Tim Fischer – a man of courage and loyalty – dies from cancer



Tim Fischer aboard a one-off passenger train last month to raise money for the Albury Wodonga Cancer Centre trust fund.
Sally Evans/ Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre Trust Fund

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, who has died aged 73 of cancer, leaves a political and personal legacy as a man of courage, conviction and congeniality.

The support that Fischer as National Party leader gave was crucial in John Howard’s success in achieving his ground-breaking gun control measure after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.

While the issue tested Howard, for Fischer it was extraordinarily tough. Howard recalls: “He never tried to talk me out of it but he made it plain how difficult it was going to be in certain parts of the bush”.

Fischer remained resolute despite the fury of many among his party’s base, where hostility lingered for years.

When Fischer became leader in 1990, with the Coalition in opposition, quite a few observers doubted the party’s choice. (They included this writer; Fischer delighted in recalling that misjudgement.)

He defied the sceptics, managing his party and the Coalition relationship to the benefit of each, despite the challenges, which included not just gun control but the Wik issue, constant sniping from the Queensland part of the party, leadership rumblings, and the electoral threat posed by One Nation.

“The boy from Boree Creek” was born in the Riverina, and educated at Boree Creek Public School and then at Xavier College in Melbourne. He was conscripted in 1966 – subsequently saying his birthday being selected in the ballot proved a “great door opener” – and he served in Vietnam.

His long parliamentary career spanned state and federal politics. In 1971 he entered the NSW parliament; in 1984 he won the federal seat of Farrer.

Grahame Morris (who became Howard’s chief of staff) remembers as a young country reporter covering Fischer’s appearance at a hall in the town of Grong Grong, in his first state campaign. The speech seemed to take forever, because Fischer had a dreadful stutter – which in later years he managed to control, although it left him with an unusual speech pattern.

“That a fellow [who started] with a pronounced stutter became deputy prime minister and an effective communicator is remarkable,” says Morris, a friend of Fischer over decades.

Cabinet colleague Peter Reith said once, “You don’t so much listen to what Tim has to say as imbibe it”.

In the Howard government Fischer was trade minister, a powerful economic bastion for the National party in those days. But his time in office was limited. He stepped down from his party’s leadership (and the ministry) in 1999, largely driven by family factors – Harrison, one of his two young sons, had autism.

When he went to tell Howard of his decision, the PM tried to talk him out of it. Fischer, feeling he was losing the argument, played his winning card – revealing he had already told a journalist on a VIP flight from New Zealand earlier in the day. He left parliament in 2001.

The citation when Charles Sturt University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2001 captured much about his personality: “Tim’s life has been about dogged adherence to goals. It has also been about risk-taking, grabbing opportunities and perseverance.”

The highlight of a busy post-politics career was serving as Australia’s first resident ambassador to the Holy See, a post to which he was appointed by Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Among a myriad of interests and activities, including writing several books, Fischer’s special passion was trains, which saw him leading tours at home and abroad and, while at the Vatican, organising the Caritas Express, a steam train trip from the Pope’s platform to Orvieto in Umbria .

Last month Fischer was among those aboard a one-off passenger train, raising money for the Albury Wodonga Cancer Centre trust fund, that travelled to tiny Boree Creek, where a park was named for him. “It’s nice to be going home, on a special train,” he said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Tim Fischer had his blind spots, but he was an unsung champion of an Asian-facing Australia


Tim Harcourt, UNSW

Amid the tributes to former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer and the stories of his authenticity, courage and quirky interests – like trains and military history – what has struck me most are the examples of his personal kindness.




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Tim Fischer – a man of courage and loyalty – dies from cancer


One of those stories is how Fischer helped a desperate Laotian refugee who in 1986 pulled a gun at the Immigration office in Albury, near Fischer’s office. It turned into a siege. Fischer walked in alone and defused the situation. He then travelled to Thailand in an attempt to get the man’s family out of the refugee camp in which they were stuck.

There are many similar stories – from army mates, farmers, journalist and politicians of all parties. I experienced Fischer’s personal kindness several times.

Austrade memories

The first was when I was appointed chief economist at Austrade in 1999. That made Fischer, who was the federal trade minister as well as deputy prime minister, my boss.

My appointment was heavily criticised in The Australian newspaper – presumably because my previous job was with the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It called my appointment “payback” for Fischer’s chief of staff, Craig Symon, getting a senior executive role at Austrade.

I was a bit worried. But then I got a phone call from Fischer. “You got the job on your abilities as an economist,” he said to me. “If you get any political crap, let me know.”

Austrade staff loved working for Fischer. Every time he made a speech at a public event, he would single out an Austrade employee and recall something good they had done. It it made the person feel like a million bucks.

The second was when my book The Airport Economist was published, in 2008. Fischer took a copy to Thailand and gave it to the Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, an avid reader of economic literature.

At a later APEC summit, when world leaders were asked their favourite book, Abhisit replied: “The Airport Economist.” Straight away the Bangkok Post published the book in the Thai language. We had a book launch at the Bangkok Stock Exchange with Australia’s Ambassador to Thailand and Thai TV anchor Rungthip Chotnapalai. The book became a best seller in Thailand, all thanks to Fischer.

An unsung hero of Asian engagement

Fischer is in many ways the unsung hero of Australia’s changed attitudes to Asia in the 20th century. Labor’s legends Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating are all known for championing Asian economic engagement. But Fischer also played a huge role in cementing relationships. He laid his Akubra hat on negotiating tables in most of Asia’s capitals, spruiked deals and hammered out treaties.

A veteran of the Vietnam war, his army days no doubt affected how he thought Australia should view our neighbours. His passion for improved ties with Asia generally, not just in trade, was genuine and authentic. He loved Thailand and Bhutan in particular.

He was in some ways, part of a tradition of Country/National party leaders who pushed Australia towards Asia, largely for economic reasons. For example, John “Black Jack” McEwen negotiated the Commerce Agreement with Japan in 1957, just 12 years after World War II. In the 1970s, Doug Anthony also championed our interests in Asia. Fischer similarly saw Asia as “Our Near North” rather than that quaint old term “The Far East”.

Fischer had his blind spots, to be sure. He failed to appreciate the High Court’s Mabo and Wik decisions, for example. He was a sucker for conspiracy theories at times. But you can’t have everything.

His political career was long, beginning with election to the New South Wales parliament at age 24. But his ministerial career was quite short – just three years. In 1999 he quit his ministerial posts, and the leadership of the National Party, to spend more time to his family – especially his son Harrison, then aged five, who had been diagnosed with autism.

But the impression Fischer made makes it seem he spent much longer at the top. He was like cricketer Mike Whitney and rugby union player Peter Fitzsimmons. Neither played many tests for Australia but they sure leveraged that time into successful subsequent careers. Fischer did the same.

Now the train has finally left the station.The Conversation

Tim Harcourt, J.W. Nevile Fellow in Economics and host of The Airport Economist, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

John McCain, dead at 81, helped build a country that no longer reflects his values


Elizabeth Sherman, American University School of Public Affairs

Arizona Sen. John McCain – scion of Navy brass, flyboy turned Vietnam war hero and tireless defender of American global leadership – has died after a year of treatment for terminal brain cancer.

“With the Senator when he passed were his wife Cindy and their family. At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for sixty years,” McCain’s office said in a statement.

I am a scholar of American politics. And I believe that, regardless of his storied biography and personal charm, three powerful trends in American politics thwarted McCain’s lifelong ambition to be president. They were the rise of the Christian right, partisan polarization and declining public support for foreign wars.

Republican McCain was a champion of bipartisan legislating, an approach that served him and the Senate well. But as political divides have grown, bipartisanship has fallen out of favor.

Most recently, McCain opposed Gina Haspel as CIA director for “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality” and her role in it. Having survived brutal torture for five years as a prisoner of war, McCain maintained a resolute voice against U.S. policies permitting so-called “enhanced interrogations.” Nevertheless, his appeals failed to rally sufficient support to slow, much less derail, her appointment.

Days later, a White House aide said McCain’s opposition to Haspel didn’t matter because “he’s dying anyway.” That disparaging remark and the refusal of the White House to condemn it revealed how deeply the president’s hostile attitude toward McCain and everything he stands for had permeated the executive office.

McCain ended his career honorably and bravely, but with hostility from the White House, marginal influence in the Republican-controlled Senate, and a public less receptive to the positions he has long embodied.

The outlier

McCain’s first run for the presidency in 2000 captured the imagination of the public and the press, whom he wryly referred to as “my base.” His self-confident “maverick” persona appealed to a more secular, moderate constituency who like him, might be constitutionally opposed to the growing political alignment between the religious right and the Republican Party.

McCain enthusiastically bucked his party and steered his “Straight Talk Express” through the GOP primaries with a no-holds-barred attack on Pat Robertson and Rev. Jerry Falwell. The two were conservative icons and leaders of the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority.

McCain branded Robertson and Falwell “agents of intolerance” and “empire builders.” He charged that they used religion to subordinate the interests of working people. He said their religion served a business goal and accused them of shaming “our faith, our party, and our country.” That message earned McCain a primary victory in New Hampshire but his campaign capsized in South Carolina, where Republican voters launched George W. Bush, the stalwart evangelical, on his path to a presidential victory in 2000 against Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore.

By 2008, McCain saw the political clout of white, born-again, evangelical Christians. By then, they comprised 26 percent of the electorate. Bowing to political winds, he adopted a more conciliatory approach.

McCain’s willingness to defend America as a “Christian nation” and his controversial choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, an enthusiastic standard bearer for the Christian right, as his running mate, signaled the electoral power of a less tolerant, more absolutist “values-based” politics.

McCain’s about-face revealed a political pragmatist willing to make peace with the Christian right and accept their ability to make or break his last attempt at the presidency.

His strategy reflected his tendency to abandon principles if they threatened his quest for the presidency. Having railed eight years prior against the hypocrisy of the right-wing religious leadership, McCain may have felt some personal discomfort kowtowing to the dictates of self-appointed moral authorities. But the electorate had changed since then, and McCain showed he was willing to shift his position to accommodate their beliefs.

The primary that year also required an outright appeal to independents and even crossover Democrats. That would potentially provide enough votes to boost him past George W. Bush, whose campaign had already expressed allegiance to the conservative religious agenda.

In 2008, Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon considered religiously suspect by many evangelicals, emerged as McCain’s main rival for the nomination.

Sensing an opportunity to establish a winning coalition, McCain jettisoned his former objections to the political influence of the religious right, shifting from antagonism to accommodation. In doing so, McCain revealed his flexibility again on principles that might fatally undermine his overriding ambition – winning the presidency.

In fact, the incorporation of the religious right into the Republican Party represented but one facet of a more consequential development. That was the fiercely ideological partisan polarization that has come to dominate the political system.

The lonely Republican

Rough parity between the parties since 2000 has intensified the electoral battles for Congress and the presidency. It has supercharged the fundraising machines on both sides. And it has nullified the “regular order” of congressional hearings, debates and compromise, as party leaders scheme for policy wins.

Fueled by highly engaged activists, interest groups and donors known as “policy demanders,” partisan polarization has overwhelmed moderates in our political system. McCain was a bipartisan problem-solver and was willing to compromise with Democrats to pass campaign finance reform in 2002. He worked with the other side to normalize relations with Vietnam in 1995. And he joined with Democrats to pass immigration reform in 2017.

But he was also one of those moderates who ultimately found himself on the outside of his party.

McCain’s dramatic Senate floor thumbs-down repudiation of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare turned less on his antipathy to Trump and more on his disgust with a broken party-line legislative process.

On an issue as monumental as health care, he insisted on a return to “extensive hearings, debate, and amendment.” He endorsed the efforts of Sens. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and Patty Murray, a Democrat, to craft a bipartisan solution.

Foreign and defense policy was McCain’s signature issue. He wanted a more robust posture for American global leadership, backed by a well-funded, war-ready military. But that stance lost support a decade ago following the Iraq War disaster.

McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign slogan of “Country First” signified not only the model of his personal commitment and sacrifice. It also telegraphed his belief in the need to persevere in the war on terror in general and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in particular.

But by then, 55 percent of registered independents, McCain’s electoral base, had lost confidence in the prospects for a military victory. They favored bringing the troops home.

Over the course of six months that year, independent support for the Iraq war fell from 54 percent to 40 percent. Overall opposition to the troop “surge” was at 63 percent. Barack Obama’s promise to wind down America’s military commitment and do “nation-building at home” resonated with an electorate wearied by the conflict and buffeted by their own economic woes.

Advocate for global leadership

McCain continued to assert the primacy of American power. He decried the country’s retreat from a rules-based global order premised on American leadership and based on freedom, capitalism, human rights and democracy.

Donald Trump stands in contrast. Trump, like Obama, promises to terminate costly commitments abroad, revoke defense and trade agreements that fail to put
“America First,” and rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

In his run for the presidency, Trump asserted that American might and treasure had been squandered defending the world. Other countries, he said, took advantage of U.S. magnanimity.

In Congress, Republicans have become cautious about U.S. military interventions, counterinsurgency operations and nation-building. They find scant public support for intervention in Syria’s civil war.

Seeing Russia as America’s implacable foe, McCain sponsored sanctions legislation and prodded the administration to implement them more vigorously.

Accepting the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, McCain repudiated Trump’s approach to global leadership.

He declared, “To abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

McCain spent his life committed to principles that, tragically – at least for him – have fallen from favor, and the country’s repudiation of the principles he championed may put the nation at risk.

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Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on on June 12, 2018.

Elizabeth Sherman, Assistant Professor Department of Government, American University School of Public Affairs

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Westboro Baptist Church: Fred Phelps is Dead


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the death of Fred Phelps and his twisted legacy.

For more visit:
http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/03/21/fred-phelps-and-the-anti-gospel-of-hate-a-necessary-word/