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AgLife: Vale Tim Fischer

As a crusty old reporter of more than 35 years, one can’t help but become a tad cynical.

I have a very healthy lack of respect for many, if not most politicians. Of course, the feeling is mutual.

I’ve been sworn at, belittled, given a lecture on how I’d got it all wrong, laughed at, even told, ‘I feel very sorry for your husband’… the list of condescending behaviour from our supposed champions of democracy goes on.

When former Prime Minister Bob Hawke died recently, everyone said what a great bloke he was.

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I’ll never forget in 1989 in the middle of a media scrum when I asked a very pointed question about the pilots’ strike and Mr Hawke’s relationship with Sir Peter Abeles, then owner of Ansett Airlines. 

He bent down, pushed right into my face, pointed his finger at me nearly touching my nose and said, ‘You wouldn’t ask such a stupid question if you knew what you were talking about, GIRLIE!’ Not so nice after all.

Back then, the notoriously honest and decent politician was the senior Labor Minister, the late John Button.

I remember asking him some tough questions which he duly answered and, flabbergasted that he didn’t deliver a whole lot of political spin, I reminded him afterwards that it wasn’t compulsory to answer so frankly. 

He looked genuinely shocked at the suggestion.

That kind of steadfast, unwavering honesty was also Tim Fischer’s trademark. He had an incredibly strong moral compass.

As deputy Prime Minister, he, like then Prime Minister John Howard, never forgot your name and always treated you with respect.

I was working with ABC TV’s 7.30 Report in 1996 when Martin Bryant slayed 35 people at Port Arthur in Tasmania. 

I was assigned to report on the subsequent pro-gun rally at Sale in Gippsland.

I stood behind Mr Howard as he stood on the podium to address the crowd. 

He was clearly wearing a bullet-proof vest. I have to admit to also feeling unsafe. The crowd was angry and aggressive.

The Howard government had only been in office a couple of months and if it weren’t for the steadfast support of Tim Fischer, the radical gun reforms would not have got through. 

He was a man who knew when to stand his ground against the groundswell of protest from his fellow Nationals and many of his constituents.

Mr Fischer was a man of habit and punctuality was an obsession.

I sat next to his wife, Judy, at a lunch function and he insisted on speaking at the exact allotted time even though the main course hadn’t been served. There was no stopping him. She laughed and said, “That’s Tim. Just get on with it.”

He used to ring ABC Regional offices very early in the morning or late at night and leave a news story on the answering machine. 

It would be complete with an introduction,  then with the countdown ‘three, two, one …’ and the exact 10-second radio grab, then a cheery farewell, ‘God bless’.

I bumped into him just short of 12 months ago when I’d made headlines for all the wrong reasons in a defamation case.

I won’t reveal what he said, but he put his arm around me and gave his very forthright view of the situation. Honest and real: a true gentle man.

Vale Tim Fischer. If only there were more like him.

The entire August 28, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire August 28, 2019 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!