Defence adviser remembered for integrity and inquisitive mind after swimming accident

By Jackson Graham

February 16, 2022

Brendan Sargeant
Then acting secretary of defence Brendan Sargeant (r) at a press conference during a visit to the ASC naval shipyard in Osborne, South Australia, May 16 2017. (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

Tributes are flowing for respected defence adviser and former public servant professor Brendan Sargeant, after he died suddenly in a swimming accident. 

Sargeant was considered one of Australia’s leading strategic and defence thinkers, and served as a deputy secretary in the defence department from 2012-2013, acted as secretary, and was an associate secretary shortly afterwards. 

He joined the Department of Defence in 1983 and had a career in the public service spanning the Attorney-General’s Department, Centrelink, and Department of Finance and Deregulation. 

Defence Department secretary Greg Moriarty and defence force chief Angus Campbell said in a joint statement that Sargeant left a substantial legacy. 

“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. 

He was the lead author of a 2013 defence white paper and oversaw a major organisational reform agenda that helped to modernise and position defence, called the First Principles Review. 

Sargeant was also an honorary professor at Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC) in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, from 2018. 

ANU vice-chancellor professor Brian Schmidt said the community had lost “a giant of the university, of Canberra and of the nation”.

“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.”

Sargeant died suddenly during a swimming accident at the weekend, the university confirmed, with details of a memorial yet to be finalised. 


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