Christopher Pyne: The Advice Tim Fischer Gave Me As A Young MP
I was fortunate to serve with Tim Fischer in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 1999.
Of course, in that time he was more senior to me -- I was a happy backbencher and he was Leader of the National Party, Minister for Trade and Deputy Prime Minister. But despite our obvious disparity in rank, he couldn’t have been nicer to me.
I was 25 when I was elected and Tim was in his late 40s, yet he took a real interest in everyone in the Coalition team. Maybe it was because we were both educated by the Jesuits -- Tim at Xavier in Melbourne, and me at St Ignatius in Adelaide. But whatever the reason, he was generous, polite and engaging.
Tim gave me some great advice as a young Member of Parliament. He took me aside one day and explained that every Member gets invited to embassy parties and visiting Ministers and military chiefs' events and some MPs and Senators try to go to as many as they can, but in doing so, they end up a ‘jack of all trades and a master of none’.
READ MORE: Former Deputy PM Tim Fischer Has Died
In other words, they have a little knowledge about many other countries but no depth of understanding about any one country. His advice was to pick one country and become the most knowledgeable and well connected person with that country in the Parliament. That way, when a Minister or the media were looking for someone to talk to about said country, or there was a debate in the Parliament or the Party Room about an issue in relation to that country, you could make a useful and well informed contribution.
Tim chose Thailand as his country of expertise and was well known as the Parliament’s resident expert on a country that has been of paramount importance to Australia’s engagement with ASEAN and the Indo Pacific more generally.
Because of Tim Fischer, I chose to focus on one country at that time and I chose Israel. I’ve travelled to Israel 11 times, I took part in every Parliamentary debate about Israel over 26 years and established deep ties to that country.
It's just one vignette that explains how Tim Fischer added value. Sure, he was ‘Two Minute Tim’, nicknamed because he was always on the move, talking to as many people as possible in a room or at a country show or field day. But he left an impression much longer than two minutes would suggest.
Tim had his passions. As Leader of the House, he communicated with me regularly about how to improve Question Time. He wanted to allow Members time to ask questions specific to their electorate rather than more general about the achievements or messaging of the wider government. We did try for a time because I agreed with him but rather than follow suit and embrace the idea, both Labor and the media mocked the trial and we couldn’t continue in that vein. It was a pity.
His passion for trains is well known. He didn’t just have an interest in trains like an enthusiast does, he wanted to invest in rail because of its nation-building potential and for its economic potential. While others derided the idea of finishing the central railway from Alice Springs to Darwin, Tim was a proponent. He had a long-term view of what it meant to link the south of the continent with the north.
Later in life, Tim fought to have General Sir John Monash posthumously promoted to Field Marshall. It was a difficult ‘row to hoe’ because of the precedent it would set for anyone who felt that a former member of the military should have been promoted further than they were when they served. Despite that, Tim pursued it with his customary zeal. I must say, I didn’t support his campaign when I was in the Defence portfolio, but I admired his tenacity all the same.
He brought that same single-minded attitude to the canonisation of Mary Mackillop, who founded the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, especially when he was Ambassador to the Holy See in Rome from 2009 to 2012. St Mary of the Cross Mackillop was canonised on October 17, 2010. A great day for Tim Fischer!
Tim married Judy Brewer later in life. They had two wonderful children, whom Tim loved very dearly. They also became one of his great passions. As for all of us, his family will be his lasting and greatest legacy.
Tim Fischer has left a lasting impression. Ever the gentleman, Tim was a solid Parliamentary performer without giving unnecessary offence to his opponents. He was a successful Minister for Trade and Leader of his Party. He was a great Coalitionist. He was passionate about our nation, the country in particular and service to his fellow Australians.
It was privilege to serve with him and learn from him.
Vale Tim Fischer.