Thursday 20th Feb, 2020

Tributes pour in for ‘tireless’ rail advocate Tim Fischer

Rail and logistics officials have joined political figures from both sides of the aisle to pay tribute to former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, who has died aged 73.

News of Fischer’s death after a ten-year battle with leukaemia was first reported on Thursday morning, August 22, and caused an outpouring of praise and grief for a man well respected throughout Parliament and the nation.

Fischer, first a soldier, then a state MP, then a federal MP, served as leader of the Nationals for nearly a decade. He was deputy prime minister under John Howard from 1996 to 1999, playing a crucial role in gun control reforms following the Port Arthur massacre.

He retired as deputy PM in 1999, and from Parliament entirely in 2001, but continued to play an active role as a public figure, including as a rail advocate and policy advisor.

His post-parliamentary contribution to rail included being named Special Envoy for the Adelaide to Darwin railway by the South Australian government in 2004. He was also a director of Freightlink, operating trains on the route.

He wrote a number of books on rail and contributed to advisory reports, including the feasibility study conducted by Labor into high speed rail to connect Australia’s east coast cities. He was also patron to the TrackSAFE Foundation.

TrackSAFE chairman Bob Herbert said the rail community was “deeply saddened” by Fischer’s passing.

“I would like to pay tribute to Tim Fischer; a person of great honour and dignity,” Herbert said. “We are united in our sadness of his loss, but will celebrate the indelible mark Tim Fischer has left on the Foundation and the rail landscape overall.”

Delegates at the Inland Rail conference recognised Fischer and his contributions to rail with a lengthy standing ovation, on an emotional Thursday morning in Toowoomba.

“Tim was a tireless and energetic advocate for rail in Australia and was one of the driving forces behind the Inland Rail project,” Australasian Railway Association CEO Danny Broad said.

“He leaves a lasting legacy as a visionary leader for the industry who had a unique connection to rural and regional Australians. His keen appreciation of the role rail can play supporting regional communities and unlocking economic growth will be felt by generations to come, right around Australia.”

“We all owe Tim Fischer an enormous debt of gratitude for his lifetime of dedicated service in the military, in politics, in diplomacy and in community life,” Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham said.

“As a passionate advocate for regional Australia, Tim well understood the need for freight infrastructure projects like Inland Rail in order to boost productivity and support Australian exporters.”

Nationals leader and deputy PM Michael McCormack called Fischer a “giant” of the party.

“He embodied loyalty, kindness and courage,” McCormack said. “Regional Australia had no better friend. Heartfelt thoughts and condolences with Tim’s wife Judy, [and] sons Harrison and Dominic.”

Another former Nationals leader, Warren Truss – now the chairman of the Australian Rail Track Corporation – said the rail industry had lost a great friend.

“Tim was a champion for rail,” Truss said. “He had a vision for rail in Australia and was a strong advocate for Inland Rail and took a keen interest in the progress of the project.”

“Tim was a passionate advocate for rail and much loved by everyone he came into contact with,” ARTC CEO John Fullerton said.

“He will be sadly missed as a friend and a leader within the Australian rail industry.”

Prime minister Scott Morrison described Fischer as “a dear friend”.

“We have lost an Australian original with the passing of Tim Fischer,” Morrison said. “Mr Fischer, who served as Trade Minister in the Howard Government, was esteemed by his Coalition colleagues, respected by his opponents and loved by Australians everywhere as he travelled the country in his trademark Akubra hat.”

Morrison’s counterpart, opposition leader Anthony Albanese, described Fischer as “an honourable and humble man who served his country in war and peace”.

“Australia has lost our most passionate rail advocate,” Albanese said. “Tim will be missed by all who had the pleasure of spending time with him.”

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