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Barnett, Tudor Harvey (1925–1995)

by Jack Waterford

Harvey Bennett, by Spooner, c.1984

Harvey Bennett, by Spooner, c.1984

National Library of Australia, 6479508

When Harvey Barnett, Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, brought the first security matter to the attention of new Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, in April, 1983, Mr Hawke asked his advice on publicity about throwing out a Soviet intelligence agent.

After canvassing, and having Bob Hawke reject, the idea of a "quiet word" with the ambassador, Barnett confessed a "natural inclination" for a public expulsion.

"I would like to make it clear that I have an interest, in that ASIO for a long time has been accused of not having detected a Soviet spy. Personally it would suit me if some publicity to this effect were to ensue," he said.

Whether he would have said the same thing a year later is another thing altogether. The expulsion of Valeriy Ivanov led to gossip which led the identification of former ALP federal secretary then lobbyist, David Combe, as the man he was cultivating, a Royal commission into the affair, the revealing of some serious ASIO blunders, which, if not greatly undermining its case, caused the organisation deep embarrassment. Barnett confessed to feeling bruised and battered, often unfairly.

With hindsight, ASIO probably did a fairly good technical job, the major weaknesses put on display being a particular unworldliness in dealing with politicians and in understanding how they worked, in part a function of the organisation's location in Melbourne. Harvey Barnett himself, for all of his urbanity and charm, might have epitomised it as he blinked in a very unaccustomed spotlight.

Yet Harvey Barnett, 69, who died of cancer in Melbourne yesterday, was well-travelled, educated, liberal in his views, and had done not a little hard work on behalf of his country, particularly in his first career in intelligence — the one he enjoyed the most — as an officer of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. He was the ASIS man in Jakarta during the Year of Living Dangerously, and had also been in Singapore directing ASIS operations against Indonesia during the last years of the Sukarno government.

Born in Albany, he was educated at Guilford Grammar and the University of Western Australia, at which, after war service in the Navy, he was a contemporary of Bob Hawke and John Stone. After teaching stints in Britain and Germany and Guilford, he was invited to join ASIS in 1957, accepting, he once said, with no real philosophical commitment but because he "thought it would be an exciting adventure for a fellow ... and so it proved to be".

He trained with British SIS in London — a colleague was David Cornwall, better known as John le Carre — and, after working in Indonesia, became the ASIS Chief of Operations. From here he moved to ASIO as deputy director at the invitation of Justice Ted Woodward, the man he ultimately succeeded.

During his time, the Government decided to shift ASIO to Canberra — a shift which was to see many of its older Melbourne-bound staff leave it. Justice Hope, in his general inquiry into the organisation, was critical of much detail of administration and working terms and conditions, the dealing with which became increasingly his focus before he decided to go.

In retirement in Melbourne, he wrote an autobiography, Tale of A Scorpion, became involved with Neighbourhood Watch, had, he told me, "a bit of a bludge", and focused on some of his passions for music — he had been a noted boy soprano, and was an organist and pianist and devotee of J .S. Bach.

He is survived by his widow, Dierdre, and three sons.

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Citation details

Jack Waterford, 'Barnett, Tudor Harvey (1925–1995)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 August 2020.

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