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Oration to continue legacy of a rare man of honour

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The former Deputy Prime Minister was widely liked and admired. (AAP Image/Alex Murray) NO ARCHIVING

Several years ago, I was invited to make a presentation in Rome to a conference organised by the Pontifical Council for the Family of which I was a consultor. As I was speaking a familiar figure in an Akubra hat appeared at the back of the room.

It was Tim Fischer, who made his way to a desk in the front row where he placed his trademark headwear.

I had arranged to catch-up with Tim who was then Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See. As I watched Tim mixing with the participants at the end of the conference session, I reflected that he was as relaxed in a cathedral of cardinals as he was with the farmers at Boree Creek.

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Over a meal that evening in his favourite cucina, we discussed world affairs. Tim was more than our ambassador to the Vatican; he was regularly used as a special envoy by the prime minister in a range of international missions. Behind the country image was a very astute observer of human nature.

It is fitting that an oration has been established to honour Tim Fischer who spent a life time serving his nation, as a soldier, parliamentarian, both state and commonwealth, minister and diplomat. It is also fitting that the oration ‘calls forth young people to protect and promote the common good through ethical attitudes and action in public and political life’, as Tim demonstrated ethical leadership throughout his long service.

If the central political question is ‘how can we live together’, it is inescapably a moral and ethical issue. The notion of virtue in public and political life is not discussed much these days, but it has been critical for most of our civilisational history.

In The Laws, Plato sets out a discussion about the purpose of law between the Athenian stranger and two elderly travellers. It is education which comes to the fore. As the Harvard professor and former US Ambassador to the Holy see, Mary Ann Glendon writes: “The ultimate concern here . . . is not so much with the right laws for the state, but the right education for citizenship. The Athenian Stranger continually brings the discussion around to the classical idea that the aim of law is to lead citizens towards virtue, to make them noble and wise.

“A man who defines good with no connection to virtue cannot cultivate either friendship or justice or liberality,” observed the great Roman statesman of the pre-Christian world, Cicero. For the ancients, there were four cardinal virtues, wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. Hence leadership involved the pursuit of truth, justice and the common good. In an age so wedded to rights, there is a need to return to duty and responsibility.

At the heart of our Christian duty, as Tim’s life revealed, is a transcendental call to the service of others. As the former Czech president, Václav Havel wrote, “The main task of the present generation of politicians . . . is to assume their responsibility for the long-range prospects of the world and thus to set an example for the public in whose sight they work.

Their responsibility is to think ahead boldly, not to fear the disfavour of the crowd, to imbue their actions with a spiritual dimension, to explain again and again. . . that politics must do far more than reflect the interest of particular groups or lobbies. After all, politics is a matter of serving the community, which means that it is morality in practice. . .”

Tim Fischer’s life is a reminder that duties and responsibilities are foundational to a free, sustaining society in which individuals can live with dignity and in liberty. The Tim Fischer Oration is an opportunity not only to reflect on his life, but to consider how we are all called, including the generation of future leaders, to protect and promote the common good.

This article first appeared in The Canberra-Goulburn Catholic Voice

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‘Man of courage’ Tim Fischer to be honoured with Oration

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