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In 2012, there were 2,469 deaths registered in Australia for people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, representing 1.8% of all deaths.

Because Indigenous Australians have a much younger population structure and higher death rates at younger ages, a relatively large proportion of Indigenous deaths occur before ‘old age’.

Around 81% of deaths among Indigenous people occurred before the age of 75, compared with 34% of deaths for non-Indigenous people during the period 2008–2012.

Infant deaths (that is, deaths of children aged less than 1 year) represented 4% of Indigenous deaths in 2008–2012, but only 1% of non-Indigenous deaths. The Indigenous death rate for infants was higher than the rate for non-Indigenous infants (6 per 1,000 live births compared with 4 per 1,000 live births).

For both males and females, the Indigenous mortality rate is higher than the non-Indigenous mortality rate for every age group. The mortality rate for Indigenous people aged 35–44 was about 5 times that for non-Indigenous people.

Indigenous potential years of life lost (PYLL)

PYLL rates for the period 2007–2011 suggest that the largest mortality gaps between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations are in the 0–4 age group (a rate difference of 376 PYLL per 1,000 population aged 0-4) and the 35–59 years age group (rate differences of between 409 and 517 PYLL per 1,000 for each 5 year age group).

Indigenous potentially avoidable deaths

The rate of potentially avoidable deaths among people younger than 75 was considerably higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than for other Australians in all jurisdictions for which data were available in the period 2008–2012.

In 2008–2012, the age-standardised mortality rate from potentially avoidable deaths was 351 deaths per 100,000 Indigenous population aged less than 75 and 113 per 100,000 other Australians.

Between 2001 and 2012, there was a 9% decline in the all-cause age-standardised mortality rate for Indigenous Australians. This decline in Indigenous mortality rates partly reflects the large declines in Indigenous infant mortality over the last decade.

Trends in Indigenous premature mortality

The largest declines in Indigenous mortality rates between 1998 and 2012 were observed for infants (64% decline), followed by young people aged 15–24 (40%). There was a 33% decline in mortality rate for Indigenous children aged 0–4 years and 5–14 years during the same period.

For non-Indigenous people, the largest declines in mortality rates were observed for young people aged 15–24 (50% between 1998 and 2012). Mortality rates for non-Indigenous children aged 0–4 years and 5–14 years declined by 25% and 35% respectively between 1998 and 2012.

Leading causes of Indigenous premature mortality

The relative contribution of different causes of death varies with age between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations (Figure 10.1).

For Indigenous infants, ‘Conditions originating in the perinatal period’ is the main cause of death, followed by ‘symptoms, signs and ill-defined conditions’ (which includes SIDS) and ‘congenital malformations’.

Injury and poisoning account for around half of all deaths of Indigenous children aged 1–14 years.

Injury and poisoning deaths (mainly suicide, followed by transport accidents and assault) are also the most common cause of death among Indigenous people aged 15–34, contributing to 66% of deaths.

Among Indigenous people aged 35–44, cardiovascular diseases are the most common cause of death, followed closely by injury and poisoning deaths.

Chronic diseases, such as circulatory diseases (mainly coronary heart diseases), cancer (mainly bowel cancer and lung cancer), and endocrine, metabolic and nutritional disorders (mainly diabetes) are the leading causes of death among Indigenous persons aged 45–64.

Figure 10.1: Rate ratio of Indigenous (orange) and non-Indigenous (blue) age-specific death rates for leading causes of premature mortality, 2009–2013

Compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts...


Premature mortality indigenous Australians condition ratios ages 0-1 PNG

Indigenous infants (aged less than 1) were 5 times as likely to die from influenza and pneumonia.


Premature mortality indigenous Australians condition ratios ages 1-14 PNG

Indigenous children (aged 1–14) were 4 times as likely to die from land transport accidents.


Premature mortality indigenous Australians condition ratios ages 15-24 PNG

Indigenous young people (aged 15–24) were 6 times as likely to die from assault.


Premature mortality indigenous Australians condition ratios ages 25-34 PNG

Indigenous adults aged 25–34 were:
12 times as likely to die from coronary heart disease
7 times as likely to die from assault.


Premature mortality indigenous Australians condition ratios ages 35-44 PNG

Indigenous adults aged 35–44 were:
12 times as likely to die from liver disease
10 times as likely to die from coronary heart disease.


Premature mortality indigenous Australians condition ratios ages 45-54 PNG

Indigenous adults aged 45–54 were:
17 times as likely to die from diabetes
8 times as likely to die from chronic lower respiratory disease
6 times as likely to die from liver disease
6 times as likely to die from coronary heart disease.


Premature mortality indigenous Australians condition ratios ages 55-64 PNG

Indigenous adults aged 55–64 were:
16 times as likely to die from diabetes
5 times as likely to die from chronic lower respiratory disease.


Premature mortality indigenous Australians condition ratios ages 65-74 PNG

Indigenous adults aged 65–74 were 9 times as likely to die from diabetes.


Source: ABS 2015. (Table S6, 524KB XLS)


Further information

ABS 2015. Causes of death, Australia, 2013 (Table 12.4). ABC cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW 2014. Mortality and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians 2008 to 2012. Cat. no. IHW 140. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2015. The health and welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 2015. Cat. no. IHW 147. Canberra: AIHW. Online report.

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2015. Report on Government Services 2015. Canberra: Productivity Commission.