3 May 2023

Vale Allan Gyngell: Australia loses its ‘finest mind in foreign policy’

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Allan Gyngell

Allan Gyngell was a distinguished member of the ‘Class of 69’. Photo: National Press Club.

One of Australia’s foremost foreign policy experts, Allan Gyngell AO, has died after a short illness.

Mr Gyngell most recently served as the National President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) from 2017 to 2022 and was instrumental in lifting the organisation’s profile and reach.

His sharp intellect, mild manners and exceptional insight into international affairs brought significant gravitas to the AIIA and to all other institutions with which he was associated.

Mr Gyngell was an honourary professor with the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific and a director of China Matters. He also served as the Director of the Crawford Australian Leadership Forum, and an Adjunct Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy.

Mr Gyngell was the brother of comedian Kym Gyngell, and cousin of the former head of the Nine Network, David Gyngell. He graduated as a member of the foreign service’s ‘Class of 69’ along with other eminent persons, Dennis Richardson, Ric Smith and Sandy Hollway.

Mr Gyngell had vast experience in international policy and analysis. His first posting was to Rangoon in Burma (now Myanmar). That was followed by a posting to Singapore where he saw the effects of the UK’s withdrawal of all of its forces ‘east of the Suez Canal’ on the wider Indo-Pacific region. He was then posted to Washington DC.

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In 1974 he was posted to Canberra where he helped establish Australia as the first official dialogue partner to ASEAN, and he attended the first meeting in Indonesia. In 1989 he was appointed to head the Foreign Affairs Branch in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and from 1993 to 1996 was a senior foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Paul Keating.

He became the founding Executive Director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy from 2003 to 2009 before being appointed Director-General of the Australian Office of National Assessments (ONA) from 2009 to 2013. The ONA has since been subsumed by the Office of National Intelligence.

Allan Gyngell

Mr Gyngell was a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and served as National President from 2017-2022. Photo: AIIA.

Mr Gyngell was a prolific author and contributor of assessment papers and analyses, was a regular speaker at the Lowy Institute long after his tenure there, and in 2009 he was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) for his services to international relations.

In a statement released today, AIIA President Heather Smith said, “Sadly, we have lost a great Australian”.

“As one of our finest strategic thinkers, Allan dedicated his professional life to assisting Australian governments navigate foreign and strategic policy and then, as National President, to ensuring Australians were better informed on our place in the world,” she said.

“Throughout his distinguished career, Allan brought clarity, wisdom, insight, foresight and great humility to our national discussions. He had no hesitation in speaking truth to power. Our nation is poorer for his passing. The AIIA has been enriched by his leadership and I humbly seek to honour and build on his enormous legacy. Personally, I have lost my great mentor and a very dear friend.”

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Managing Editor of the Lowy Institute’s international magazine, The Interpreter, Daniel Flitton said, “Gyngell’s gentle manner belied a savage wit and droll humour. He relished debate and embraced criticism. Gyngell saw in what he once described as the ‘parallel worlds’ between diplomats, military professionals, business leaders and the media the chance to strengthen Australia’s position.”

In her speech to the National Press Club on 17 April this year, Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong acknowledged the presence of Mr Gyngell at the event.

“I want to particularly acknowledge one of my guests today, Allan Gyngell. He is, frankly, the finest mind in Australian foreign policy.”

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What an incredibly sad loss. Allan Gyngell was one of our country’s leading experts on Australia’s foreign policy and the Asia-Pacific region. He was always a joy to listen to, so wise and measured in his commentary.
Vale Allan Gyngell!

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