Timothy Andrew Fischer (born 3 March 1946), Australian politician, was born in Lockhart, in the Riverina district of New South Wales, son of a farmer of German descent. In 1966 he was conscripted into the Australian Army, and served in the Vietnam War - an experience which left him with a lifelong identification with the Australian armed forces, as well as a sympathy for Asian peoples unusual in an Australian politician of his generation.
On his return from Vietnam Fischer took up farming at Boree Creek in the Riverina, and became active in the Country Party. In 1971 he was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, where he served for 13 years. For most of that time he was a fairly unremarkable country member (although he served on the opposition frontbench from 1978 to 1984), which makes his rapid success in federal politics all the more surprising.
In 1984 Fischer won the federal seat of Farrer for the National Party of Australia (NPA), as the Country Party had been renamed. Within a year he was on the opposition frontbench, and soon became a popular figure in both the NPA and the Parliament: his sometimes rustic manner and bumbling English concealing a shrewd political brain. In 1990, when the attempt by Charles Blunt to modernise the NPA's image ended with his losing his seat, Fischer was elected NPA leader, defeating the former leader Ian Sinclair.
Fischer was an enthusiastic supporter of the "Fightback" package of economic and tax reforms proposed by the Liberal leader Dr John Hewson in 1991. But he was unsuccessful in persuading the majority of rural voters, particularly in Queensland, that the proposed changes, particularly the goods and services tax (GST) was in their interests, and Labor under Paul Keating won the 1993 election.
The Liberals finally regained office under John Howard in 1996, having promised "never ever" to introduce a GST. Fischer became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, although the NPA was in a much weaker position in terms of seats than it had been in previous coalition governments under Robert Menzies and Malcolm Fraser. Fischer was unable to prevent the government introducing tough gun control measures following the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996, measures which were opposed by many rural people.
Fischer also had difficulty with the determination of many Liberals, including the Treasurer (finance minister), Peter Costello, to carry out sweeping free-market reforms, including abolishing tariff protection for rural industries, deregulating petrol prices and other measures seen as harmful by farmers' organisations. The issue of native title for the Aboriginal people following the Mabo and Wik decisions also caused much political difficulty for Fischer.
Further trouble for Fischer and the NPA came with the rise of One Nation, a right-wing populist party led by a former Liberal backbencher, Pauline Hanson. One Nation had its greatest appeal in country areas of New South Wales and Queensland, and during 1997 and 1998 it looked as through One Nation might sweep the NPA out of existence. In the 1998 election campaign, however, Fischer strongly counter-attacked One Nation, mainly on the grounds of their "flat tax" economic policies, and succeeded in holding the NPA's losses to one Senate seat in Queensland.
In 1999 Fischer surprised his colleagues by resigning as party leader and as a minister, and by announcing that he would retire at the election due in 2001. His decision to quit politics was motivated partly by the demands of his family. In 1992 he married Judy Brewer, and they had two sons, one of whom suffered from autism. Since his retirement he has returned to farming at Boree Creek, and is involved in charity work, assisting organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Fred Hollows Foundation and Autism New South Wales.
Fischer retains a good reputation in Australian public life, and even his political opponents were generous with their praise on his retirement. As well as his personal characteristics, this was at least due to his political views. A moderate on environmental protection, his concerted effort to attack what was widely viewed as the economic lunacy of One Nation's policies went down well with the capital city middle class. Whilst unable to support it publicly, it was believed that he was a closet supporter of, or at least not actively opposed to, an Australian republic. More generally, his internationalist perspective was widely appreciated and unexpected from a leader of such a conservative rural party.
He stood out as somewhat of an eccentric in the relatively buttoned-down world of Australian politics. He was famous for his ability to mangle the English language with stilted grammar, using a few key phrases carrying his point before heading off in another direction entirely. As Trade Minister, his calling-card became the Akubra hat, which he managed to convince not a few Asian leaders to don. Finally, he is noted as a tireless advocate for rail transport.