Former deputy PM Tim Fischer dies after long battle with cancer

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has died aged 73 after a decade-long battle with cancer.

On Tuesday, it was reported he was gravely-ill in hospital at the the Albury-Wodonga Cancer Centre.

He died at the centre surrounded by family.

Last year he announced he was battling acute leukaemia, which followed a struggle with cancer since 2008.

Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer last year. Source: AAP

Mr Fischer, who first became an MP at the age of 24, was Nationals leader from 1990 to 1999 and deputy prime minister in the Howard government from 1996 to 1999.

Mr Fischer supported Mr Howard in staring down angry rural constituents during the introduction of Australia's tough gun laws following the Port Arthur massacre.

He quit politics in 2001, however it was hardly retirement.

He worked for charities, he lobbied for agricultural research and - long a consuming interest - trains. He was chairman of Tourism Australia for three years.

Then, in 2008, Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd asked him to be Australia's first resident ambassador to the Holy See.

Fischer was responsible for much of the organisation for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop and the finishing stages of Domus Australia - a Roman guesthouse for Australians.

He gave up most of his public roles and moved with wife Judy to a cattle farm at Mudgegonga, near Yackandandah in Victoria's northeast.

Mr Fischer at Parliament House in 2000. Source: AAP

According to The Australian, Mr Fischer has previously battled bladder cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma and ­leukaemia in recent years.

Mr Fischer, who was born in Lockhart, NSW, in 1946, served in the Vietnam War, which he has previously said has contributed to his cancer diagnosis after exposure to the chemical Agent Orange.

In May, when he opened a museum dedicated to his life at his birthplace, he revealed he was hoping for a remission.

“Almost in remission, not quite. I am just uplifted by this nice gallery," he said at the time.

Tributes flood in for Fischer

Prime Minister Scott Morrison led the tributes for Mr Fischer following his death.

“Tim Fischer was a dear friend. Jenny and I are deeply saddened by Tim’s passing,” Mr Morrison said on Twitter.

“Tim Fischer was a big Australian in every sense of the word. Big in stature, big in his belief, big in his passion, big in his vision for what Australians could achieve and big in his view of Australia’s place in the world.

“As a result, Tim Fischer will forever cast a big shadow on our nation. Jenny and my thoughts and those of our entire nation are with Tim’s wife Judy, their sons Harrison and Dominic and his extended family and many friends.

“Thank you Tim, we loved you very much.”

The prime minister has offered Mr Fischer's family a state funeral.

Australian Ambassador to the US and former treasurer Joe Hockey thanked Mr Fischer for his work to implementing Australia’s current gun laws.

“I am hugely saddened to hear that former Deputy PM Tim Fischer has just passed away. Any Australian that is grateful for our gun laws can thank Tim Fischer for his courage at that time.

“Generations to come will owe him a great debt. We will miss you mate.”

Prominent political journalist Michelle Grattan, who famously backtracked on comments about his appointment as Nationals leader, offered her condolences on Thursday.

“Deep sympathy to Tim Fischer's family - a man deservedly liked by everyone who came into contact with him,” she said.

She said in 1990 that Mr Fischer could become an object of ridicule and it beggared belief that the Nationals could invest their faith in him.

Mr Fischer is introduced to Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. Source: AAP

Nine years later, when Fischer quit politics, Grattan sent him flowers with a note saying "I got it so wrong".

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was responsible for appointing Mr Fischer as Australia's "first and best" ambassador to the Vatican.

"I will never forget him in his beloved Akubra with me in audience with the Pope. A good Australian," Mr Rudd said.

Queensland Nationals MP Keith Pitt last spoke to Mr Fischer a few days ago.

"He was his usual pragmatic self. His passing is a great loss for his family, the Nationals and the nation," he said.

Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester said Mr Fischer's was a life well-lived.

"A great Australian who set the benchmark for dedicated, respectful, passionate service to our country," Mr Chester said.

"In uniform, in parliament and as a statesman he was a true gentleman."

More to come.

With AAP

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