13 April 2023

Brendan Murphy to retire from Health Department top job

| Chris Johnson
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Professor Brendan Murphy standing in front of a screen with Covid-19 data

Professor Brendan Murphy has announced his retirement. Photo: Supplied.

Department of Health and Aged Care Secretary Brendan Murphy has announced his retirement from the position, effective 6 July.

Health Minister Mark Butler made Professor Murphy’s decision known publicly on Thursday (13 April), thanking him for his service at the helm of the government’s response to Australia’s most severe health crisis in more than a century.

“Australians got to know Professor Murphy throughout the pandemic as he led the Department of Health during its biggest public health response in over 100 years,” Mr Butler said.

Professor Murphy has been the departmental secretary since 2020, with his appointment start date interrupted to allow him to continue functioning as the nation’s Chief Medical Officer with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He joined the Health Department as Chief Medical Officer in 2016.

His daily COVID updates, often while standing next to then-prime minister Scott Morrison and/or then-health minister Greg Hunt, made him a familiar face and a household name across the nation.

His celebrity status, however, belied the massive behind-the-scenes work advising the government over the uncertainties of the coronavirus sweeping the globe and how it would impact the lives of Australians.

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Under Professor Murphy’s advice, Australia declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic on February 27, 2020, two weeks before the World Health Organisation publicly acknowledged it as such.

He was also tasked with tackling the misinformation campaign from anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists denying the virus’s existence.

Professor Murphy was named the ACT’s Australian of the Year in November 2020, and in June 2022 was appointed Companion of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for “eminent service to medical administration and community health, particularly as Chief Medical Officer, and to nephrology, to research and innovation, and to professional organisations”.

While it was the pandemic that built Professor Murphy’s notoriety and reputation, there was much more to his public sector career as a health adviser to the federal government.

Mr Butler made the point of noting some of Professor Murphy’s other accomplishments as the department’s secretary.

“Professor Murphy’s time as secretary was broader than just COVID,” the Minister said.

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“He has overseen the start of aged care, mental health, primary care and health workforce reform.

“With Professor Murphy’s leadership, the department has responded to a renewed focus on Commonwealth-State health relations, including advising National Cabinet.

“I want to thank Professor Murphy for his professionalism and his help in establishing the Health and Aged Care Ministerial Office for the Albanese Government.

“I wish him well in his retirement.”

Speculation about Professor Murphy’s “imminent retirement” has been spreading over the past year.

Meanwhile, the secretary got on with the job, survived the machinery of government changes imposed by newly elected Anthony Albanese and his Labor team, and continued in his high-level advisory role to the government.

A merit-based recruitment process to appoint the next secretary of the department has already begun.

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