Canberra’s defence establishment and the Australian National University are mourning the loss of one of its leading strategic thinkers, Professor Brendan Sargeant, who died suddenly at the weekend in a swimming accident.
Professor Sargeant was the Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC) in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs. He also had a celebrated career with the Department of Defence.
He first joined the ANU in 2018 as an Honorary Professor at the SDSC and was appointed its Head in 2019.
Before going to the ANU, Professor Sargeant was Deputy Secretary Strategy at Defence and the Associate Secretary from 2013 to 2017.
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As Associate Secretary, he was responsible for oversight of the implementation of the First Principles Review, a major reform of Defence organisation and enterprise governance, planning, performance and risk management.
He also authored the 2013 Defence White Paper.
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said Professor Sargeant was “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 would be felt across the University and the news “will come as a shock”.
“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 paid tribute to Professor Sargeant and his many contributions to the school.
“To many of us in the School, he has been a valued friend and a mentor as well as a colleague,” Professor Erskine said.
“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.”
A statement from Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty and Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell said Professor Sargeant had a long and distinguished career.
He joined the Department in 1983 as an Assistant Research Officer, and went on to work in the Attorney General’s Department, Centrelink, and Department of Finance and Deregulation, but returned to Defence in March 2010 as Deputy Secretary Strategy.
He also held the position of Deputy Secretary Reform and Governance, before being appointed the Associate Secretary in March 2013. He held this position until his retirement from the Department and the Australian Public Service in July 2018. During his tenure, he also acted as Secretary on many occasions.
They said his legacy was substantial.
The 2013 Defence White Paper which shed new light on changing circumstances in the region, including emerging cyber threats and implications of the global financial crisis.
The First Principles Review was a major organisational reform agenda which has helped to modernise and position Defence to better contend with the security threats Australia faces today.
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,” they said.
“On behalf of the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force, we extend our condolences to Professor Sargeant’s family and friends.”