Social exclusion and social inclusion have been popular policy themes in the UK and Europe, and made more modest appearances in countries such as Canada and New Zealand, for over a decade. In 2007, the Australian Government became the latest country in this trend of structuring social policy around issues of exclusion, launching its 'Social Inclusion Agenda' (SIA). The SIA aims to increase social and economic participation through a reorientation of social services and increased attention to issues of equity. At the same time, there has been international consensus on the importance of the social determinants of health (such as education, income and gender) for individuals and populations. The SIA has the potential to make a substantive contribution to the social determinants of health and hence the health and wellbeing of the population. However, much will depend on the extent to which international discourses of inclusion, exclusion, structural inequality and third way politics are taken up, adapted or discarded in the Australian context. At this formative stage of the SIA's development, the public health community is in a unique position to contribute to the development and direction of the SIA to secure the potential health gains it offers. This article outlines the formulation of social inclusion policy in Australia, and discusses the potential promises and pitfalls of a social inclusion approach. Our examination of the Australian experience of social inclusion policy provides an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between social inclusion and health internationally.