FIRB chair and former top spy David Irvine dies

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Former top intelligence official David Irvine has died aged 75 after a battle with illness. He was remembered Thursday as dedicated public servant that shaped foreign policy and the Australian intelligence and national security community.

Mr Irving was a former director‑general of domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and the foreign spy agency the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).

He had been serving as chairman of the Foreign Investment Review Board since being appointed in 2017 by then-Treasurer Scott Morrison, and was a founding director of the Cyber Security Co-operative Research Centre.

Ex-ASIO director-general David Irvine has died aged 75

On Thursday, the Prime Minister paid tribute to Mr Irvine as “an exceptional Australian and public servant in every sense of the word”.

“A gifted diplomat, security chief, and chair of the Foreign Investment Review Board, David Irvine was a wise counsel to successive governments,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.

“This is a very sad day because David’s curiosity, wisdom and judgment strengthened our democracy and security over many decades.”

Mr Irvine served in several top diplomatic and security roles since joining the Department of External Affairs (now DFAT) in 1970.

He served as Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea in the late 1990s and then to China in the early 2000s, regarded at the time as a clever and personable diplomat.

Mr Irvine moved into national security in 2003, taking over as director-general of ASIS. He moved to the domestic spy agency ASIO in 2009 as director-general.

He was the only person to lead both organisations at different times.

After leaving ASIO in 2014, Mr Irvine was appointed to the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) in 2015, and named its chair two years later. His five-year term was extended another two years in late 2021 by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

“David provided outstanding leadership at FIRB amid an increasingly complex foreign investment landscape,” the Treasurer said on Thursday.

“In recent years, this has included steering the FIRB through the challenges presented by COVID-19, and advising on and implementing the Government’s foreign investment reforms that commenced on 1 January 2021.

“I feel very fortunate to have known David and counted him as a friend. He was a person of the utmost decency, always professional, highly capable and deeply committed to serving his country. That he did in so many ways. He will be greatly missed and never forgotten.”

Labor’s national security representatives, Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally said the party was deeply saddened by the news of Mr Irvine’s passing.

“Mr Irvine was one of Australia’s finest public servants and a man who devoted his life to serving and protecting our nation,” they said.

“Mr Irvine was held in great respect by all sides of Parliament and worked under Prime Ministers John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison. “

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