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Public health is characterised by planning and intervening for better health in populations rather than focusing on the health of the individual. These efforts are usually aimed at addressing factors that determine health and the causes of illness rather than their consequences, with the aim of promoting health or preventing illness. Public health services are vital to the overall health status and wellbeing of the nation. Improving them can result in major economic social benefits as well as minimising future preventable demand on health services over time.

We are familiar with government taking responsibility for the quality of the water we drink, for the level of immunisation of our population and for campaigns to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS or to encourage physical exercise. Government-funded public health activity is an important part of the Australian health care system. But what do we know about who pays for this activity and how effective it is? How much do governments spend each year on public health? How is this expenditure burden shared between the Australian Government and state and territory governments? Do we know the links between expenditure on health interventions and health outcomes? 


The latest issue in the public health expenditure series is Public health expenditure in Australia 2008-09, released in February 2011.

In 2012, the public health expenditure series was put on hold, however summary information for public health expenditure is available in the Health expenditure Australia series.

To access earlier reports, go to Expenditure publications.

Data online

Why measure expenditure on public health?

Maintaining and improving the overall health of the population is a shared responsibility of all levels of government in Australia. To achieve this, governments run or support programs and activities that are directed, not at individuals, but at the whole population, or particular 'at risk' groups within the population. These can be screening programs aimed at the early identification of, for example, breast cancer. Or they may be programs that promote healthy lifestyles or warn about the dangers to health of particular hazardous activities (eg. smoking). They may also be activities aimed at making our environment safer and healthier.

These public health programs and activities are not costless. They involve the use of some scarce resources that might otherwise be directed to other worthwhile activities. Just how much governments spend on public health and how that expenditure is financed are important pieces of information that decision-makers need to have in order to allocate funds and to decide if particular programs should be supported, changed or, in some cases, ceased. Of course, knowing how much you are spending is only one input, but it is an important one. Decision-makers also need evidence of the effectiveness of programs and how efficient they are in achieving outcomes.

National Public Health Expenditure Project (NPHEP)

The NPHEP was established in 1998 as a joint project of the AIHW and the National Public Health Partnership. It was funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Health. The aim of the project was to develop a consistent set of annual estimates of expenditure on public health activities.