It is now well documented that many of the key drivers of health reside in our everyday living conditions. In the last two decades, public health has urged political action on these critical social determinants of health (SDH). As noted by the World Health Organisation, encouraging action in this area is challenging. Recent research has argued that public health researchers need to gain a deeper understanding of the complex and changing rationalities of policymaking. This, it seems, is the crucial next step for social determinants of health research.In this paper, we turn our attention to the practitioners of 'the art of government', in order to gain insight into how to secure upstream change for the SDH. Through interviews with policy actors (including politicians, senior government advisors, senior public servants and experienced policy lobbyists) the research sought to understand the nature of government and policymaking, as it pertains to action on the SDH. Through exploring the policy process, we examine how SDH discourses, evidence and strategies align with existing policy processes in the Australian context.Participants indicated that approaches to securing change that are based on linear conceptualisations of the policy process (as often found in public health) may be seen as 'out of touch' with the messy reality of policymaking. Rather, a more dialogic approach that embraces philosophical and moral reasoning (alongside evidence) may be more effective. Based on our findings, we recommend that SDH advocates develop a deeper awareness of the political and policy structures and the discursive conventions they seek to influence within specific settings.