Remarks in memory of Allan Gyngell AO

  • Statement

In Allan Gyngell AO, our nation has lost a great Australian and, as Foreign Minister Penny Wong has said, our 'finest foreign policy mind'.

While many have already celebrated the highlights of Allan's career and spoken of their grief at the loss of a dear friend, a trusted advisor, a mentor.

I know that his wife, Catherine, his sons Joe and Christopher, daughters-in-law Chell and Katherine and grandchildren Annie, Maxwell, Heidi and Pippin, have lost a husband, a father, a grandfather.

I know that all of our experiences of Allan, beloved as they were, pale in comparison to the precious memories and experiences you will be able to have shared with him.

To have Allan as a life partner, a father, a grandfather - how wonderful that would have been.

Talk about winning the lottery of life.

I'm so sorry for your loss above all others.

It feels like we should have had so much more time with Allan. He certainly wasn't slowing down!

Allan made a contribution to our nation worth ten lifetimes of work.

As Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has noted, you could take each of Allan's contributions in DFAT, ONA, the Prime Minister's Office, the think tank world, academia or as a commentator and historian individually and think each of them substantial careers in their own right.

But it's striking that despite the scale of Allan's professional contributions to Australian foreign policy across these fields, what he has been remembered for most since his passing is just how good of a human being he was.

His wry smile and dry humour.

His warmth, generosity and curiosity.

Indeed, the thing that always struck me about Allan was that he always had time.

I tweeted after his passing that Allan was a mentor to half of Australia's foreign policy community.

After the last week I need to revise up that estimate.

From Cabinet Ministers to university students, Allan always made time to listen to people, to test their thinking, to offer counsel and advice (rarely unsolicited, never unwelcome), to connect them with a useful contact or to share his unparalleled institutional memory.

None appreciated quite how many people he was doing this for.

I know that I felt as a new backbencher in 2013 that Allan must have taken pity on me, or perhaps on the state of the party after the 2013 election and was only answering my emails and phone calls as a charity project.

He provided input on two books for me. Countless speeches.

I treasured this input as a rare commodity.

And while it was precious, it certainly wasn't rare, he was doing the same thing for so many others.

It's worth recording too that the generosity of the time Allan gave is reflected too in the generosity of the way that he engaged in analysis and discussion.

Allan was known for his insistence on contestability and rigour in his analysis, but this was never about competition or battling egos.

Allan was never contemptuous, never dismissive, never abusive.

Allan was always about the substance and how to improve the process of the outcome for everyone.

Indeed, the theme of one of Allan's last episodes hosting the Australia and the World podcast was “Epistemic humility”.

I was always very happy that he wasn't a tweeter or exposed to the obnoxiousness of some of the Australian foreign policy discussions on Twitter.

He was so much better than that medium and the quality of the discourse there.

I was always struck too by Allan's enduring curiosity.

There are some people, particularly in foreign policy, who calcify in their thinking and never have a new thought, never change their mind beyond their early 40s.

People more interested in tribes and posturing than analysis.

Allan wasn't like that.

He was always exploring, challenging himself moreso than others.

He never thought he needed to take a position to prove himself to an individual or a group.

He was strictly driven by his assessment of the substance.

In opposition, I was giving a speech for the Lowy Institute on the challenge of techno-authoritarianism to the prospects of democracies around the world and Allan, as usual was in the audience listening keenly.

Afterwards he bailed me up keen for my views on Wired journalist, Andy Greenberg's then new book, Sandworm about a Russian APT group know for targeting critical infrastructure in its hacking operations.

Not an issue that would have come across his desk when he was at ONA!

Allan never stopped learning, never stopped asking questions.

The same openness to new thinking and new endeavours is clear from his foray into podcasting with Darren Lim as part of the extremely successful Australia in the World Podcast.

Podcasting is a peculiar medium.

As people generally consume podcasts on their own, the discussions are informal, their episodic nature over a long period of time – people can develop a one-sided sense of intimacy with the hosts of their favourite podcasts.

I'm sure there's a new generation of people who have been avid listeners to the more than 100 episodes of the Australia and the world podcast who have developed the same feeling that they know and understand Allan.

Another generation, learning from Allan's model of generous engagement and curiosity combined with intellectual rigour.

As the FM noted in her condolence speech, Allan described his landmark history of Australian foreign policy as a 'prologue'.

I was deeply touched that after a decade of conversations in opposition, he sent me a copy of the revised edition to mark my appointment to the foreign ministry with encouragement to shape “the next chapters of this Australian story.”

At a time that Australia's engagement with the world has never been more complex and consequential, it's a great tragedy to have lost such a powerful intellect and unparalleled institutional memory.

But Allan's legacy is the generations of Australians that he mentored directly and through his example who must now pick up this challenge without him.

Rest in Peace, Allan.

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