Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Professor Brendan Murphy is emerging as a frontrunner in next week’s Australian of the Year awards. But there are doubts about whether the secretary of the health department and former chief medical officer (CMO) should be in contention.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison personally recommended Murphy for the health department role in January last year following his stint as CMO.

As a government appointed senior bureaucrat, Murphy has a range of potential conflicts that some say should exclude him from winning the national award.