PRIME Minister Scott Morrison has led tributes to political giant Tim Fischer, saying the nation would be forever in his debt thanks to his securing of tighter gun laws.
The deputy prime minister from 1996 to 1999 died at the Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre on Wednesday night at the age of 73 after having been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in 2017.
He had fought off three other cancers since 2009.
Mr Morrison, who worked under Mr Fischer's chairmanship at Tourism Australia, said he was deeply saddened by the death of a "dear friend".
"Tim Fischer walked his own path with honesty and humility and that is what Australians loved about him," Mr Morrison said.
He said Mr Fischer's "integrity and resolve were underlined" in the firearm laws fight after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.
"Gun laws were not popular in regional Australia in 1996 and Tim Fischer took to the highways and byways to persuade and convince regional Australians about the need for change," Mr Morrison said.
"I believe this was his finest moment.
"Australia will always be in his debt."
Victorian state Nationals MP Steph Ryan said although then PM John Howard was seen as "copping the blowback" from the gun reforms it was Mr Fischer who showed "great courage" and suffered the fallout on the frontline of the fight.
"History has shown it was absolutely the right thing for him to do," Ms Ryan said.
She said Mr Fischer's persona was unlike other MPs.
"When people see most politicians they run for cover, when people saw Tim Fischer they stopped because they loved him and he loved people," Ms Ryan said.
"He was loved for his enthusiasm and the fact he was never afraid of fighting for a cause."
Mr Howard said Australia had "lost an authentic character".
"As both deputy prime minister and an Australian Army officer in the Vietnam War, Tim Fischer served his country with great distinction in peace and in war," Mr Howard said.
"Tim's commitment to the national interest was no better demonstrated than through his support for national gun control laws following the Port Arthur tragedy in April 1996.
"Although there was overwhelming support for the government's response to a murderous rampage which claimed 35 lives, that response created severe political difficulties in some parts of regional Australia.
"The full effect of those difficulties was felt by Tim Fischer, his then deputy John Anderson, and the National Party premier of Queensland, Rob Borbidge. I shall always be grateful to them for placing the national interest ahead of any local political convenience."
Member for Farrer Sussan Ley said her predecessor was a mentor and great champion of regional Australia.
"For me the memory will be of the affable family man relaxing at the Lockhart Show enjoying a snag around the barbecue with his boys, chatting about trains .... and, of course, wearing that hat," Ms Ley said.
Other Border politicians saluted Mr Fischer for his "astonishing" interests, World War I focus and supportive text messages.
Bill Baxter came to know the farm boy in the late 1960s before they each were elected as Country Party MPs in the 1970s.
"We were both single at the time, were both young, were both in a job not many other people had the privilege doing and I don't think either of us was particularly interested in sport," Mr Baxter said.
"So we both had those interests and were pretty keen on shaking up the Country Party."
The pair holidayed in Europe in 1974, while they were representing seats in the Victorian and NSW parliaments and Mr Baxter was best man at Mr Fischer's wedding in 1992.
"There's no doubt regional Australia has lost a real champion, but it's more than regional Australia when you think of his role on the national scene as deputy prime minister and internationally as trade minister and ambassador to the Vatican," Mr Baxter said.
"His breadth of interests was astonishing to put it mildly.
"There's no wonder they called him Two-Minute Tim because he did so much in a day.
"We're unlikely to see someone of that ilk again."
Member for Benambra Bill Tilley lauded Mr Fischer's achievements in particular his military ties.
"I will always remember his significant role in bringing to the attention of the wider public the Australian Army and Sir John Monash's involvement in the battle of Le Hamel," Mr Tilley said.
Wodonga-based Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie remembered Mr Fischer as cheeky and witty.
Australia has lost one of its finest today with the passing of Tim Fischer AC. Tim was a giant of the National Party. He embodied loyalty, kindness & courage. Regional Australia had no better friend. Heartfelt thoughts & condolences with Tim’s wife Judy, sons Harrison & Dominic. pic.twitter.com/a6UsjNDgg4— Michael McCormack (@M_McCormackMP) August 22, 2019
"He was a great mentor to me, whether it was a text message of encouragement, a kick up the backside when he thought it was needed, or as a sounding board to discuss political matters," Senator McKenzie said.
Former member for Indi Lou Lieberman said he could not recall an angry word from Mr Fischer who he lauded for having a dynamic and fertile mind and being "always obliging, always kind to people".
Mr Morrison has offered Mr Fischer's wife Judy Brewer a state funeral.
Donations to the Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre Trust in Mr Fischer's name are being encouraged in lieu of flowers.