The aim of this course is to develop students’ knowledge and skills in identifying ethical and legal issues in health care policy development by reference to some recurring tensions:

  • balancing individual rights with the goal of achieving healthy populations
  • the challenges of health care rationing
  • addressing the needs of particular population groups.

We will bring these issues to life by applying them to issues such as tobacco and alcohol policy, obesity, pandemics, disaster response, vaccination policy and research ethics. These topics form the basis of online and class discussions, and provide a practical anchor for developing students' understanding of the relevant ethical and legal dilemmas arising from public health policy and health management.

The course includes an introduction to some key theoretical frameworks and concepts for public health ethics and explores ways of applying these to a variety of cases and contexts. An introductory briefing on health law is provided, as well as key legal concepts that are central to working in the domain of healthcare, and the Public Health Act. Students are given opportunities to apply their learning to aspects of healthcare, public health and health management that they are particularly interested in or that are relevant to their professional development.

This course is an elective in the Master of Public Health, Master of Health Leadership and Management and Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence programs, comprising 6 units of credit.

Mode of study

External mode (fully online) and internal mode (on campus tutorial classes and online resources)

Key contact

Who should do this course?

We welcome students from any discipline and level of experience to contribute perspectives and understandings. In addition, we encourage you to engage with the material, ask questions, discuss relevant issues with teachers and colleagues, and regard the available literature with a critical eye.

Course outcomes

The overall aim of this course is to provide an overview of key ethical issues in relation to public health, health policy and health care management, the legal environment in which these institutional mandates operate, and emerging ethical frameworks for public health policy and health management.

On successful completion of this course, students will:

  • demonstrate knowledge of ethical theories, principles and concepts relevant to public health and health management
  • identify ethical issues and tensions in the field of public health, public health policy and health management
  • critically examine and apply ethical analysis and reasoning to ethical challenges in developing public health and health management policy 
  • identify ethical frameworks and apply to a variety of substantive areas in public health 
  • describe the relationship between ethics and the law
  • describe the scope of Australian law governing the areas of public health and health management
  • describe of the basic principles of Australian law governing public health.

Learning & teaching

While the course is introductory, it has been designed so that you can engage with a broad range of complex ethical and legal issues in public health and health management. To hone in on your own skills in the field, you will also have the opportunity to engage in depth with topics of interest and relevance to your own professional settings.

Ethical decision-making involves discussion and gathering information and perspectives from several sources, as well as discussing, debating and reflecting on your own views and those of others. Group discussions held weekly with peers will demonstrate the complexity of ethical decision-making and the importance of nuancing policy to take into account a diversity of values and perspectives.

This year the course is offered in external mode only; this is based on student demand and COVID-19 related campus restrictions.

Standard commitment time for a Master course is between 8-12 hours per week of work (includes all activities), per course.


Assessment Task 1 – Short quiz on law for public health
Weighting: 5%

Assessment Task 2 – Short essay
Weighting: 25%
Length: 1000-1500 words

Assessment Task 3 – Log of online posts and self-selected best posts
Weighting: 20%
Length: 200-300 words per week

Assessment Task 4 – Major essay
Weighting: 50%
Length: 2000-2500 words

Readings & resources 

Learning resources for this course consist of the following:

  • course notes and introductions to topics (posted in Moodle)
  • lecture slides (posted in Moodle)
  • weekly required readings (links and references provided in Moodle)
  • audio lecture recordings (available in Moodle)
  • additional readings as necessary to pursue research and prepare assignments
  • supplementary resources such as films and podcasts (available in Moodle).

There is no set textbook for this course. We have compiled a list of texts under each topic, and have provided links to the required readings which you will find included in the modules.