Australian government policy action on SDH

Understanding how the policies of Australian governments can promote health through action on the social determinants of health and health equity

Funded by the Australian Research Council 2016-2019

This project aims to increase understanding of how the policies of Australian governments in sectors other than Health contribute to health and health equity. We will do this by examining how policy in the Justice, Urban Planning, Environment and Industry sectors facilitates or obstructs action on social determinants of health and health equity (SDH/HE); including via their collaborative activity with other policy sectors. The research is intended to facilitate improved whole-of-government action to promote health and equity while still addressing other sector specific goals.

The specific aims of the research are to:

  1. advance knowledge of the extent to which Australian governments’ policies in the selected sectors at both Federal and State/Territory levels, recognise evidence and propose action on SDH/HE, in ways that are likely to improve health or reduce health inequities.
  2. identify opportunities for, and barriers to, improved action on SDH/HE within the policy positions of the selected sectors, including in relation to collaboration with other sectors.
  3. advance understanding of factors leading to incorporation of actions on SDH/HE in policy development, in each selected sector, and across sectors.
  4. understand how policy in each the selected sectors disposes them to action on social determinants to improve the health of Indigenous Australians.
  5. understand how political values and institutional norms shaping policy in the selected sectors affect prospects for improved cross-sectoral action, or whole-of-government action, on SDH/HE in Australia.

Each of the four sectors includes multiple departments, and we are defining our focus as follows:

  1. Justice – incorporating policy on Attorney General functions, courts, policing and corrections
  2. Urban Planning – incorporating policy on planning, infrastructure, transport and essential services
  3. Environment – incorporating policy on environmental protection, natural resources and land management
  4. Industry – incorporating policy on energy production, governance and distribution

The first stage of the research involves collecting and analysing all strategic policy documents from the four sectors. Two policies from each sector that demonstrate recognition of the SDH/HE will then be selected from each sector during the second phase of the research for further case study analysis. This will include interviews with those who developed each policy. 


Research approach


Chief Investigators

Professor Fran Baum, AO

Southgate Institute for Health Society & Equity, Flinders University     Profile

Prof Colin MacDougall, 

Public Health, College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University Profile

Dr Patrick Harris,

University of Sydney


Prof Dora Marinova,

Curtin University of Technology


Professor Dennis McDermott,

Poche Chair, Flinders Aboriginal Health Research Unit, Flinders University     Profile


Dr Matt Fisher

Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity

Research Fellow



Partner Investigators:

Prof Margaret Whitehead, University of Liverpool

Prof Peter Sainsbury, South Western Sydney Local Health District

Ms Carmel Williams, SA Health

Associate Professor Lester Wright

Dr Anthea Krieg, Department of Communitites and Social Inclusion, SA Government

New ARC funded research: Understanding how the policies of Australian governments can promote health through action on the social determinants of health and health equity

Flinders University, along with partners from the University of Liverpool, Curtin University, the University of Sydney, SA Health, the South Western Sydney Local Health District and the Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service, have been awarded a grant from the Australian Research Council. Over the next 3 years the research team, which includes academics, policy actors and practitioners, will examine policies from the justice, environment, urban planning and industry sectors of all governments in Australia. The research will examine how policy in these sectors facilitates or obstructs action on social determinants of health and health equity.

On the 18th and 19th of May 2016 the project team convened in Adelaide to discuss directions for the research. The meetings were followed by a policy forum on the 19th of May entitled ‘Health and Wellbeing as Whole of Society concerns’. During the forum Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead (University of Liverpool) shared experiences about intersectoral action from the European context, focussing on how social welfare reforms contributed to and detracted from health and wellbeing in the context of austerity measures. Professor Dora Marinova  (Curtin University) also spoke about the connections between environment policy and the promotion of health and wellbeing, focussing particularly on the environmental and health impacts of agricultural production. The presentations were followed by a panel discussion including panellists who have experience of policy development and practice in the justice, environment, urban planning and industry sectors.

For further information about this project, please email or telephone 08 7221 8466.