Public health focuses on prevention, promotion and protection rather than on treatment; on populations rather than on individuals; and on the factors and behaviours that cause illness.

The estimates included in the Public health expenditure in Australia series relate only to public health activities where the funding was provided or the expenditure incurred by the key health departments and agencies in the various jurisdictions. They are accompanied by descriptions of public health activities undertaken nationally and by states and territories.

Total expenditure on reported public health activities by health departments in Australia during 2007-08 was $2,158.8 million or $101.61 per person on average. This was an increase of $444.0 million on what was spent in 2006-07 which, after adjusting for inflation, represented real growth of 21.5% in 2007-08. Average expenditure per person increased by 19.4%.

Expenditure on public health increased by 77.7%, in real terms, between 1999-00 and 2007-08, averaging 7.4% per year. Total recurrent health expenditure grew at a similar rate over most of this period, maintaining the proportion of public health expenditure at 1.8%-1.9% until 2006-07. The relatively large growth in public health expenditure in 2007-08 meant that public health expenditure as a proportion of total health expenditure increased to 2.2%.

This increase was mainly attributable to a large increase in expenditure on Organised immunisation, which increased by $268.2 million (61.5%), compared to 2006-07. Most of the increase in Organised immunisation was due to the implementation and initial catch-up phase of the National Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination program, aimed at reducing the incidence of cervical cancer. The HPV program included $302.1 million of expenditure for the purchase of the HPV vaccine (an increase in expenditure on the purchase of vaccines of $235.8 million from 2006-07 levels). This increase in expenditure on HPV vaccine purchases was responsible for 53.1% of the $444.0 million increase in total public health expenditure.

The Australian Government provided the largest share of the funding for public health activities in 2007-08, contributing $1,372.7 million, or 63.6%, of the total funding. Of this, $562.7 million was spent on its own programs and $810.1 million was provided to state and territory governments through Specific Purpose Payments to fund public health activities. State and territory health departments incurred nearly three quarters (73.9%) of the total public health expenditure with an estimated $1,596.1 million of expenditure. The $1,596.1 million comprised $786.0 million funded from their own resources and $810.1 million from the Australian Government.

The public health activities recording the highest expenditure in 2007-08 were Organised immunisation ($704.3 million or 32.6% of the total expenditure), Selected health promotion ($366.6 million or 17.0%) and Screening programs ($289.1 million or 13.4%).