Australia has a high quality health care system, rating well internationally, and serving the bulk of the population well. Nevertheless, the safety and quality of health care in Australia is of interest to health care planners, providers and users, as efforts continue to maintain and improve the performance of health care services.

The safety of the health care system has been defined by the National Health Performance Committee as relating to the avoidance or reduction to acceptable limits of actual or potential harm from health care management or the environment in which health care is delivered. Similar definitions are in wide use in Australia. For instance, the former Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care, replaced by the Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Health Care, defined safety as the degree to which potential risk and unintended results are avoided or minimised.

Quality is a multi-faceted concept which can be defined in different ways. At a broad level, quality reflects the extent to which a health care service or product produces a desired outcome (B. Runciman, A. Merry and M. Walton, 2007, Safety and Ethics in Health Care, Ashgate, Burlington, VT, p. 297). At a more detailed level, the National Health Performance Framework views quality as a guiding principle in assessing how well the health system is performing in its mission to improve the health of Australians. The Framework's nine dimensions for the assessment of health system performance include appropriate, effective, responsive, continuous, sustainable, accessible and capable, all considered relevant (along with the safety dimension) to the quality of health care services. In its report Charting the Safety and Quality of Health Care in Australia (2004), the former Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care presented information relating to the dimensions of effectiveness, appropriateness, accessibility and responsiveness as relevant to the quality of health care in Australia. Complementing the information on those dimensions was information on safety, and also on equity, or the degree to which all Australians could benefit equally from health care service provision.