About the Act

The Public Health Act 2016 provides a flexible and proactive framework for the regulation of public health. This framework is designed to:

  • promote public health and well-being in the community
  • help to prevent disease, injury, disability and premature death
  • inform individuals and communities about public health risks
  • encourage individuals and their communities to plan for, create and maintain a healthy environment
  • support programs and campaigns intended to improve public health
  • collect information about the incidence and prevalence of diseases and other public health risks for research purposes
  • reduce the health inequalities in public health of disadvantaged communities.

What are the key features of the new Act?

The key features are as follows:

  • a risk based framework which provides a set of regulatory tools which can be applied to regulate any given risk to public health
  • the binding of the Crown which gives effect to the principle that all persons are entitled to the same public health standards
  • a modern framework for infectious diseases that uses four public health tools to aid in the prevention and control of the spread of infectious diseases and related conditions
  • a modern framework for public health emergencies which provides for the exercise of wide scale powers where there is an overwhelming need to take action to protect public health
  • public health planning that requires government to take a strategic and forward thinking approach to protecting and promoting public health
  • public health assessments that provide for an assessment of the public health risks and benefits arising from particular proposals to be undertaken in conjunction with existing approval processes
  • a coordinated and streamlined approach to regulation that provides that all regulation relating to broad policy areas will be consolidated and streamlined into single regulatory instruments
  • appropriate penalties that will deter unlawful conduct thereby preventing or minimising harm to public health
When does the new Act take effect?

As there is a significant amount of work required to transition to the new regulatory framework, the Public Health Act 2016 will be implemented in a staged manner. 

This means that the old Health Act 1911 (which will be known as the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1911), and all regulations made under the Health Act 1911, will continue to be the main enforcement tool, until the new provisions of the Public Health Act 2016 are proclaimed over the coming years.

Who enforces the new Act?

Local governments are the recognised enforcement agency for public health matters within their jurisdiction.

Local governments delegate the power to enforce the Act to “authorised officers” (previously known as environmental health officers). Authorised officers are responsible for investigating any public health related matter.

What happens to the Health Act 1911 and regulations?

Yes. The Health Act 1911 will be retained in an amended format and re-named the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1911. It will contain various matters relating to public health such as community health centres, child health and Mortality Committees.

The following regulations will be retained under the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1911:

  • Health (Notifications by Midwives) Regulations 1994
  • Health (Rottnest Island) By-Laws
  • Health (Section 335(5)(d) Abortion Notice) Regulations 1998
  • Notification of Stillbirth and Neo-Natal Death Regulations
  • Registration, Enforcement and Discharge of Local Authority Charges on Land, Regulations.

The following regulations were transitioned under the Public Health Act during stage 4 of implementation:

  • Blood and Tissue (Transmissible Diseases) Regulations 1985

The following regulations were repealed at stage 4 of implementation and replaced by the Public Health Regulations 2017 (external site):

  • Health (Immunisation by Local Governments) Regulations 2000
  • Health (Notification of Adverse Event After Immunisation) Regulations 1995
  • Health (Venereal Diseases) Regulations 1973
  • Health (Notification of Intussusception) Regulations 2007

The timeline for implementation provides further details of the staged approach to implementing the Act.

Objects and principles

Section 3 of the Public Health Act (the Act) outlines the objects and the principles of the Act that play an important role in determining how the Act is interpreted and administered. 

The objects and principles should guide decision making to ensure the  Act is administered in a manner that maximises the protection, promotion and improvement of public health and the reduction of preventable illness.

Persons exercising functions under the Act must have regard to the objects and principles. This means the objects and principles need to be actively considered during assessment and decision-making processes and prior to taking any action under the Act. 

The weight to be given to the objects and principles is left to the decision-maker’s discretion. Not all matters will be relevant; however they should be given consideration. 


The objects outline the purpose of the Act, which are to:

  1. Promote and improve public health and wellbeing and to prevent disease, injury, disability and premature death.
  2. Protect individuals and communities from diseases and other public health risks and to provide, to the extent reasonably practicable, a healthy environment for all Western Australians.
  3. Promote the provision of information to individuals and communities about public health risks.
  4. Encourage individuals and communities to plan for, create and maintain a healthy environment.
  5. Provide for the prevention or early detection of diseases and other public health risks, and certain other conditions of health.
  6. Support programmes and campaigns intended to improve public health.
  7. Facilitate the provision of information to decision-making authorities about public health risks and benefits to public health that may result from certain proposals.
  8. Provide for the collection, disclosure and use of information about the incidence and prevalence of diseases, other public health risks in the State and certain other conditions of health, for research or public health purposes.
  9. Reduce the inequalities in public health of disadvantaged communities.
  10. Provide for functions in relation to public health to be performed by the State and local governments.

The principles guide administration of the Act. Consideration should be given to the five principles:

Principle What it means
Sustainability principle Ensure that our decisions and actions not only benefit people today, but do not have adverse consequences for future generations.

It means we have a responsibility to consider public health, social, economic and environmental needs simultaneously in the decisions we make to ensure that our decisions and actions not only benefit people today, but do not have adverse consequences for future generations.

Although public health needs should weigh most significantly on the minds of decision makers in the context of the Act, other interests should not be dismissed or assumed to have been considered.

Precautionary principle When there is limited scientific evidence it is better to 'err on the side of caution' to protect public health.

It means where there is a possible threat to public health (e.g. an outbreak of a new strain of an infectious disease) but there is a lack of scientific evidence or certainty about the nature of the threat, then action to prevent or control the threat should not be delayed until more is known.

Cost effective steps should be taken to prevent, control or abate the threat until evidence emerges that no harm will result. If in doubt, it is better to ‘err on the side of caution’.

Principle of proportionality Decisions and responses should be made proportionate to the public health risk present.

This principle is concerned with protecting individuals from unjustified encroachment upon their rights. However, when protecting against a risk to public health, if the public interest outweighs the rights of an individual, this can justify action being taken, subject to any specific constraints in the Act.

Principle of intergenerational equity The present generation should ensure that public health is maintained or enhanced to ensure future generations benefit.

This principle requires an agency responsible for public health and wellbeing to maintain a high standard of public health, and continually strive to enhance public health in order that succeeding generations will benefit.

Many decisions made to protect and advance public health have significance for future generations and in these cases, long term impacts need to be considered.
Recognition of the need to consider long term impacts can support and strengthen initiatives employed to secure more immediate benefits. For example, local strategies to create safer local neighbourhoods (by improving lighting, footpaths, cycle-ways and traffic flow) will encourage people to become more active, while also reducing their dependence on motor vehicle use, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Principle relating to local government The functions of local governments in relation to public health should be acknowledged and respected.

This principle acknowledges the substantial contribution of local government to the promotion, improvement and protection of public health through its involvement in a range of activities.

These include:
  • planning processes
  • environmental monitoring and management
  • health promotion and
  • more traditional public health concerns such as:
    • waste management
    • prevention of infectious diseases
    • food safety and
    • monitoring drinking water quality
Last reviewed: 08-03-2024
Produced by

Environmental Health Directorate