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2. About the department


The Department of Health was established in 1921, in part to deliver a national approach to the management of communicable disease in the wake of the devastating effects of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1919. Since then, its work has evolved to encompass: administering and funding pharmaceutical benefits and medical benefits, hospital financing, and a broad range of health policy and program delivery activities.

Since 2010 the department has undertaken a significant internal change process, with the implementation of the DoHA National Alignment (DNA) program. This change process has affected nearly every aspect of the department’s work, including grants administration, business processes, information technology, workforce structure and profile, and employee development activities.

Departmental purpose

The department has an ambitious vision—‘creating better health and wellbeing for all Australians’. Within the Department of Health Corporate Plan 2014–17, the department aspires to:

  • support the Government to be at the forefront of national and international developments in evidence-based health and sports policy
  • provide leadership in the Australian and international health communities
  • be internationally recognised for a best-practice approach to safety and quality through regulation
  • deliver innovative programs through partnerships and collaboration with health and sport sector participants, organisations, professionals and advocates
  • remain contemporary and flexible by identifying opportunities for innovation and continuous improvement and learn from what works well.

In supporting the work of the Government of the day, the department currently works to two ministers, the Honourable Peter Dutton MP, Minister for Health and Minister for Sport, and Senator the Honourable Fiona Nash, Assistant Minister for Health.

Departmental outcomes

The department’s work is focused on the achievement of these 10 primary outcomes:

  • Outcome 1—Population Health: A reduction in the incidence of preventable mortality and morbidity, including through national public health initiatives, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and approaches covering disease prevention, health screening and immunisation.
  • Outcome 2—Access to Pharmaceutical Services: Access to cost-effective medicines, including through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and related subsidies, and assistance for medication management through industry partnerships.
  • Outcome 3—Access to Medical and Dental Services: Access to cost-effective medical, dental, allied health and hearing services, including through implementing targeted medical assistance strategies, and providing Medicare subsidies for clinically relevant services and hearing devices to eligible people.
  • Outcome 4—Acute Care: Improved access to, and efficiency of, public hospitals, acute and sub-acute care services, including through payments to state and territory governments.
  • Outcome 5—Primary Health Care: Access to comprehensive primary and mental health care services, and health care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and rural and remote populations, including through first point-of-call services for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of ill-health and ongoing services for managing chronic disease.
  • Outcome 6—Private Health: Improved choice in health services by supporting affordable quality private health care, including through private health insurance rebates and a regulatory framework.
  • Outcome 7—Health Infrastructure, Regulation, Safety and Quality: Improved capacity, quality and safety of Australia’s health care system to meet current and future health needs, including through investment in health infrastructure, regulation, international health policy engagement, research into health care, and support for blood and organ donation services.
  • Outcome 8—Health Workforce Capacity: Improved capacity, quality and mix of the health workforce to meet the requirements of health services, including through training, registration, accreditation and distribution strategies.
  • Outcome 9—Biosecurity and Emergency Response: Preparedness to respond to national health emergencies and risks, including through surveillance, regulation, prevention, detection and leadership in national health coordination.
  • Outcome 10—Sport and Recreation: Improved opportunities for community participation in sport and recreation, and excellence in high-performance athletes, through initiatives to help protect the integrity of sport, investment in sport infrastructure, coordination of Australian Government involvement in major sporting events, and research and international cooperation on sport issues.


The department’s stakeholders include:

  • state and territory government ministers
  • health portfolio agencies
  • other APS and state and territory agencies
  • health industry peak bodies
  • Australian non-government organisations
  • international health organisations
  • Australian citizens.

Workforce statistics

As at 31 March 2014, the department’s headcount was 2621 ongoing and non-ongoing employees (down from 4567 as at 30 June 2013). The reduction in staffing is attributed to Machinery-of-Government changes (1368) and efficiency activities (578). As at 30 June 2013, the department had a considerable workforce in state and territory offices (543 employees). This number was reduced to approximately 175 employees following Machinery-of-Government changes. Most employees are now based in the department’s central office in Canberra. Average staffing levels through to 2017-18 reveal a further reduction in employee numbers as per Figure 2 below.


Figure 2—Departmental staffing (Health core). Note that staffing numbers in this figure have been adjusted to take account of the impact of Machinery-of-Government changes.

A typical departmental employee is a female APS 6, aged 41, with six years of service in the department and seven years of service in the APS.

Staffing trends in the department

Diversity trend data since 30 June 2012 indicate a slight increase in the number of employees identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander from 1.8 per cent (30 June 2012) to 1.9 per cent (31 March 2014). A total of 5.5 per cent of employees identify as having disability (30 June 2013), which is well above the APS average of 2.9 per cent (State of the Service Report 2012–13).

The department comprises the six clusters shown in Figure 3.


Figure 3—Departmental staffing by cluster (excluding departmental Executive, Therapeutic Goods Administration, National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme and Office of the Gene Technology Regulator).


The department’s actual and forecasted annual revenue is illustrated in Figure 4, its administered budget is illustrated in Figure 5. The departmental budget comprises approximately half of the portfolio’s operating budget as shown in Figure 6.


Figure 4—Annual appropriations’ 2010–11 to 2017–18 for the core department adjusted for Machinery-of-Government changes.


Figure 5—Expenses administered on behalf of government.

Note: Expenses administered on behalf of the Australian Government exclude National Health Reform and National Partnership health payments made by the Treasury.

Figure 6—Health Portfolio, 2014–15 Estimated Departmental Expenses.
Agency Sum of 2014-15 ($'000) % of Total
ACSQHC - Australian Commission of Safety and Quality in Health Care 24,234 1.3%
AIHW - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 52,666 2.9%
ANPHA - Australian National Preventive Health Agency 7,496 0.4%
AOTDTA - Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority 6,310 0.3%
ARPANSA - Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency 26,030 1.4%
ASADA - Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority 17,986 1.0%
ASC - Australian Sports Commission 313,519 17.2%
ASF - Australian Sports Foundation 17,538 1.0%
CA - Cancer Australia 13,397 0.7%
DOHA - Department of Health and Ageing 773,583 42.5%
FSANZ - Food Standards Australia New Zealand 21,745 1.2%
GPET - General Practice Education and Training Ltd 234,510 12.9%
HWA - Health Workforce Australia 209,310 11.5%
IPHA - Independent Hospital Pricing Authority 11,857 0.7%
NBA - National Blood Authority 10,197 0.6%
NFB - National Funding Body 4,360 0.2%
NHMRC - National Health and Medical Research Council 47,007 2.6%
NMHC - National Mental Health Commission 2,881 0.2%
NPHA - National Health Performance Authority 11,610 0.6%
PHIAC - Private Health Insurance Administration Council 6,757 0.4%
PHIO - Private Health Insurance Ombudsman 2,522 0.1%
PSR - Professional Services Review 5,756 0.3%
Grand Total 1,821,271 100.0%
Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018