International Engagement - Our objectives

The objectives that frame Health’s international engagement are inter-linked – none can be achieved in isolation. Collectively, they position the Department to align domestic and international agendas, address shared challenges with valued partners, and provide Australian leadership where appropriate. Our objectives are:

Page last updated: 15 August 2017

1. Protect the health of Australians
2. Keep Australia’s health system at the forefront of international best practice
3. Promote evidence-based international norms and standards to support robust health systems and better health in Australia and internationally
4. Contribute to Australia’s foreign, development, trade and economic policy goals

1. Protect the health of Australians

The department deploys world-class expertise in health preparedness, response and regulation to protect the health of Australians, and support regional development. Our proactive approaches to regional health, including disease surveillance and vaccine provision position us to manage developing threats and respond quickly to acute emergencies like disease outbreaks. To retain this capability, the Department:

  • Maintains rigorous surveillance and response mechanisms to protect populations against infectious diseases and health emergencies.

    With increasing international travel and trade, outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases overseas can cause alarm. Recent international outbreaks of novel pathogens such as Ebola and Zika virus confirm the importance of a comprehensive and internationally coordinated approach to these critical challenges.

    In close cooperation with domestic agencies including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the department participates in international collaborative efforts to control disease outbreaks, with a particular emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region.

    Bilateral cooperation with regional partners, especially developing nations, include proactive efforts to contain disease threats through surveillance frameworks and response, and best practice provision of medications. Increasing antimicrobial resistance warrants deeper cross-border collaboration through these collaborative research and preparedness efforts.

    The department leads broader efforts to strengthen domestic, regional and global health security in the WHO and across the broader UN and multilateral system, such as the WHO’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework. The department continues to contribute its expertise to WHO’s reviews and capacity building efforts against the International Health Regulations and the WHO’s emergency response capacities.
  • Ensures therapeutic goods in Australia are safe.

    The department’s health products regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), ensures the safety, quality and efficacy of therapeutic goods available for supply in Australia.

    The TGA is a leading international regulator, working closely with the WHO and regulatory agencies in comparable health systems to share information on emerging issues, develop standards where appropriate and harmonise approaches to regulation.

    In addition, the TGA assists less-advanced regulators to develop their capacity to more efficiently deal with regional challenges, and cooperates with the WHO and advanced regulators to share information and assessments, to minimise duplication of effort and increase efficiency.
  • Contributes to Regulating food, industrial chemicals, gene technology, radiation exposure and nuclear safety to protect the health of Australians.

    Most of the therapeutic products used in Australia, and much of our food supply, originate overseas. The department contributes to international efforts to support the effectiveness and quality of therapeutic products, and the safety of food. Australia’s world-class regulators, addressing health issues relating to food, industrial chemicals, gene technology and radiation protection and nuclear safety, position us well in this regard.

2. Keep Australia’s health system at the forefront of international best practice

Pursuing best practice in all we do ensures Australians receive quality care, Australia is prepared for any future contingencies, and our capable health workforce is empowered to do its best work. Many of our future health challenges remain unforeseen or emerging. The department must continue to foster the development of an expansive network of connections, including governments, multilateral organisations, industry, and academia. To achieve this, the department:

  • Applies international best practice as a key element of our approach to policy and program design.

    International engagement informs our policy and program design and implementation. The department encourages innovation and policy debate in health, health regulation, sport and aged care to support improvements to the quality, efficiency and equity of our system; and to deliver better outcomes for Australians.
  • Engages in multilateral work on health data benchmarking as a basis for health systems reform.

    The department’s primary mechanism for benchmarking Australia’s health system is through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in particular its Health Committee. This forum allows governments to compare and exchange policy experiences on a broad range of issues, identify effective practices and promote decisions and recommendations. Australia played a leading role in the establishment of the OECD’s Health Committee, which has worked since 2006 to foster financial sustainability and efficiency in health systems, and the provision of high-quality health care to all. Through this Committee, the department has overseen the development of a significant body of work on comparative analysis of health systems; measuring health expenditure to support better policy making; and benchmarking performance.

    The department also participates in annual meetings of the Commonwealth Fund, a private US foundation that aims to promote high-performing health care systems that achieve better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency. As a complement to these multilateral fora, and alongside our engagement with the WHO, the department also engages bilaterally with comparable high-income countries to exchange experiences about managing challenges and opportunities in our health systems.
  • Collaborates through international research cooperation and policy development to identify and learn from innovation in health and sport.

    The department is receptive to innovative approaches in health, allowing us to test and incorporate ideas that may further improve our health system. International research cooperation provides Australia access to the best and latest research through jointly funded facilities and infrastructure, sharing scarce research resources and providing enhanced access to data. Collaboration with peak international bodies such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) also allows Australia to ensure our national approaches remain at the forefront of best practice, with sports integrity issues such as match-fixing and anti-doping.

3. Promote evidence-based international norms and standards to support robust health systems and better health in Australia and internationally

The department’s international engagement is driven by the pursuit of efficient, equitable, evidence-based approaches to health challenges, both in Australia and abroad. To encourage this practice internationally, the department:

  • Advocates for international action to improve health outcomes consistent with Australia’s domestic interests.

    The health of Australians cannot be assured in isolation to global events. As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, the value and importance of cooperative approaches to common challenges rise. For the department, key fora for international action such as the WHO, in addition to direct engagement with bilateral partners, forms an important part of our efforts to promote global health outcomes while advancing Australia’s national interest.

    Much as our domestic policy efforts are guided by international best practice, so too are our international positions informed by domestic principles. The department works, in close collaboration with DFAT to ensure our foreign and domestic policy efforts are complementary. In addition to traditional international health issues, the department’s diverse body of work on international norms and standards extends to capture items of importance to Australia’s domestic interests including tobacco control, food standards, illicit drug control, medicines regulation, sports integrity and others.
  • Promotes regulatory harmonisation to raise international standards, allow access to new products and technologies, and minimise regulatory burden.

    The department participates in the development of international standards through close working relationships with multilateral and foreign government regulators. These links include scientific, technical and legal elements of the department’s work, representing a significant component of the department’s international activity.

    This is central to our international efforts, with internationally harmonised standards helping reduce regulatory burden, enhance consumer access to innovative products and services, and avoid technical barriers to trade. Regulatory cooperation will prepare Australia for the implications of increased foreign investment and the impact of product shortages, while positioning us to offer and access reliable products in a growing international market.
  • Advances Australia’s good standing and capacity to influence internationally.

    Australia has one of the world’s leading health systems and is a respected and influential voice in international health fora. The department plays an essential role in ensuring international norms and standards are evidence-based, and support the development of effective and efficient health systems.

    The department contributes significant expertise to technical and development work internationally, ensuring that agreements under international law do not constrain policy options, and support the development of robust health systems in developing countries.

    The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), for example, has provided a critical underpinning for Australia’s world-leading tobacco control reforms, including plain packaging. Without the WHO FCTC, the battle to implement plain packaging may have been much more challenging.
    See Case Study: WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

4. Contribute to Australia’s foreign, development, trade and economic policy goals

The department’s international engagement is guided by Australia’s commitment to its role as a responsible international citizen and respected middle power. As such, through its efforts the department plays a role in supporting Australia’s broader foreign policy goals. Health is not only an issue which affects all populations and economies - it also provides opportunities for closer cooperation and shared benefit. To achieve this, the department:

  • Aligns its mandate to deliver quality health care for Australians with Australia’s foreign policy efforts.

    The department builds and reinforces relationships, consistent with Australia’s foreign policy goals through cooperative bilateral relationships and our respected presence in multilateral fora.

    The department pursues bilateral cooperation with priority partners and regional neighbours. In support of this, the department and its portfolio agencies regularly engage with counterparts in foreign health agencies, addressing shared challenges, and supporting mutual capability development.

    The department works closely with DFAT to ensure that our multilateral engagement is consistent with Australia’s broader foreign policy settings. In these settings, the department works to advance Australia’s national interests in various fora according to their comparative advantage. These groupings are central to the pursuit of Australia’s health interests and the advancement of our broader national interests.
  • Provides leadership in our region to support the delivery of development policy goals.

    The department’s experience in managing Australia’s health system, and our ability to mobilise expertise from across levels of government, the health professions, academia and NGOs, places us well to assist developing countries, who often seek out Australian expertise to help build their health systems. The department works closely with DFAT to assist in the delivery of official development assistance programs, but also to ensure relationships between national health ministries complement and reinforce those programs.

    Additionally, the department hosts delegations from countries seeking to learn about Australia’s health system, and we support the interests of developing countries, including through support for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Protects health interests while supporting trade and economic policy.

    As an open, advanced economy reliant on foreign investment to support growth, Australia engages in free trade and investment negotiations globally through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and through regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements.

    As markets become more interconnected, so too is there a rising confluence of interests in other policy domains, including health. The department has important interests in trade and investment agreements, not only because of our reliance on imported medical products, but also because these agreements can potentially constrain or conflict with important aspects of health policy. The department works closely with DFAT and Austrade to ensure health interests are protected while supporting Australia’s trade and investment agenda, including competitive positioning of clinical trials services and other health solutions.

More information can be found on the International Engagement – What drives our work? webpage

Related links:

WHO actions on non-communicable diseases
Overview of Environmental Health
Health Warnings
Travel Health Information
Communicable Disease Control
International Standards and Risk Assessment

NHMRC International Engagement
TGA International Engagement Strategy 2016-20
Australian Sports Diplomacy Strategy 2015-18
FSANZ International Engagement