Tuesday 11 August 2020
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Australian PM - 1 month ago

Condolence - Tim Fischer

Mr Morrison: (Cook—Prime Minister and Minister for the Public Service) (14:01): I move: That the House record its deep regret at the death, on 22 August 2019, of the Honourable Timothy Andrew Fischer AC, a Member of this House for the Division of Farrer from 1984 to 2001, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement. 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 came from humble beginnings in Boree Creek, and at the recent memorial service, which the Leader of the Opposition, I and many in this place had the opportunity to attend, we learnt of his humble family beginnings in a very loving and hardworking family. Coming from such a modest start to become a 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, and that s why I think so many of us in this chamber and those who have been in this chamber have a story. 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 amid so many other railway enthusiasts, there was none greater than Tim Fischer. He would stop, he would sit and he would listen to their stories. Those big hands would shake the hands of his fellow Australians, and people would just line up as they engaged with him because Tim had this amazing ability just to focus all of himself on whoever was opposite him. He made them the centre of the universe. There was no trick to it. There was 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 anyone 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 reports—characteristics that many in politics would later come to appreciate. He also joined the school paper. It was where I m sure he got all his insights into and 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 that they had his view of whatever the issue of the day might be. Educated by the Jesuits, Tim embodied their call to be a man for others. For Tim, it was always 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 nothing 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 that if he wanted to go to Vietnam he would have to extend his service by nine months, and, 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 the age of just 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. Thirteen and a half years later, he came here to Canberra. It s easy now, when we remember Tim, to think first of his many quirks and endearing traits: the stoop, the hat, the big hands I ve mentioned, his unique cadence and its faint echo of a childhood speech impediment that was never totally mastered. And 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 be to do him a great injustice. He was a deep t a true representative of the a man respected throughout our 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 visited every country in the region but Sri Lanka and the Maldives. He did most of it at his own expense prior to coming into 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 learnt 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. During that visit, he didn t just hold bilateral me he tended to his soul as well. He visited an orphanage built by Vietnam Veterans 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, co-operation and prosperity for both Australia and Vietnam , and he was right. That is now being realised. Tim was a man of formidable character. Former deputy John Anderson wrote of how magnificently freeing it is to work closely with someone who is essentially honest and transparent , and it was that character that defined his finest hour. After Port Arthur, he put the wellbeing 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 . Together, they introduced and passed through this place gun laws for which Australians will be forever 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 m 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 lost only 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 then-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 its chairman. He served, with distinction, as our first resident Ambassador to the Holy See, appointed by the Rudd government, working closely with the Vatican on the canonisation of Saint Mary McKillop. I m pleased to inform the House that, as some may know, Tim was held in such high regard that His Holiness Pope Francis awarded Tim, in his final days, the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, in recognition of his personal services to the Holy See and for the example he set in his community and country. Tim will also be remembered for his tireless advocacy for one of our greatest soldiers, General Sir John Monash. 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 General Sir 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 and 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 for its people. But we mostly remember a very dear friend. Judy and Harrison and Dominic 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, Harrison and Dominic. Dominic is here today, as is Judy. We thank all of his family. His brother, who is also here today, spoke so beautifully at the memorial service. 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.

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