Listen: Journalist Anita Savage chats to Sam Robinson & Ally Barnes. Image: Interview screenshot, Ducere
Tim Fischer is being remembered as a man of deep spirituality and resolve, as politicians and journalists pay tribute to the former Deputy Prime Minister who died of leukaemia yesterday.
Journalist Anita Savage, Hope 103.2’s news director, today spoke of his quiet strength – a standout quality unusual among politicians. She told Hope Breakfast of a time she met him in New York, during his stint as Trade Minister in the late 1990s.
“He sat down with me for a really length television interview,” she recalled. “He was a tall man, quietly spoken; genuine. Gentle, yet clearly focused on the task at hand. The thing that really stuck out to me was that gentle strength – which really is very rare in politicians.”
“That gentle strength is very rare in politicians.”
She said the former Nationals leader, who wore an Akubra hat rain, hail or shine, was a quirky figure with unusual passions, who was genuinely loved by people on all sides of the political spectrum.
“When he announced in question time in 1999 that he was quitting as Deputy Prime Minister, there was a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute,” she said. “Even those crusty hardened journalists stood in the gallery and they applauded him as a mark of respect – and that’s really quite unseen in Federal Parliament.”
Mr Fischer left politics to focus on raising his two sons Harrison and Dominic, now 26 and 24, after Harrison was diagnosed with autism – a diagnosis that made Mr Fischer conclude he was on the ASD spectrum himself.
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A Proud Catholic and Christian, Guided By His Faith
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Of his Catholic-Christian faith, Mr Fischer said it was a “guiding light” throughout his life, according to Catholic news outlet The Record. He considered himself a “less than perfect Catholic and Christian,” but his Judeo-Christian foundations influenced his many stances in politics and diplomacy, on issues such as food security, human trafficking, and social justice.
At a Catholic men’s breakfast in 2015, Mr Fischer spoke of a spiritual encounter he had on Mount Nebo in Israel that “reawakened the fundamentals” of his faith.
“When I stood on this mount where, arguably, Moses stood,” he recalled, “I could see the dead sea to my left, the hills around Bethlehem in the distance, Jerusalem to the west, Jericho and the Jordan River to the right, further right: the riches around the Sea of Galilee.”
In that moment he connected deeply with the simple essence of his faith, in contrast to the heavy ritual and tradition of the Vatican – something he saw up close in his three years as Ambassador to the Holy See in Rome.
“Suddenly I had an epiphany, of joy and serenity, and the testaments of the Bible fell into place.”
“Suddenly I had an epiphany, of joy and serenity, and the testaments of the Bible fell into place in a way which has given me strength to counterbalance the incense, the bells and Basilicas of Rome,” he said.
His wife, Judy, has said that her faith is also her “rock”, and that even their son Harrison, despite his challenges, has grown to develop a profound faith, following in his parents’ footsteps.
“Harrison [moved] from being a screaming kid who wouldn’t go to church to being a very spiritual person,” she told Kairos Catholic Journal. “His faith is also his rock, so that’s extraordinary. I don’t know how that happened but I am just so glad it did because it makes a big difference in your life if you have that anchor.”
Mr Fischer was inspired by the life of Mary Mackillop, an Australian hero of the Catholic faith who was canonized as a saint by the Vatican in 2010 – an event he was closely involved in.
Tim Fischer’s Crucial Role in Reducing Australia’s Gun Deaths
After the Port Arthur Massacre of 1996, Mr Fischer played a crucial role in making Australia a safer place.He championed Prime Minister John Howard’s plan to introduce tougher gun laws, and worked tirelessly to quell the anger of the many hunters, shooters and fishers who felt they were being punished for someone else’s crime.
At a time when many MPs felt threatened by the potential backlash from the gun lobby, Fischer courageously “took to the highways and byways to persuade rural Australia”, in the words of Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday – despite gun advocates threatening him with gestures such as an effigy hanging from a noose, in Gympie.
He worked tirelessly to quell the anger of the many hunters, shooters and fishers who felt they were being punished for someone else’s crime.
Fischer’s determination, along with that of his National Party deputy John Anderson, paved the way for a gun buyback scheme, and a ban on self-loading weapons that drastically reduced Australia’s rate of mass murders and gun-related suicides.
One study showed that in the 18 years leading up to the reforms, Australia suffered 13 “mass shootings” (defined as shootings resulting in 5 or more deaths). But after the new laws, there were none for 22 years – until the Osmington shooting of 2018.
In 2013 Mr Fischer published a book titled Holy See, Unholy Me – a humbly titled memoir about his three years in Rome. He spoke of those experiences in a 2013 interview with Leigh Hatcher on Open House.
Bridget McKenzie, current Nations deputy leader, said she caught up with Mr Fischer at a Nationals’ barbeque just over a month ago and he was “his cheeky, witty self, with his clever one-liners and engaging conversation”.
“His vision and passion for The National Party and rural and regional Australia was as evident that day as it was throughout his distinguished career,” she said.