The view from Billinudgel

Farewell, Tim Fischer
The former Nationals leader was a rare political beast

Source: Twitter

Timothy Andrew Fischer was a rare political beast: a genuinely good man.

He had his blind spots – the worst of them was refusing to acknowledge the reality of Indigenous land rights following the High Court decisions on Mabo and Wik. He and his party would not negotiate and voted against all the legislation.

But he quite literally saved his own party from sliding into reactionary irrelevance after the shock defeat of its leader, Charles Blunt, in 1990. At the time Fischer was seen as an aberration, a stopgap leader, but he hauled his bickering troops together and gave them purpose and agenda; he brought them back to the mainstream. It is doubtful that anyone else could have done it; Fischer’s unswerving commitment and integrity inspired trust.

This gave him the political capital he needed to support John Howard’s gun laws in 1996, when once again the Nationals threatened to spin out of control. Fischer was accused of progressive tendencies, normally fatal among the staunchly conservative Nats, and he had to keep them quiet. He was, for instance, a republican, and yet kept well out of the rancorous debates over the 1999 referendum. And beyond the pitch battles in parliament was the personal challenge of living with autism, which could make communication difficult. I once said that Fischer seemed to be a man struggling with a second language.

But he managed the trade portfolio with skill and aplomb, and had no hesitation in taking on sometimes hostile foreign leaders. He was a brilliant local member as well – the name “Two-Minute Tim” was often meant in a derisory sense aimed at the haste with which he attended the multiple gatherings in his electorate, but was in fact a compliment to his diligence in connecting with as many voters as possible.

And his interests were diverse and passionate: he was a dedicated bushwalker, leaving many behind who thought they were younger and fitter, and he was unquestionably Australia’s greatest advocate for rail transport. I regard myself as something of a train enthusiast, but I was never in Fischer’s league. He knew it all, and seldom missed a chance to share his enthusiasm.

After he left parliament to spend more time with his family (a hackneyed line, although in his case demonstrably sincere) he was sadly missed by all in the chamber. The Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd later offered him a job as ambassador to the Vatican, which he embraced.

Farewell, Tim, and thank you, from one who supported the other side of politics, but always admired you. And I fervently wish there were a few more like you – in all the parties, not only your own. In these troubled times, we could do with your honesty, your decency, your fairness and your simple goodness.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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