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Interview with Tim Fischer, Ambassador (desig -

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Interview with Tim Fischer, Ambassador (designate) to the Holy See

Broadcast: 23/01/2009

Reporter: Ali Moore

Ali Moore interviews Australia's first ever full-time Ambassador (designate) to the Holy See, Tim


ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: By this time next week Australia will have its first ever full-time resident
ambassador to the Holy See.

The position, long a part-time ambassadorial role shared with other postings, was announced by the
Prime Minister last July as Pope Benedict departed Sydney after World Youth Day.

The man filling the job is former deputy prime minister and trade minister Tim Fischer who flies to
Rome next week.

A self-confessed less than perfect practising Catholic, the former National Party leader has just
released a book on the Buddhist Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan called Bold Bhutan Beckons.

I spoke with Tim Fischer from our Melbourne studio.

Tim Fischer, before we get to your new role as diplomat, you're a former Trade Minister, you spent
many years reviewing Australia's position and relations in terms of the rest of the world. Are the
days of China powering our economy over?

TIM FISCHER, AMBASSADOR DESIGNATE TO THE HOLY SEE: Well, no but these are matters for those today
in Parliament to dwell on rather than a former trade minister seven years out of Parliament.

It's going to be a tough year, I'll make that point. I think people are forgetting there's still a
raging drought affecting production across a large chunk of Australia as I speak, and that's adding
to the burden of everything else that is going on.

So I agree with those sentiments where people are saying, the Prime Minister is saying, tough
months ahead, very tough months ahead. A lot of work to be done but on a bright note to pick one
little issue, Australia is exporting pasta to the supermarkets of Tuscany, Italy.

ALI MOORE: But of course you're off to Italy next week. You become Australia's first resident
full-time ambassador to the Holy See. Does it strike you as ironic, I guess perhaps even strange,
that in the many years you were in Government this is a position that was never seen as necessary?

TIM FISCHER: Well I raised it with Alexander Downer on one or two occasions informally but it was
always an on-balance thing and now the Government has made this decision, I think it's an important
decision, given that Rome is the other hub of information, contact, networks, par-excellence in the

And not just the Vatican by the way, the Food Agricultural Organisation and a number of other
related organisations - Gene Bank and so forth - are headquartered in Rome as well.

So I think Australia is showing a depth of commitment to international relations with this move
whereby I represent not the Catholic Church to its headquarters but in fact the Australian
Government, the Australian Parliament to the nation state of the Vatican itself, a member of the
United Nations.

ALI MOORE: But I guess the question would be why now? And I understand it wasn't your decision to
go from a part-time ambassador to full-time ambassador, but it's a position that you've accepted
and you obviously see as relevant.

Why is now the time that we need to ramp up those relations, if you like?

TIM FISCHER: Well I think it in part came to an immediate head with the very successful visit of
His Holiness the Pope in World Youth Day in Sydney and related aspects of that.

More broadly, the issue of inter-faith dialogue, I have my letter of instruction as a matter of
public record, Minister Stephen Smith, Prime Minister and others are very keen to see a priority in
representations in building up momentum associated with links between Christians and Jews and
Buddhists and the Islamic members and so many more.

And the sooner the better because this 21st century's had a shocking first decade and we are only
going to begin to turn that around if we start to fix things like food security but also build a
much better understanding, mutual respect on the inter-faith dialogue front and I go to do that,
amongst other issues, which I'll be pursuing on behalf of the Government.

ALI MOORE: You say that you've received your letter of instructions and part of that is inter-faith
dialogue. What else is on that song sheet?

TIM FISCHER: Piracy, modern-day piracy, poverty. The food security one is particularly interesting.
I mean, if you're going to begin to turn the fortunes of Africa as a continent around they've got
to have something to eat and then they might be able to go down the pathway of education, build up
their Governmental institutions and start to climb out of the economic difficulties and other
difficulties that they face.

ALI MOORE: After life as a politician, now that you're becoming a diplomat of course representing a
Government from the other side of politics, are there going to be times when you're going to have
to hold your tongue?

TIM FISCHER: I have asked specifically should I become a Trappist monk in terms of the media. Good
news is, the answer is no. But obviously comply with all the relevant rules and no surprises and
all that, and having worked both sides of that particular argument I think I'm well experienced to
handle it as we move forward Ali.

ALI MOORE: We began by interview by talking about how difficult the economic times are. There's
been some discussion regarding the fact that this position is going to cost $11-million to set up,
something like $2-million to run every year. Will there be value for money?

TIM FISCHER: Yes there will, and that's my job, to make it a win-win.

And so I go to the defence attaché's department initially, a lot of work to be done, but I think
the Government has made the decision, we are going to make it work and work well for Australia as I
wind up on a number of other activities including producing a book this week with Tshering Tashi on
the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan.

ALI MOORE: Well, as you've mentioned, you spent quite a bit of time in Bhutan. Now this is a
country where the Republican presidential candidate John McCain - he chose to go to there to
recuperate after losing the election.

TIM FISCHER: Good choice and Obama spoke of happiness in his inaugural speech as well. Why? Because
Bhutan has an official concept of gross national happiness - life and work balance against the
static and acid of the 21st century.

We can learn much from them and we seek to pick up on those lessons in this book written with
Tshering Tashi and some proceeds going to charities in the kingdom of Bhutan.

ALI MOORE: As we said you spent a lot of time in Bhutan, you obviously have a great deal of respect
for the country and for its ways. Have you been tempted to convert from Catholicism to Buddhism?
It's been done.

TIM FISCHER: What attracted me was the fact two Jesuits walked in there in 1627, kept magnificent
notes which are actually in the Vatican library, and wrote of their experience of how they were
enriched by Bhutan.

So you can go there, not necessarily convert, learn a lot, learn from the two kings, the king
father, the current 29-year-old king, the current Prime Minister, and the constitutional democracy.

The complete opposite of Nepal, getting on with a balance and a harmony and a progress for their
people, which I do admire and hence the book.

ALI MOORE: Tim Fischer, many thanks for joining us.

TIM FISCHER: Thank you Ali.