Fischer a "titan" of the National Party

Tributes flow for the Nats leader who changed course of politics


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Always a farmer at heart, Tim Fischer pictured in 1990 in a canola crop in a story for The Land. It's Barossa canola on his farm Peppers at Boree Creek.

Always a farmer at heart, Tim Fischer pictured in 1990 in a canola crop in a story for The Land. It's Barossa canola on his farm Peppers at Boree Creek.

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Tim Fischer was a man of the people and farmer at heart

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A man of simple honest values that he stood by all his life, is how many people remembered the former Nationals leader Tim Fischer who passed away today.

A 'Renaissance man' who was into everything from trains to his famous annual Tumbarumba bushwalks with the press, the boy from Boree Creek, who grew up at "Peppers" in the Lockhart shire, was a "titan" of the National Party.

But he was also respected across the breadth of politics, admired for taking on his own party over tighter gun controls during the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre, modernising his party under the banner New Challenges-New Horizons, leading his party into government and as Trade minister clinching groundbreaking trade deals in China and elsewhere.

Tim Fischer left an indelible mark in his 73 years. Known as "two-minute Tim" for his style of flitting from meeting to meeting around the country, people remembered him actually as a man who took his time to say hello, and enthuse them with positive energy. He would even help young journalists who felt nervy interviewing him. Forever wearing an Akubra, he would greet anyone who came into his near vicinity.

The former Vietnam veteran who believed Agent Orange may have contributed to his steep decline with leukaemia in his later years (he battled four cancers), he learnt his humility the hard way in war, and then as a grounded person, translated that into the hardest sphere possible in state and federal politics.

Tim Fischer, second from left, served in Vietnam.

Tim Fischer, second from left, served in Vietnam.

He left politics to be closer to his family and then later becoming the ambassador to the Holy See in Rome, and helping in the push to canonise Mary Mackillop, Australia's first saint.

It was his quiet diplomacy that left his mark on many people.

Nationals president and former MP Larry Anthony saw Tim Fischer last week as Fischer was gravely ill fighting off acute leukaemia in Albury-Wodonga hospital.

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"Even when I saw him last Friday with Kay Hull (former MP), he had a positive outlook. He was always interested in other people, had an unusual compassion, sort of an old style that left its mark, a generosity that touched many people and had their lives changed by it. He made our life a better place.

"There were many facets to Tim, an author, an ambassador, a train enthusiast and a veteran. He also had a great sense of humour."

NSW Nationals director Ross Cadell said Fischer was a "titan" of the party. "The Nats are a family and we are feeling it. Our thoughts are with Judy and the family. He was a giant and we miss him."

Fischer was a Vietnam veteran.

Fischer was a Vietnam veteran.

He had close relationships with journalists, often ringing news organisations news desks on his own bat (one of these authors actually took one of his calls on a subject of a Grafton siege), helping younger journalists, and organising the Tumbarumba walk each year with the Canberra press gallery.

A former Land editor and current wool writer Vernon Graham had some memories of Fischer.

"He had a remarkable career which included farming on Peppers at Boree Creek, army service as a conscript during the Vietnam War and ambassador to the Holy See," Graham said.

"Mr Fischer was also obsessed with trains and fought a long and unsuccessful battle to get Sir John Monash, a famous Australian general during the First World War, posthumously raised to the rank of Field Marshal.

"But he made his biggest mark as a politician starting in the NSW Parliament from 1971-84 before his election to the House of Representatives at the 1984 elections as the member for Farrer.

"Despite having a lisp and a talent for mangling the language, Mr Fischer won over the public for being honest and a straight shooter even though he was derided by his opponents and the city media for being a "hayseed".

"He was a frustrating person to interview because of his short attention span and sometimes incomprehensible sentences. He also had a down-to-earth approach to serving constituents in his Riverina seat, embarking on regular car trips to towns in the electorate where he would meet people at pre-advertised locations."

Simon Chamberlain, press secretary for Kevin Anderson, recalled his days as a reporter for Queensland Country Life and how he drove Mr Fischer to the airport one day and combined the errand with an interview. "The helpful politician grabbed Mr Chamberlain's dictaphone and asked his own questions before answering them!," The Land's Jamie Brown was told.

The current member for Farrer (Fischer's old seat), Sussan Ley said "Australia has lost one of its great political characters and regional Australia one of its great champions".

"Tim was one of a kind and my thoughts go out to Judy, Harrison and Dominic.

"Today is a sad day for the people of Farrer whom Tim represented on the national and international stage over seventeen years and who I succeeded as local member following his retirement.

"Tim was a mentor, whose passion for the history, culture and politics of our region shone through in everything he said at home and abroad. He travelled among us, he spoke for us and we loved him for that.

"Whenever I drive the backroads of my electorate near Boree Creek I am reminded of the Vietnam Veteran farmer in the slouch hat who strode amongst us, and his passion for finding a place for rural Australia on the world stage.

"While much will be said about Tim's achievements today - for me, the memory will be of the affable family man relaxing at the Lockhart Show enjoying a snag around the barbecue with his boys, chatting about trains .... and, of course, wearing that hat."

Nationals Leader Michael McCormack said Australia had lost one its finest people with the passing of Tim Fischer.

"Tim was a giant of The National Party, he was a giant of Australia, but more than that, he was a champion for regional and rural communities. Regional Australia had no better friend than Tim," Mr McCormack said.

"He was a proud Australian who embodied the very best qualities of loyalty, kindness, empathy, courage and humility.

"He loved Australia as much as Australians loved him and that passion for his country was evident throughout his life and career.

"There are few people who have had the impact on The National Party and indeed this great nation as Tim Fischer AC. His presence was felt in every room he entered and his name and legacy will continue to benefit those who choose regional and rural Australia as their home.

"My heartfelt thoughts are with Tim's wife Judy, sons Harrison and Dominic and his many friends across Australia."

Former NSW Farmers president and current chairman of the Regional Australia Institute Mal Peters has had a long association with Mr Fischer.

"It is with deep sadness that I learn of his passing and I extend my sincerest condolences to his family," Mr Peters said.

"He was one of those rare blokes who would just tell you where you stood. I always found working with Tim that he was a great servant of farmers and a very honest broker."

Tim Fischer with his family, Judy with sons Harrison, and Dominic, right, at their Boree Creek property when as acting Prime Minister Mr Fischer ran the country from his farm.

Tim Fischer with his family, Judy with sons Harrison, and Dominic, right, at their Boree Creek property when as acting Prime Minister Mr Fischer ran the country from his farm.

Mr Peters said the respect Mr Fischer had won as an "absolute honest broker" with the rural community enabled Mr Fischer to weather the controversial gun reform he pioneered with former Prime Minister John Howard.

"When John Howard did the gun buyback, Tim bore the brunt of rural people's reaction as the Nats leader," Mr Fischer said.

"But he carried it all with dignity and honesty. Some people didn't like what he was doing, but they respected the way he went about it."

Former NSW Farmers' president Derek Schoen, a lifelong mixed farmer from Corowa, first met Mr Fischer in the early 1980s.

As a member of the local Nationals branch he worked on Mr Fischer's successful 1984 campaign which launched him from state politics into representing Farrer in the federal parliament.

Mr Fischer had "enormous respect and affection" in his electorate, Mr Schoen said.

"People called him Two Minute Tim. It wasn't meant with any disrespect, it was just the way he would always work the room at any function.

"He would get to every single person there, but they'd only get two minutes."

Mr Schoen said people often remarked about how many people Mr Fischer knew by name, but one day he revealed his trick.

"Often when he went to a meeting or an event, he would find someone he knew and get them in conversation. Then he'd point to someone else and ask their name. If it was John Smith, then off he'd go and say 'Hi John', get talking and repeat the process around the room. It was a very astute way of circulating."

Mr Schoen said whenever Tim did speak to people, he never heard of them leaving with a bad word to say.

"He wanted to listen to what people had to say, and it was such a rare quality.

"He would remember things about previous conversations, ask about your family and you felt he was a part of your life."

"Tim stuck to it and we achieved a very good outcome in firearms control after Port Arthur.

"It was a very difficult period, but he always had a reason behind what he did and that's why he stood out as a politician."

Former Nationals Leader and New England MP Barnaby Joyce said Mr Fischer could be personified as "enthusiasm guided by a laser like compass of values".

"From service to our Nation as a conscript in the Vietnam War, and then a second tour out of a sense of duty, he took this character to the second highest office in our land," Mr Joyce said.

"His quirkiness masked a forensic intellect for the more obscure tabulated data. His hat was a signal of a person who wanted to be seen by the people so they could approach him. "I am going this way. Walk with me" was one of the first times that I approached Tim. He was never dismissive, but he was busy.

"He personified leadership in the gun debate, taking the high road and the hard one, putting his political capital on the line.

"He was the ballast that gave longevity to the John Howard political ship. He was the standard by which so many National Party Leaders after him were judged."

National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson said Mr Fischer made an "enormous contribution to regional and rural Australia" as federal Trade Minister.

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"Mr Fischer is remembered for his tireless work as Trade Minister, in particular for his role in opening access in markets including China, India and Iran," Ms Simson said.

"Of course we're unlikely to ever see a more passionate and pragmatic advocate for the importance of a modern, efficient rail-based freight system, as the former Deputy Prime Minister."

Former NSW Farmers' president Jock Laurie said he was saddened to hear of Mr Fischer's passing.

"He was a real character, and an absolute gentleman too," Mr Laurie said.

"Tim had his own unique style. Rural people like to see someone express themselves and be genuine, like he always was.

"He was always absolutely honest and rural people loved him because of that."

In 1999, Fischer ran the country from his property at Boree Creek when he was acting Prime Minister.

Michael McCormack (who continued the tradition) said: "Tim has left the station but his legacy will live on. So many people were touched by his warmth and humanity.

"He was one of the great National party leaders, for Tim the country meant everything, but he always did things in the national interest.

"Vale Tim Fischer, you have been a mighty human being."

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