Anthony Murfett is the Head of Division for Technology and Digital. The division is responsible for providing advice to government on the new tech frontier including, Quantum technologies, AI, Cyber and the broader digital economy.
Prior to this, Anthony was the inaugural Deputy Head at the Australian Space Agency from 2018 to late 2021. He was responsible for strategy, policy and operations.
But space was not always Anthony’s dream. In fact, he started out studying biotechnology.
“I was interested in cancer research and vaccine design,” he says. “The idea was to do my PhD, be a researcher, become a professor, and cure cancer. But my career took a very different path.”
Living in Canberra surrounded by members of the public service, Anthony took a job at the Australian Patent Office (“just like Albert Einstein”). He examined pharmaceutical patents for a while before moving into intellectual property (IP) policy and project management. But as the business side of the job took over, Anthony found himself missing the scientific element. He moved over to the Australian Research Council where he looked after $700 million worth of research funding.
From there, Anthony started working at the Department of Industry leading a number of branches. This included running the $6oo million Cooperative Research Centres program and designing and implementing the Industry Growth Centres program. Then, in 2015, Anthony was sent to Washington DC. His mission was to spend 3 years exploring what Australia could learn from innovation in the United States and where Australia could excel. That’s where the space industry captured his imagination.
“Everywhere I travelled, you could see the transformation of the space sector,” Anthony says. “Elon Musk and SpaceX were gaining traction and the commercial sector was growing. I kept running into Australians, especially at NASA facilities. And Americans kept asking me: why isn’t Australia doing more in space?”
Anthony was about to finish his role in Washington just as the Australian Space Agency was being established. He was lucky enough to be appointed Deputy Head.
“I never thought I would be a key executive of a space agency,” he says. “It's an immense and humbling opportunity to be able to undertake this type of public service.”
After 3 years at the Agency, Anthony says the number one highlight is the team. But they are number one in a very long list of highlights. Seeing the Agency’s logo next to NASA’s at the Moon to Mars announcement at NASA’s Headquarters was one. Signing the Artemis Accords and supporting JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission were two others.
Anthony is even more excited about what’s ahead. “Australia has some great opportunities in the growing space economy,” he says. “The first part is showing how space is central to so many parts of our lives and will continue to improve our lives in the future. The second is showing where Australia can play a role. Australia also has specific capabilities that the world needs, like in robotics and automation – and the world wants Australia at the table. Importantly, we can leverage our 60 years of experience with NASA, from Apollo to more recently.”
Meanwhile, outside of work, Anthony has another mission. An avid cyclist, he is on track to ride the distance to the moon. He says he is more than halfway to his goal of 384,400 kilometres. But what will he do when he gets there?
“I might take a day off riding, just for the day,” he says. “And then think about riding the distance to Mars.”
- Anthony completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Biotechnology) at the University of Queensland in 1999.
- He then completed an honours year in immunology at the Australian National University in 2001.
- Anthony’s first role was at the Australian Patent Office (now called IP Australia). He was a patent examiner for pharmaceutical patents before focusing on IP policy.
- After six years in the patent office, he moved to a role at the Australian Research Council (ARC). In this role, he coordinated the ARC’s $700 million funding program.
- Anthony was the inaugural Deputy Head at the Australian Space Agency, from 2018 to late 2021.
- Anthony now leads the Division responsible for providing advice to Government on the new tech frontier including, Quantum technologies, AI, Cyber and the broader digital economy.