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Tudor Harvey Barnett (1925–1995)

by John Blaxland

This article was published:

Harvey Barnett, Canberra Times, c.1985 [detail]

Harvey Barnett, Canberra Times, c.1985 [detail]

National Library of Australia, 28571303

Tudor Harvey Barnett (1925–1995), director-general of security, was born on 25 December 1925 at Albany, Western Australia, second of three children of Victorian-born Leonard Stewart Barnett, business manager, and his locally born wife Ruby, née Omond. Harvey’s family had owned a number of general stores in the State’s south-west. As a boy he was a talented singer and regularly performed as a soloist at St John’s Anglican Church, Albany. He was educated at the local State school, before being awarded a scholarship (1938) to Guildford Grammar School, Perth. On 10 February 1944 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) for service in World War II. His main posting was to HMAS Ladava, the naval shore establishment at Milne Bay, Papua, where he was employed as a communications coder. Demobilised in Perth in February 1946, he studied at the University of Western Australia (BA, 1948).

Barnett lived at St George’s College; he performed in the college dramatic society and played the chapel organ on Sundays. After his father’s death in 1950, he returned to Albany without completing his honours year. He managed the family business with his mother, before travelling through South Africa, Britain, and parts of Europe. He taught at schools in London and West Germany. Back in Perth, he was the senior resident master at Scotch College between 1955 and 1957. Concurrently, he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve and also commanded (1956–57) a local sea cadet unit, TS Cunningham. Inactive in the RANR thereafter, in 1961 he transferred to the RAN Volunteer Reserve, of which he remained a member until 1972.

During 1957 Barnett was recruited to the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Melbourne. He was charged with gathering foreign intelligence at postings including Singapore, London, and Jakarta. In Singapore he met Deirdre Hartnett and they married there on 8 November 1961. By the late 1960s he had returned to Melbourne where he became director of operations, a role that required extensive travel through Asia and the Pacific. In 1976, as the royal commission on intelligence and security (1974–77) undertaken by Justice Robert Marsden Hope was underway, momentum built for change within the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO). In that year (Sir) Edward Woodward, the newly appointed director-general, invited Barnett to help revitalise the organisation as his deputy.

The selection was seen as an important step to compensate for Woodward’s lack of experience in managing an intelligence organisation. Barnett became his right-hand man and oversaw significant reforms arising from the royal commission. In September 1981 he was promoted to director-general. Woodward described his successor as ‘a man of complete personal integrity, and political independence’ (Blaxland and Crawley 2016, 64). Barnett’s executive officer would recall that he was ‘much more used to working in the undercurrent than actually being in the forefront’ (Blaxland and Crawley 2016, 20). He introduced measures to improve communication between ASIO and government departments, oversaw a pilot project to establish an ASIO computer system, and began planning for the organisation’s move to Canberra. Yet he would mostly be remembered for the time he spent in the full gaze of the media in what became known as the Combe-Ivanov affair.

In early March 1983, ASIO was monitoring the house of a Soviet KGB (Committee for State Security) officer, Valeriy Ivanov, and overheard his conversation with the Canberra lobbyist and former Australian Labor Party national secretary David Combe. ASIO officers were convinced that the KGB was cultivating Combe. Recordings of their meeting on 3 April persuaded Barnett that the relationship was reaching a turning point and that he should inform the newly elected prime minister, Robert (Bob) Hawke. Hawke reacted strongly to the news and in late April ordered Ivanov’s expulsion from Australia. As Barnett hoped, ASIO’s counter-espionage success initially attracted favourable media attention, but this soon evaporated under the scrutiny of a second royal commission into Australia’s security and intelligence agencies (1983–84), again chaired by Hope.

During the hearings Barnett played a leading role representing ASIO. Required to give evidence over a six-week period, he was subject to significant media exposure critical of the organisation’s handling of the affair. The journalist David Marr described him as ‘sincere, quick-tongued, rather pompous under pressure, and no fool’ (1984, 6). Still, the relentless pressure of the royal commission while running ASIO took its toll. He retired in July 1985 and was appointed AO in 1987. In the following year he published Tale of the Scorpion, an account of his time in ASIS and ASIO. He also took on the role of Kooyong area coordinator for Neighbourhood Watch and devoted more time to his hobbies including cycling, tennis, music, and birdwatching. Survived by his wife and their three sons, he died of malignant melanoma on 23 June 1995 at Richmond and was cremated.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Attorney-General’s Department. ‘New Director-General of A.S.I.O.’ Press Release, 6 August 1991. Copy held on ADB file
  • Barnett, Harvey. Tale of the Scorpion: ASIO and Australia’s Security, an Inside View. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988
  • Blaxland, John, and Rhys Crawley. The Secret Cold War: The Official History of ASIO. Vol. 3, 1975–1989. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2016
  • Cain, Frank. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation: An Unofficial History. Ilford, UK: Frank Cass, 1994
  • Marr, David. The Ivanov Trail. Melbourne: Thomas Nelson, 1984
  • Milliken, Robert. ‘Obituaries: Harvey Barnett.’ Independent (London), 1 August 1995. Accessed 20 August 2018. Copy held on ADB file
  • National Archives of Australia. A6769, BARNETT T H

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Blaxland, 'Barnett, Tudor Harvey (1925–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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