In its campaign advertising in 1996 the Keating government portrayed Nationals leader Tim Fischer as a half-deranged yokel; a national embarrassment.
When he announced he was retiring from the parliament little over three years later, it was as a national treasure.
As a very different Labor leader, Kim Beazley, declared, Fischer was “one of the genuinely loved people in this place,” adding, “you are going to be missed very much by us.”
He will be.
The former deputy prime minister and regular Spectator Australia contributor and diarist died last night from acute myeloid leukaemia, a legacy, he believed, of exposure to chemicals from his time as a national serviceman in Vietnam.
Fischer was a Nasho man who became an officer. He was the ungainly 24-year-old who won a seat first in the New South Wales parliament, then made a rare successful shift to Canberra.
He became Nationals leader in dark days for the party, after Charles Blunt lost his own seat at the 1990 election.
The contrast between Fischer and the Ferarri-driving former banker Liberal leader John Hewson was stark. He could come across all too easily as a figure strayed in from Dad and Dave, with talk of his home at Boree Creek. His decency and sincerity, however, were impossible to miss – even if they concealed his resolve.
That resolve saw him loyally stand by Hewson in the unlosable election of 1993, despite the concerns of many in the Nationals constituency, and bounce back with John Howard in 1996 – and to his greatest test, weeks later, in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre.
Fischer, as Nationals leader, enabled John Howard to implement his gun policies, again despite noisy concerns from party loyalists.
Close to a quarter of a century later, we forget how heated the gun law debate became and the tension of the times; even the photo of a prime minister confronting an angry meeting in a bullet-proof vest.
But Fischer stood firm and delivered. In doing so, he enabled the Howard government to not only meet but triumph at its first, ghastly challenge, setting the tone for over a decade of achievement.
Fischer retired in part to care for a young autistic son he was told would never live independently.
Today, that son works as a technology assistant in a school in Wodonga, just across the Murray from his father’s old electorate.
Another victory for the gentle warrior who will be much missed not only by those of us who enjoyed his company, but a nation – and fighters against the scourge of gun violence around the globe.
Tim Fischer, soldier, farmer, politician, diplomat, author, advocate and broadcaster, 1946-2019.
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