few accepted for officer training. After his training in 1967, second Lieutenant Tim Fischer was told if he wanted to go to Vietnam he would have to extend his service by nine months.
Typical of the man we know he did, not just once but twice. He returned to the farm humbly and modestly and worked quietly, through so much of what he saw in Vietnam. Not long back, Tim again heard the call to serve his country and at age 24, he entered the New South Wales Parliament as both the youngest ever country party MP and the first Vietnam veteran to serve in any Australian Parliament.
13 and a half years later, he came here, to Canberra. It is easy now when we remember Tim to think first of his many quirks and endearing traits.
The stoop, the hat, the big hands I have mentioned. His unique cadence, and its faint echo of a childhood speech impediment, that was never totally mastered. Then there was that singularity. That individuality that set him slightly apart, from the rest of the world.
Whether it was his famous and insatiable passion for trains, his love of Bhutan, and he remained a passionate adherent to the indicator of national happiness, all the way through his life. His trademark Akubra, or his command of chess, there was none like him.
But to only remember these things about Tim would do him a great injustice. He was a deep thinker, a true representative of the bush, a man respected throughout our region, a man of immense political skill, content with his own company but also one of the people.
He was a great Coalitionist, one of the greatest, I would say, and a formidable leader.
In 1993, when my side of politics lost what was called the unlosable election, under Tim’s leadership the Nationals actually picked up two seats. And in 1996, together with John Howard he delivered the Coalition one of our greatest ever victories, increasing Nationals representation yet again.
He threw himself into the role of Trade Minister, he was tireless, a respected negotiator who championed an end to protectionism and who championed a greater engagement with Asia.
As Trade Minister he built on 20 years of engagement in the region, and during that time he had visited almost every country in the region, except Sri Lanka and The Maldives. He did most of it at his own expense prior to coming to the job.
What did every visit and interaction teach him? Respect, mutual respect, that was his currency for engagement.
It seemed appropriate, that when I learned of Tim’s death, Jenny and I were on our way to Vietnam for our recent visit.
One of the first countries he visited as Trade Minister and Deputy Prime Minister was Vietnam. And during that visit he didn’t just hold bilateral meetings, but he tended to his soul as well.
He visited an orphanage built by a Vietnam veteran’s reconstruction group, and he made a private visit to Long Tan, he made many trips to Vietnam, he said he wanted to help speed the healing of the scars of conflict because he said he could foresee a future of peace, cooperation and prosperity for both Australia and Vietnam, and he was right, and that is now being realised.
Tim was a man formidable character, former Deputy John Anderson, wrote, how he was magnificently freeing to work closely with someone who was essentially honest and transparent. And it was character that that defined his finest hour.
After Port Arthur, he put the well-being of Australians and what he knew to be right ahead of populist politics, gun laws were not popular in regional Australia. But he stood shoulder to shoulder with John Howard, and as John Howard said, showed tremendous guts, and leadership, and together they introduced and passed through this place, gun laws for which Australians will be forever, ever grateful, to Tim Fischer and to John Howard.
And we owe a special debt to Tim Fischer in his finest hour.
That was the campaign I am told that Tim was most proud of later in 1998, he had to face the backlash of the gun laws, and the first incarnation of One Nation.
And he took it on.
He didn’t demonise those with a different view, instead he just sought to persuade them and in most cases he did, he was pretty persuasive, relentlessly persuasive. The Nationals only lost two seats at that election which was a remarkable outcome, in the course of the argument he was taking to his home territories.
When Tim left this place to genuinely spend more time with Judy and their two, their young sons, we lost him from the Parliament but we did not lose him from national service, he served at Tourism Australia, he served and championed the Royal Flying Doctor Service as chairman, he served with distinction as our first resident ambassador to the Holy See, working closely with the Vatican on the canonisation of Saint Mary McKillop, appointed by the Rudd Government.
I’m pleased to inform the House, as some may know, that Tim was held in such high regard, that in his final days, his Holiness Pope Francis awarded Tim the order of Saint Gregory the Great, in recognition of his personal services to the Holy See, and the example he set in his community and country.
Tim will also be remembered for his tireless advocacy of one of our greatest soldiers, General Sir John Monash, and it is fitting that Tim Fischer’s name will now join with that of Monash in a perpetual scholarship to be supported by the Government.
The Tim Fischer John Monash Scholarship will be awarded each year by the John Monash Foundation to a worthy scholar from a rural or regional background, to follow in his very big footsteps. It is a lasting legacy that pays tribute to Tim’s belief in education, service, leadership, but most of all his passion for the future of regional Australia.
In mourning Tim Fischer we remember a statesman, a mentor, a fierce advocate for the region, for our country and its people, but we mostly remember a very dear friend.
And to Judy, and Harrison, and Dominic, who have lost far more than the rest of us, an adored husband and father.
We thank you, for sharing Tim with the rest of us, Judy and Harrison, and Dominic, and Dominic is here today as is Judy. We thank all of his family, his brother is also here today who spoke so beautifully at the memorial service and thank you for sharing those stories with us.
We also thank you for caring for him so wonderfully in those final years.
Tim Fischer made this country a better place.
He made many of us better people.
Now may he rest in the arms of a loving God.
God bless, Tim Fischer.