Published: 28 September 2020

Legislative Council Thursday 17 September, 2020

Ms FORREST (Murchison) (by leave) - Mr President, I move -

That this Council expresses its profound regret at the death, on 27 August 2020, of Anthony William Fletcher, who served on the Legislative Council as a member from 1981, in the electorate known as Russell, and from 1999 to 2005 in the electorate of Murchison, and served as Leader for the Government in the Legislative Council from 1986 to 1989, and again from 1996 to 1998, and places on record sincere appreciation for his great service to this state.

Further, the Council humbly and respectfully tenders to his family its deepest sympathy in their bereavement.

Mr President, in speaking to this motion, I acknowledge the significant contribution of Anthony William Fletcher, known as Tony, and the contribution he has made to the state of Tasmania, both inside this parliament and in the community.

Anthony William Fletcher was born on 27 October 1934 to Harry Lisle and Sylvia Maud Fletcher. He was born in Huonville. His father, Harry, was a committed track athlete, rugby player and community-minded citizen. In 1941 he was elected to the Huon Council, where he served 37 years, at times as deputy warden and treasurer.

Tony himself played with Huonville Football Club in his late teens, where captain/coach Harold 'Nunky' Ayers took a liking to him and provided some sponsorship. The Fletcher family was too poor to provide for any ongoing education, so Nunky paid for Tony to attend St Virgil's College for two years, where he was a capable student, but excellent in all things athletic, particularly football. He was recruited by the Hobart Football Club and played three seasons, from 1953 to 1955, during one year of which he played for St Virgil's College in the morning and for Hobart in the afternoon.

He met and fell in love with a Hobart girl, Margaret Mackey, as a 20-year-old, at a Hobart dance hall. During their courtship Tony used to use much ingenuity to ensure he could spend time getting to know her, even when he was allegedly confined to barracks. In 1955, they were married and enjoyed a love story that endured for over 65 years. Their first child, Chris, was born in Hobart in December 1955. The family moved to Burnie in 1956, where Tony took up a physical education teaching position and played football with the Burnie Football Club. With the Burnie Tigers, Tony established himself as a quality player in the competition over the 1956-57 seasons.

Keen to provide a better life for a growing family, Tony successfully applied for the position of captain and coach of the Smithton Magpies for the 1958 season. Tony and Margaret moved to Smithton in 1958, when Tony was appointed as senior playing coach of the Smithton Football Club, the Magpies, and physical education teacher at Smithton High School. In that year he successfully coached the Magpies to a premiership, the first of nine over the 12 years of coaching to follow. In this hectic period, Leanne, Scott, Tracy, Hadyn, Denise and Jacqui were born, and physical education teaching at Smithton High gave way to selling insurance for AMP, then election to the Tasmanian Parliament as the member of the Legislative Council for Russell in 1981. He went on to serve the people of Murchison for four terms with distinction.

During these years, between 1958 and 1970, the Smithton Magpies not only won nine premierships under Tony's leadership, but Tony himself won the Circular Head senior best and fairest award on four occasions, an achievement he was immensely proud of, as was the club. On a number of occasions Tony was selected as the coach of the Circular Head Football Association representative teams, to play against the North West Football Union. He was also selected to play for the Union Firsts against South Melbourne, the only Circular Head player to do so. He was also one of the instigators of the Smithton Football Club joining the NWFU in 1979 as the Smithton Saints. They had to change their jumper at that point. This brought the whole community together at the time.

Tony was also awarded life membership of the Smithton Football Club. While Tony taught at Smithton High, he coached the under-17s team locally, and many of these players went on to play NWFU-, NTFA- and TFL-standard football.

In 1965, he took an under-17 side to Victoria, where they were successful and undefeated as Tasmanians.

Tony's manner and approach to coaching both younger and older players earned him great respect and admiration. His sporting achievements and interests also extended beyond football. He was a race caller for the Smithton racing club for some time, demonstrating his skills and talent as a communicator. He also managed the then-new Circular Head swimming pool and organised weekend swimming championships in Smithton, as well as organising swimmers to train with a leading coach in Hobart. Again, some of these swimmers and divers went on to feature in state titles. He also played basketball and water polo.

Tony was a true leader and mentor to many people in Circular Head. The boys he coached continued to meet regularly with Tony for many years. He was their teacher, their coach, their mentor, and, most importantly, their friend.

A story that was shared by a former student at Tony's funeral is worth repeating here. Dennis Cobbing informed us -

Robert Falconer and I decided to try and look into the girls change rooms at the old Smithton pool. We were between the ages of 11 and 13. Robert was on my shoulders and that was as far as we got. The next thing, out of the blue, I got a boot up the bum. It was Fletch. He was the pool manager at the time and everyone knows he was a pretty good kick.

We apologised to Mr Fletcher and he never told our parents. That was just him. All his life he was fair and just.

He has gone now. We've lost our teacher, our mentor and most important, our mate.

Till we meet again, old friend.

In the early 1970s, Tony left teaching to establish the AMP insurance agency in Smithton. He again succeeded and received several statewide awards.

Tony was first elected to the Legislative Council on 23 May 1981 in the seat of Russell, as it was then known, which took in the municipalities of Wynyard, Circular Head and King Island. He was one of Tasmania's longest serving MLCs, serving first Russell and then later Murchison for 24 years - the third consecutive person to hold the seat in that area for that length of time. A good sign for people who are there now.

He was re-elected unopposed in 1987 and 1993 - skinners, as we call them. He was later to reflect that in his 24 years in parliament, he only went to the polls twice, and one of those was to win by 51 votes in 1981.

His election in 1981 saw an end to the 48-year reign of the Fenton family in this seat. He narrowly defeated Malcolm Fenton, who was the nephew of retiring member and Legislative Council president, Charles Fenton. Charles had been a member for 24 years, as had his uncle, Arthur Fenton, before him.

The Legislative Council in 1981 comprised 19 members - three of whom were ALP members, and the rest independents. Kathleen Venn, the member for Hobart, was the only female in the House.

Following the reduction in the size of the state parliament in 1996, the seat of Russell was amalgamated with the west coast seat of Gordon. Tony then became the member for the newly named division of Murchison, and was successful against three others in contesting the seat to serve his final six-year term from 1999.

In his inaugural speech on 8 September 1981 as the new member for Russell, Tony noted that it had been 10 years since Russell had a voice on the Floor of the Legislative Council, as his predecessor, Mr Fenton, had been the President of the House, and therefore had limited opportunity to speak on behalf of his electorate. In his speech he paid tribute to the people of Russell, saying -

These areas are remote from the capital of Tasmania and from this seat of Government, but they are areas of tremendous wealth which contributes very much to the wealth of the State.

It is not a highly industrialised area or one rich in minerals, but rather its industries are based on resources which we can reap and regenerate, keeping in close harmony with nature: beef, dairy, sheep, crop harvesting, vegetable production and processing, fishing and, of course, the matter under discussion here, the timber industry.

Remember, it did not include the west coast at this point -

The people of the area of Russell - Circular Head, Wynyard and King Island - are the sons of the soil and they nurture nature to reproduce into perpetuity.

That is the end of the quote from his inaugural speech. Tony also recognised the importance of tourism and how the two could work together. He spoke of the tourism industry of the far north-west as being stunted because people travelling to the area had to return via the same route. He recognised there existed, and I quote from his speech -

… a situation where, with cooperation between various departments, a tourist road could be developed to serve both the logging and timber industry and the tourist industry which would benefit the people of the far north-west as well.

He was talking about these things when he was first elected. He was still talking about them when I came in.

It is interesting how so many things stay fundamentally the same. Tony was well known in the upper House - I know other members will probably mention this - as the coach, reflecting on his background on the football field and his natural adaption to that approach in this place. When he was asked at his final ABC interview with Tim Cox on 5 May 2005, which of the debates stood out most in his memory, he answered -

The debates of the 1980s, the Development versus Conservation debates, in the heat of the Gordon below Franklin and then the forest issues that have been longest running, most intense and most important debates for Tasmania.

He explained the balance always lies in the middle ground, and to the credit of Tasmania generally and to parliament, particularly, he believed we had found a balance which allowed development of our forests, rivers and waters without damage to our natural assets.

Tony also named the 1995 Aboriginal land hand-back as being one of the greatest achievements in his political career. In an interview at the time of his retirement, he said it had been a tense time, but he was pleased to have been able to secure the transfer, but expressed disappointment a process had not been identified to continue with further transfers which he described as being a bit ad hoc when it came to parliament, instead of being approached in a logical way.

He was also proud of the outcome of the task force he chaired to look at the future of the Royal Derwent Hospital in Willow Court, which developed a program for improved care of people with mental illness and disability.

Gay law reform was a defining moment in the Legislative Council when members voted to support decriminalisation of homosexuality in Tasmania. This had been a contentious issue in the upper House and not something that Tony had initially supported. However, his skill as a negotiator and legislator ensured the reform passed in 1997. His speech on decriminalisation indicated his change of heart. Rodney Croome, in a letter to the editor on Tony's passing, shared a message to the next generation of LGBTIQ Tasmanians encouraging them not give up on what he called 'unfriendly politicians', and I will read a little of what Rodney wrote -

LGBTIQ people have more allies than we think, even if we need to give them some time, space and encouragement, even if they are yet to realise it themselves.

Tony held the position of leader of the government from 1986 to 1989, having previously been deputy leader and again in 1996 and 1998, serving under the Gray, Groom and Rundle governments. Tony was an influential figure for much of his time in this place as he negotiated his way through some of Tasmania's most divisive issues and debates that helped shape us as a state. I am reliably informed there were times when he was tasked with getting a truly poor piece of legislation through the House, and he had a way of letting his views be known.

Our former colleague and president, Jim Wilkinson, tells a story of one such case where Tony's words in summing, up the debate went along the lines - 'Well, we are 10 goals down, a howling gale is blowing against us, and I am expected to win this game.' The bill was defeated, much to Tony's relief, I believe.

Although aligned to conservatives and having stood unsuccessfully as a state Liberal candidate previously, Tony served in the Legislative Council as an independent. He believed the electorate at the time had shown that given the choice between a party-endorsed candidate in the upper House and a quality independent, they would support the independent. During his time as an elected member he saw many changes. He explained in his final radio interview how he saw it. He said -

Members of parliament are not elected for their intelligence. They are elected because they represent the community, and as the community has hard working, lazy, rich, poor, strong and weak in its members, to some degree that mix is also represented in the Parliament.

I am not sure which one I fit into, but I think there may be a few other categories he needed to include. He went on to say that the community of Tasmania has emerged considerably since the early 1990s and the people of Tasmania, who in the past have been loath to change, are now much more open to or accepting of change and this has been reflected in the parliament and particularly the Legislative Council.

Tony made an observation that the great strength of the Legislative Council is that we are independently and singularly responsible to our community, whereas in a multi-member electorate of the House of Assembly the constituents may not be quite sure who their representative is.

He said -

In the Legislative Council it's a single member electorate and I am responsible to my constituency. They know that, and if they want to bite my backside, they've got the opportunity to do so.

He was concerned about the reduction in the number of parliamentarians in 1996 and he was concerned that it had resulted in a lack of critical mass from which to draw a leadership team. He suggested a better use of the talent that is available in the Legislative Council as a possible solution. He was unsure if a new look Tasmania was a change for the better.

We have seen that with ministers now in the upper House, which has been a positive change.

He said -

It seems to me that the balance has shifted towards executive government, which isn't in the best interests of Tasmanian society.

He said that in an interview with the Sunday Tasmanian, and he added -

We are best served by an open and transparent government held accountable by Parliament. Members need to be well respected and have the research capacity to match the Government's efforts.

He is so true on that -

Tony was the first member of the upper House to have a full-time assistant and a street front office in Wynyard. I understand Tony was the test case for having this electorate office, something we now all take for granted. This proved - and was no surprise to Tony - to be of great value and benefit to his constituents.

When he decided not to contest the 2005 election, he stated that he was looking forward to the gypsy lifestyle that retirement would bring. He cited the usual suspects of spending time with family and friends, and gardening was high on his life of retirement priorities but also an interest in writing short stories.

The Honourable Don Wing, another former long-serving member and president, remembered Tony as a well-liked and respected competent leader for the government in the Legislative Council. He said Tony was a competent leader for the government, noting that his persuasive debating style was reminiscent of his technique as a successful football coach. Tony was down to earth, a wily negotiator, always accessible to members, and an entertaining raconteur.

It was a widely held view that he had been a member of the House of Assembly even though he had not as he was well equipped to be a successful minister of the Crown.

I spoke to my very first executive assistant, or electorate officer, who had worked for Tony for a number of years, for six years in that last term as his member for Murchison. She stayed on to assist with my transition to being the new member and Tony was very generous when he left. He left all the open constituent files that he was able to, ensuring that people he had started to work with to assist did not need to restart the process. That was a very generous thing to do.

Leanne Holland who was his EA - and also mine for a short period - stated that Tony was an excellent orator, could negotiate hard but had genuine compassion. She also recalled his Christian faith, noting his death notice had a statement about meeting his King.

Leanne recalled that she first encountered Tony when doing a term of teaching at Yolla school. He phoned her to ask if she would help run his campaign in 1999 and they organised a meeting and as they say the rest is history.

Leanne said -

I came to know this wonderful man, Tony Fletcher, who I worked with for the best part of the next six years.

Tony had given a lot of thought as to whether he would stand again in 1999 as he was 64 and would be 71 at the end of the term for the new seat of Murchison.

Leanne recalled that despite his long history in Circular Head, this was a different election. The divisions of Gordon (West Coast) and Russell were combined into the new-look Murchison so he took nothing for granted.

He needed to convince the people of the west coast that he was worthy to be the representative. He ran the campaign to win. He duly defeated the other candidates Sue Owen, Des Hiscutt and Michael Weldon to take the seat.

Mrs Hiscutt - I remember it well.

Ms FORREST - I think one of the candidates is the Leader's uncle. Tony had negotiated prior to that with then premier, Jim Bacon, to set up a dedicated office in Wynyard if he was re-elected. True to their agreement, Tony's office was the first dedicated Legislative Council regional office. I also understand it had been funded through DPAC, and it caused some issues with other MLCs at the time, as they thought he was getting a better deal. Others who were here at the time may have some recollection of that and be able to confirm or deny that matter.

Right from the start Tony kept his word to visit the west coast on a regular basis. The former member and late Peter Schultz had lived on the west coast and Tony wanted the people to know they had a voice through him. No matter how bad the weather, Tony kept his commitment and drove down, giving the people an opportunity to meet him in person. Leanne said she and Marg, Tony's wife, worried about the conditions in which he was driving, but he always made it back home.
Mr President, this is certainly something I have continued and can fully appreciate. A number of trips have been delayed because of snow, even the first time I had an all-wheel drive car, thinking I will get through this time, only to have a truck jackknife on the road and block the highway for several hours. There is no phone reception, so I had to turn around and come home. Tony would not have had a four-wheel drive at that time. Leanne also recalled Tony as being notorious for leaving behind his glasses and his wallet - and he even once left his passport on a flight. He should have had a man bag for all those things, was her view. Goodness knows how many pairs of glasses he lost. Some were recovered, many were not.

Even though Tony was fairly certain that term was to be his last in office, he was extremely generous with donations to service and sporting clubs, writing out cheques that were greatly appreciated by local organisations, right until he left the seat. I believe it is easy to see why Tony is held in such high regard and high esteem. No-one was too insignificant for Tony's attention. He was clearly a champion of the underdog and would advocate for many a constituent in Murchison.

Numerous issues crossed his desk that were technically nothing to do with government. I am sure we are all aware those things happen. But Tony often would use his financial background and worldly knowledge to help these people regardless. Tony gave every constituent issue his full attention. For example, in investigating a complaint of a resident being continually disturbed by noise from a factory in Wynyard, Leanne recalled that he parked outside the factory for several hours in the middle of the night to test it for himself. His detective work led him to believe there was a case to answer, which subsequently led to the Department of Environment doing decibel testing and efforts to reduce noise. That is taking your job seriously.

Leanne told me she learned a lot about dealing with people and issues from Tony. He was like a terrier dog with a bone, and would unearth as much information as possible to build a picture of what was going on, like sitting in your car at night listening to noise. Through Tony's actions and with his support, she learned to pick the phone up and talk to people to cut through to the chase. That was an era when people wrote snail-mail letters and the turnaround time for ministers could be a couple of months. It is remarkable that it is still the case now.

Tony was one of the - if not the - driving forces behind the 2004 bicentennial cattle drive re-enactment in Circular Head. Nothing was done by halves. He commissioned an historian to write the history of the cattle drive and sought a naming-rights sponsor, Greenhams, for the event. It was an overwhelming success and talked about for years in the region. People of the far north-west had 200 years of continual history in the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area. Tony was a passionate advocate for people using this area not to be locked out of it and to be able to use this area, along with the Indigenous ancestors and descendants of those people as a shared special area.

I personally did not hear the story Tony would often tell, but I have heard this second-hand: when he first met his daughter's wealthy American in-laws, the father-in-law asked Tony what did he do to make money. Tony explained he was a member of parliament. The man said, 'Yes, but what do you do to make real money?'.
Tony's involvement and interest in Aboriginal history and Aboriginal land transfers convinced him that history is multifaceted and much of the history of ordinary people doing ordinary things is often untold. He had begun writing in order to share some of these stories and hoped to have them published. He also took on a role with Gunns before the company’s demise, during the challenging period of the proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill.

I am sure the members for Windermere and McIntyre will have their own stories to tell of their time in this place working with Tony. In November 2018 The Advocate newspaper reported a special reunion that had taken place featuring reflections of some of Tony's former students and mates. This is a quote from The Advocate -

Harry Evans, Peter Edwards, James McCulloch, Dennis Cobbing and Rod Burgess were class- and teammates under Mr Fletcher in the 1960s, and were proud to call him a friend.

'He was the best coach ever,' Mr Evans said.

'This is the remnants of the best high school side Tasmania ever produced! It's not even a question,' Mr Cobbing said through laughter, but also quite seriously.

'If Fletcher doesn't want to brag, we'll brag for him.'

The group said Mr Fletcher coached the Smithton side for 13 years and won nine premierships, following his arrival in the town in 1958.

'All these guys are family to me,' Mr Fletcher said.

'The family goes back 60 years. It's not often you would find a group of students still maintaining contact with their former teacher 60 years later. I think that's quite unique.'

He reminisced particularly fondly on a tour of Victorian high schools he organised with their team, during which they won two of three games they played against mainland schools.

'I arranged through political influence to take them to Melbourne and they were billeted out with students over there,' he said.

Mr Fletcher chaperoned the team of 34 students with just one other teacher, for the two week tour.

'It was a big thing in the 1960s! To charter a flight out of Smithton,' Mr Burgess chimed in.

Mr President, Tony departed the Legislative Council on 7 May 2005, and I am honoured to have continued to serve the people of Murchison since.

Tony is survived by his wife of 65 years, Margaret; father and father-in-law to Chris and Nicki Fletcher; Leanne and Bruce Poole; Scott and Alison Fletcher; Haydn Fletcher, Ross and Anna Murphy; Denise Fletcher and Saeed Behjat, and Jacqueline and Jonathan Rees; and his 22 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren and great-grandchildren on the way who will not get to experience the physical presence of their much-loved great-grandfather.
Sadly, Tracy Fletcher passed away in February this year.

Mr President, I offer my sincere condolences to the family of this loyal, wise, determined, hardworking man who has been a great coach to so many - a man who has served his state, his constituents and his loved ones with his whole heart. As Tony stated in 1997 -

The rules of sport are also the rules of life. I believe that fundamentally - like having goals and playing to win, doing your best, the spirit to get back up into the game again - I see a great linkage between the two.

Those words are in the Order of Service for his funeral because that says a lot about Tony, the man.

Vale, Tony Fletcher. Thank you for your dedication to and work for Tasmania and Tasmanians. May you rest in peace.

Members - Hear, hear.

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