Opposition Leader Gary Higgins
Tuesday 26 November 2019
I rise to pay tribute to arguably one of the finest Australian politicians of his generation, the Honourable Tim Fischer, AC. Often we hear the praise of many of an individual, particularly respected
public figures and wonder if there is a tendency towards hyperbole when someone significant has passed away.
With Tim Fischer’s passing we heard phrases such as ‘giant of a man’, ‘a titan’, ‘honourable and dedicated, ‘colourful’, ‘larger than life’, ‘widely respected’ and ‘thoroughly decent’—just to name a few.
One of my favourites is the description coined by fellow officer training unit graduate Gordon Alexander who affectionately said he was ‘goofy looking with a mind like a steal trap’. In the rarest of times I believe none of this was exaggerated and was true. The deep affection and respect for the boy from Boree Creek, from all political sides and spheres of life, cannot be overstated.
Tim Fischer’s extraordinary life is well documented. We know about his time in the army as a 20 year old conscript for the Vietnam War—a place where he saw firsthand the damage that guns can do. It was an
experience that has been speculated to underscore his strong support of the gun law reforms brought in by the Howard government. An interesting sidenote here is that the young Tim Fischer received his call-up
papers from the Darwin post office.
He said his call-up was his biggest break, telling the Sydney Morning Herald in September 2007:
It was winning the National Service ballot in 1966, aged 20. I remember receiving my call-up notice on the steps of Darwin post office. I was put in the officer training unit and graduated as a second
lieutenant. I learnt personal management skills and leadership. It was a great door opener.
It goes to show that Tim Fischer’s connections with the Northern Territory started at an early age. As honourable members would know, Tim Fischer has been a great friend to the Northern Territory and
Territorians. His keen advocacy of and support of the Alice Springs to Darwin rail link was instrumental in the success of the project. He loved the project. Having a Tim Fischer nod of approval was not to be sneezed at.
I am getting ahead of myself in paying tribute to this great man that simply will not do when talking about a man who lived life to the full, made his own opportunities, was admired and loved by many and has been rightly described by the Prime Minister as an Australian original.
In his tribute at Tim Fischer’s funeral, Mr Morrison summed up what many were feeling:
A big man in every sense of the word. As big as the country he loved and served. His big hat, his big hands, his big frame, his big beliefs and passions. His big view of Australia and of Australians. He had
a big courage. But one he combined with a gentle and forgiving kindness that understood human frailty. He was a deeply honest man and he was no stranger to humility.
The Prime Minister continued:
Tim was infectious. For Tim, life was about people. He had the ability to focus all of his attention on you. He would give himself over completely in his engagement with you. You had his attention, you
mattered, he listened and he always remembered.
Although I was unable to make it to his state funeral, regardless, the opposition was represented at the poignant occasion.
From an early age, Tim Fischer showed an aptitude for leadership. He was a quiet achiever and after his call-up, he was assessed by the officer intelligence rating as among the top 13% of Australia’s general
population. For the year end of 31 October 1968, the army rated him as a capable young officer who displayed maturity beyond his years and service experience. He had good leadership and man-management qualities.
As noted in the biography, The Boy from Boree Creek by Peter Rees, the army had marked him out as a junior officer who would go far in the services after his Vietnam experience. Rees further observed:
Beyond question, his experience in the army and Vietnam have been positive, opening up new adventures for his future. The army has given him a grounding in leadership of focus beyond Australia
and an awakening interest in Asia.
From his army career came his illustrious time as a conservative politician, serving our country again with bravery, intelligence, and a lot of class. He was the youngest ever country party-endorsed state candidate in New South Wales at 24, he would be the youngest member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly and the first Vietnam veteran to be elected to any Australian parliament.
His time as a federal parliamentarian is well-known as is his rise to national party leader and Deputy Prime Minister—not bad for the former stutterer and son of a farmer. We can all learn lessons from this great man’s time as a politician.
Again from The Boy from Boree Creek:
Tim Fischer’s detract has badly underestimated his political skills. He understood the values of his conservative electorate and shared them. At functions, he never failed to walk around to all of the
tables between the entrée and main course and to have a chat with the woman out the back doing the washing up. Fischer was folksy, but he was also a very focused politician.
We can and should all aspire to Tim Fischer’s courage of his convictions. Nowhere was that more evident than in his steadfast support of gun law reforms after the horrific tragedy of the Port Arthur Massacre. Despite the pushback from rural Australia and area and community he loved so much, he remained convinced of the veracity of the proposed reform and determinably campaigned for it.
We have so much to thank for this brave and uncompromising stance on this issue. It is no wonder Tim Fischer was a friend of the Northern Territory. He came on board with the rail link being arguably Australia’s
well-known, and stayed connected with us through various roles related to Asia, for example, as leader of the Australian Official Observer Delegation the East Timor Vote.
In 1990 he stated in a media release:
Darwin and the Northern Territory are perfectly placed for the forthcoming expansion of AustralianAsian economic links, in fact, Darwin’s geopolitical position is strategically superb with its direct and
expanding links over a relative short distance to its nearby neighbour, Indonesia and to such key hubs as Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Manila.
When the Sydney Morning Herald asked him what he was most proud of in his political career, he immediately nominated two things—the Darwin-Adelaide rail link, and supporting John Howard on gun control legislation.
Honourable members would be well-aware of his passion and dedicated advocacy of the Alice-Darwin rail link. As he told Railpage in November last year:
When they write my obituary, I hope one of the lead paragraphs gives credit to the Alice-Darwin rail link which I ensured got federal government support. In government if a window opened for good rail
infrastructure, I grabbed it.
The project greatly benefited from Tim Fischer’s support and we are forever in his debt. In July 1999, days after stepping down from his post as Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer was leading the Australia Observer Delegation in East Timor. He wrote a book about his unique experience witnessing the official birth of the world’s youngest nation and in the true generosity of his nature, all royalties from that book were donated to charities engaged in rebuilding East Timor.
This was one of his observations on the significant polling day:
The polite determination of the East Timorese was something to behold, as was their good humour and patience as they stood for long periods waiting to vote. After nearly a quarter of a century and
against all odds, their moment had arrived.
Again, he demonstrated his dedication to something he truly believed in and his meticulous professionalism in carrying out his duties. As Bishop Carlos Belo said in the foreword to Tim Fisher’s book, Ballot and Bullets, Seven Days in East Timor:
I congratulate Tim Fisher in wanting to record for all history the Popular Consultation. And I propose that all Timorese and scholars of Timorese history read Seven Days in East Timor …
I said at the start of this tribute that the deep affection and respect for Tim Fisher AM cannot be understated. Neither can his achievements and his great contribution to this great country. He was a man without peer and sadly, we shall probably never see the like of him again.
However the loss to our nation and the Northern Territory cannot be compared at all to the loss for his wife Judy and sons Harrison and Dominick. To them we send our deepest sympathies.
We could all be here for ages talking about Tim Fisher’s immense contribution to our nation but in the end, I would simply like to say on behalf of the CLP Opposition of the Northern Territory, thank you Tim Fisher AM. Thank you for everything.