I rise in the Chamber today in deep appreciation of the life of the Honourable Tim Fischer, Companion of the Order of Australia.
Tim, so well known as the ‘Boy from Boree Creek’, lived with his wife Judy Brewer and their sons Harrison and Dominic on ‘Grossotto’ – Judy’s beautiful farm ringed by the Mudgegonga hills in my electorate of Indi – for about the last two decades of his life.
I offer my deepest sympathy to Judy, Harrison and Dominic and Tim’s family. I join with many thousands of people – across my electorate, Australia and the world – who celebrate his extraordinary life, and who mourn his loss.
Much has been said about Tim, but I want to focus on just one of his many contributions to public life – his influence on agriculture.
Tim was a farmer and, like so many farmers, he was a curious, committed, observant and careful custodian of the land.
He also took his passionate interest in agriculture and agricultural research and development to the international stage, where his knowledge and wisdom benefitted many people in many places.
It was from this interest that Tim became chair of the Crawford Fund from 2001 to 2006 and, more recently, its patron.
The Crawford Fund highlights – to Australia and the world – the extraordinary value and benefits of robust, inquisitive agricultural research.
It advances this value – and our awareness of it – here and overseas, where it supports training for scientists and farmers in developing countries.
As it happens, Tim’s brother Tony Fischer is the co-ordinator of the Crawford Fund’s committee in the Australian Capital Territory.
The world’s population is estimated to increase by two billion – to 9.7 billion people – in the next three decades. Food production will need to expand by up to 70 per cent if we are to feed everyone.
With limited new arable land available for crop production, dwindling water resources and a rapidly changing climate, science and technology will be critical for global food and nutrition security.
Key to success will be increasing yields from new crop varieties that produce more from less, and our capacity to incorporate these into more sustainable farming systems better adapted to a warming climate.
In 1993 the International Convention on Biological Diversity raised concerns about the conservation of the world’s vital crop heritage.
The Convention led to a global plan of action and the creation of an endowment fund to support crop preservation.
The Crop Trust was formed in 2004 and Tim Fischer joined the Trust in 2013, serving as vice chair of its executive board until 2017.
He was then elected board chair, and re-elected for a second term in 2018, but stepped down in April, this year, for health reasons.
At the time of his appointment to the Trust, Tim said:
‘Making sure that diversity does not go extinct is a global obligation, but it is also personal. Biodiversity preservation means food security for our future and our children’s children.
It also means building more resilient food systems now for the families across the globe facing food insecurity and hunger.’
The Crop Trust is perhaps best known for managing the Global Seed Vault – or ‘Doomsday Vault’, as it’s sometimes called – on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, 1300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
The Vault is a long-term seed storage facility built into the permafrost and dense rock so that it has the best chance of withstanding the worst imaginable natural or man-made disasters.
These conditions ensure that the seed samples which many of the world’s nations deposit there will remain frozen – even without energy supply.
The Seed Vault represents the world’s largest collection of crop diversity.
It has the capacity to hold the seeds of 4.5 million varieties of different food crops. It currently holds almost one million varieties, including cowpea, chickpea, rice, oats, wheat, barley, lettuce, eggplant, sorghum, millet, corn and potato.
Australia is an important partner in the Seed Vault and contributes seed samples from its gene banks. The Vault preserves what the Trust describes as a 10,000-year agricultural legacy that ‘cannot be left to chance’.
Sir Peter Crane, chair of the Crop Trust executive board, said of Tim when he learned of his death in August, this year:
“He was a remarkable leader and a unique personality – full of wisdom and also good cheer. The Crop Trust benefitted enormously from his passionate support. We have lost a good and true friend.”
There is no more important work than producing food to feed us and fibre to clothe us.
Whether at Boree Creek or Mudgegonga or on Svalbard in Norway, Tim Fischer made an exceptional contribution to agriculture and its development.
For the past 15 years, one person who came to know Tim and Judy well was my friend and constituent, Joan Simms, from Beechworth.
Joan met Tim for the first time in 1979, when she was working in the New South Wales Premier’s Department, and Tim was the Member for Sturt in the NSW Parliament.
But it was when each of them ‘migrated’ to Victoria’s North East that they discovered a deep, shared interest in the lives and contributions of two great Australians to what was, then, our country’s infant democracy.
These were the Great War general, Sir John Monash, and High Court justice and first Australian-born Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs, who grew up in Yackandandah and Beechworth in Indi.
As Joan remarked to me today:
“Of all his qualities and values, I think it is Tim’s ordinariness which connected him and his family to folk from all walks of life. It is true to say we all admired his honesty, persistence, selflessness, dedication, and the depth of his interest in so many things. For me the stand-out was this – at all times Tim acted only for what was best, for ‘the common good’, in building our community and our nationhood.”
Deputy Speaker, there is no finer expression of Tim’s work for ‘the common good’ – after his long career in public service – than his leadership of The Crop Trust.
Tim Fischer served us and the country and the world he loved with distinction, wisdom, courage and imagination.
May he rest in peace.