Remembering Brendan Sargeant

By Australian Defence Business Review

The Defence and national security community has been saddened to hear of the passing on 12 February of Professor Brendan Sargeant, a former Defence Department Associate Secretary and the Head of the Australian National University’s (ANU) Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC).

Professor Sargeant retired in 2018 after a 35 year career in the Commonwealth public service, including positions in the Attorney General’s Department, Centrelink, the Department of Finance and Deregulation, and the Department of Defence.

In 2010, he took on the role of Deputy Secretary Strategy in Defence before moving to the position of Deputy Secretary Reform and Governance, and he also acted as departmental Secretary on several occasions.

A 14 February joint statement by Defence secretary Greg Moriarty and Chief of Defence Force GEN Angus Campbell described Professor Sargeant’s legacy as “substantial”. They said he authored the 2013 Defence White Paper in which, “he shed new light on changing circumstances in the region, including emerging cyber threats and the implications of the global financial crisis. He oversaw the First Principles Review – a major organisational reform agenda which has helped to modernise and position Defence to better contend with the security threats Australia faces today.

“After retiring from Defence, he went on to make a substantial contribution to the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University,” they added. “He was also a mentor to many in the National Security community.

“Defence will always remember Brendan Sargeant as a man of integrity, with a purposeful and searching mind and great insight into the strategic challenges facing Australia. On behalf of the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force, we extend our condolences to Professor Sargeant’s family and friends.”

The ANU also published a tribute to Professor Sargeant, who joined the university in 2018 as an Honorary Professor at the SDSC in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, before being appointed as Head of SDSC in 2019.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said the ANU community had lost “a giant of the University, of Canberra and of the nation.

“Brendan was well-loved and well-regarded by many here at ANU, as well as in defence circles,” Professor Schmidt said.  “Brendan was not only a leader in his field – he was a true leader on our campus and a great friend to his colleagues, peers, our university, and to me personally. We are deeply saddened by this unexpected loss and send our heartfelt well wishes to Brendan’s family, friends and loved ones.”

Dean of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific Professor Helen Sullivan said Professor Sargeant’s death will be felt across the university. “I know many of you, like me, have benefitted from Brendan’s experience, knowledge and sound advice,” Professor Sullivan said. “We will share details of the memorial service with our community when they have been finalised, and I am sure there will be an opportunity to celebrate Brendan’s achievements in the coming weeks.”

Director of the Coral Bell School, Professor Toni Erskine added, “To many of us in the School, he has been a valued friend and a mentor as well as a colleague. I was reflecting last night on how best to describe Brendan, and the qualities that immediately came to mind were a wisdom gained from a wealth of experience and learning, combined with a deep kindness and generosity.  This, I think, is a rare combination. I will miss him terribly.”

This article was published by ADBR on February 15, 2022.