Causes of Death

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    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

    The registration of deaths is the responsibility of the individual state and territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages. As part of the registration process, information about the cause of death is supplied by the medical practitioner certifying the death or by a coroner. Other information about the deceased is supplied by a relative or other person acquainted with the deceased, or by an official of the institution where the death occurred. This information is provided to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) by individual Registrars for coding and compilation into aggregate statistics. In addition, the ABS supplements this data with information from the National Coroners Information Service (NCIS).

    Availability of high quality death statistics, and consequently population estimates and mortality data, is of concern to all levels of government (Commonwealth, State and Local). High quality mortality statistics are used as a fundamental measure of the health of the population.



    Consistent with the UNSD recommendations, the units (deaths) to be counted include all "occurring in every geographic area and in every population group comprising the national area".

    For the purposes of Australia, this includes all deaths (including foetal deaths) occurring within Australia as defined by the Australian Geographical Standard Classification that applies at the time. At the present time this includes mainland Australia (the six states, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory) and the Other Territories comprising Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Jervis Bay Territory. At present the geographical definition of Australia does not extend to the other external territories such as the Australian Antarctic Territory, McDonald and Heard Islands, Coral Sea Islands Territory, Ashmore and Cartier Islands.

    Deaths occurring on Norfolk Island are excluded unless the status of Norfolk Island changes in respect of the geographic definition of Australia. Deaths of Norfolk Island usual residents which occur in Australia (or en-route to Australia) and are registered in an Australian state or territory are included in the cause of deaths collection.

    Following the 1992 amendments to the Acts Interpretation Act to include the Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands as part of the geography of Australia, population estimates commencing with September quarter 1993 include estimates for these two territories. To reflect this change, another category of the state and territory level has been created, known as Other Territories. Other Territories include Jervis Bay Territory, previously included with the Australian Capital Territory, as well as Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, previously excluded from population estimates for Australia. Before 1997, cause of death data do not include deaths of persons usually resident in Other Territories. From 1997, cause of death data for residents of Other Territories is included in the total for Australia.

    The ABS deaths collection includes all deaths that occurred and were registered in Australia including deaths of persons whose usual residence is overseas. Deaths of Australian residents that occurred outside Australia may be registered by individual Registrars, but are not included in ABS deaths or cause of death statistics.

    Perinatal death statistics published by the ABS, unless otherwise stated, include all foetuses and infants delivered weighing at least 400 grams or (when birthweight is unavailable) the corresponding gestational age (20 weeks), whether alive or dead. This definition recognises the availability of reliable 400 grams/20 weeks data from all state and territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The ABS has adopted the legal requirement for registration of a perinatal death as the statistical standard as it meets the requirements of major users in Australia. Prior to 1997, ABS data relating to perinatal deaths were based upon the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended definition for compiling national perinatal statistics. (WHO 2008a) The WHO definition of perinatal deaths included infants and foetuses weighing at least 500 grams or having a gestational age of 22 weeks or body length of 25 centimetres crown-heel.


    Ideally, for compiling annual time series, the number of events (deaths) should be recorded and reported as those occurring within a given reference period such as a calendar year. However, due to lags in registration of events and the provision of that information to the ABS, this ideal is unlikely to be met under the current legislation and Registration business processes. As the actual vital event being accounted for is usually the addition of the event on a State/Territory register of deaths, the occurrence event is being approximated by the event being registered. Also, some additions to the register can be delayed in being received by the ABS from the Registrar (processing or data transfer lags).

    In effect there are 3 dates attributable to each death registration:

    The date of occurrence (of the death),
    The date of registration or inclusion on the State/Territory register,
    The monthly file in which the registered event is lodged with the ABS.

    Up to and including the 2006 reference year, the following business rules were used by the ABS to determine the scope of the death and cause of deaths collection for any given reference year:

        The scope of the collection is all deaths registered in Australia for the reference year, two years prior to the current year and the first quarter of the subsequent year. As an example: records received by the ABS during the March quarter of 2007 which were initially registered in 2006 (but not fully completed until 2007) are assigned to the 2006 processing year. Any registrations relating to 2006 which are received by the ABS after the end of the March quarter are assigned to the 2007processing year.

    From the 2007 reference year, the following business rules are used by the ABS to determine the scope of the death and cause of deaths collection for any given reference year. The previous scope rule used by the ABS allowed registrations to “leak” from the record of all deaths occurring. For the purposes of this explanation, the reference year Y refers to the calendar year ending 31 December.
        Deaths for a reference year Y comprises those events:

        i added to the register in reference year Y (i.e. date of registration falls within 12 months comprising Y), and provided to the ABS in the monthly files received from the Registrar in the reference year Y or the 3 months ending 31 March of the year following the reference year Y; and

        ii added to the register in reference year Y-n (i.e. date of registration falls earlier than 1 January in reference year Y) and is received by the ABS in the monthly files received from the Registrar in reference year Y or the 3 months ending 31 March of the year following the reference year Y and has not been included in any statistics reported for earlier periods.

    Summary of Scope and Coverage Rules

    All deaths being registered for the first time.
    Deaths in Australia of temporary visitors to Australia.
    Deaths occurring within Australian Territorial waters.
    Deaths occurring in Australian Antarctic Territories or other external territories (excluding Norfolk Island).
    Deaths occurring in transit (i.e. on ships or planes) if registered in the State of "next port of call".
    Deaths of Australian Nationals overseas who were employed at Australian legations and consular offices (i.e. deaths of Australian diplomats while overseas) where able to be identified.
    Deaths that occurred in earlier reference periods that have not been previously registered (late registrations)

    Still births/ foetal deaths (these are accounted for in perinatal deaths).
    Repatriation of human remains of decedents whose death occurred overseas.
    Deaths overseas of foreign diplomatic staff (where these are able to be identified).
    Deaths occurring on Norfolk Island


    Conceptual framework

    Deaths registered in the reference year are coded using the 10th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). All morbid conditions, diseases and injuries entered on the death certificate are coded. These include those involved in the morbid train of events leading to death which were classified as either the underlying cause, the immediate cause, or any intervening causes and those conditions which contributed to death, but were not related to the disease or condition causing death. For deaths where the underlying cause was identified as an external cause (injury or poisoning) multiple causes include circumstances of injury, the nature of injury as well as any other conditions reported on the death certificate.

    Main outputs

    Outputs include;year of registration, year of occurrence, age at death, sex, usual residence of the deceased, country of birth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths, underlying cause of death, multiple causes of death, perinatal deaths, nature of injury and years of potential life lost.

    Socio-Demographic Classifications

    A range of socio-demographic data is available from the cause of death collection. Standard classifications used in the presentation of cause of death statistics include age, sex, birthplace, marital status, multiple birth, occupation and Indigenous status. Statistical standards for social and demographic variables have been developed by the ABS.

    For further Information regarding standard demographic classifications (e.g. age and sex) refer to 1285.0 - Demographic Variables, 1999

    Marital Status

    Marital status is a core variable in a wide range of social, labour and demographic statistics. Its main purpose is to establish the living arrangements of couples in the Australian population. These living arrangements may be based on a legal concept (i.e. registered marriage), or a social, marriage-like arrangement (i.e. de facto marriage). Two separate concepts are measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. These are registered marital status and social marital status. They have different personal characteristics and are independent variables with separate classifications. Within ABS cause of death statistics marital status relates to registered marital status which refers to formally registered marriages or divorces for which the partners hold a certificate. Four categories of marital status are identified: never married, married, widowed and divorced.

    For further information about Marital Status refer to 1286.0 - Family, Household and Income Unit Variables, 2005

    Indigenous Status

    The classification (see below) for Indigenous Status has a hierarchical structure comprising two levels. There are four Indigenous Status categories at the detailed level of the classification which are grouped to two categories at the broader level. There is one supplementary category. The classification is often only available at the broader level


      • Aboriginal but not Torres Strait Islander Origin
      • Torres Strait Islander Origin but not Aboriginal
      • Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Origin

      • Neither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander Origin

    For further information about Indigenous Status refer to 1289.0 - Standards for Statistics on Cultural and Language Diversity, 1999

    Birth Plurality and Order (Multiple Birth)

    Multiple birth is a 2 digit code comprising birth plurality in the first digit and birth order in the second digit. Acceptable codes for these data elements as specified in the National Health Data Dictionary Version 13, released 26 July 2006


    The occupation classification used in ABS cause of death statistics is the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) First Edition 2006. The ABS however has not published cause of death data with an occupation variable since the 2002 reference year. The ABS considers the quality of the data able to be produced for this variable to be insufficient for reasonable analysis.

    For further information on ANZSCO First Edition, refer to ANZSCO: Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupation, First Edition (cat. no. 1220.0).

    Geographic Classifications

    There are two geographic classifications used by the ABS for the collection and dissemination of geographical statistics: the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC); and the Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC). The ASGC divides Australia into a number of geographical hierarchies to suit different statistical purposes. The SACC is a classification of countries based on the concept of geographic proximity. Both classifications are used in the collection and dissemination of ABS death and cause of death statistics. They are discussed further below.

    Australian Standard Geographical (ASGC)

    The ASGC is a hierarchical classification system consisting of six interrelated classification structures. The ASGC provides a common framework of statistical geography and thereby enables the production of statistics which are comparable and can be spatially integrated. These provide Cause of Death statistics with a ‘where’ dimension.

    In practice, statistical units such as households and businesses are first classified or assigned to a geographical area in one of the seven ASGC structures; such as census collection districts (CD), states (S/D), statistical local areas (SLA) and mesh blocks (MB).Data collected from these statistical units are then compiled into ASGC-defined geographic aggregations which, subject to confidentiality restrictions, are then available for publication.

    Mesh Blocks are a new micro level of statistical geography for Australia. They will in future replace Census Collection Districts (CDs) as the smallest unit of the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC). From the 2007 reference year, Deaths data will be automatically coded to SLAs and Mesh Blocks for the deceased usual residence. However, the focus on resolving manual queries will be limited to accurately coding the SLA of the deceased usual residence.

    For further information about the ASGC refer to. 1216.0 - Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), Jul 2007

    For further information about Mesh Blocks refer to 1209.0.55.001 - Information Paper: Draft Mesh Blocks, Australia (Reissue), 2005

    Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC)

    The SACC groups neighbouring countries into progressively broader geographic areas on the basis of their similarity in terms of social, cultural, economic and political characteristics. The SACC is the revised edition of the Australian Standard Classification of Countries for Social Statistics (ASCCSS). The SACC also incorporates previous revisions to the ASCCSS.

    SACC is a hierarchical classification, meaning that individual 4-digit country codes can be logically grouped together using the first 2 digits of the code, or even more broadly using the first digit only. Supplementary codes have been included in the classification for state level coding in Australia, and non-country entries.

    Birthplaces within Australia are coded to the state/territory level where possible. The supplementary codes contain the relevant state and territory 4-digit codes.

    For further information about the SACC refer to 1269.0 - Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC), 1998 (Revision 2.03)

    Health Classifications

    International Classification of Diseases (ICD)

    The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is the international standard classification for epidemiological purposes and is designed to promote international comparability in the collection, processing, classification, and presentation of cause of death statistics. The classification is used to classify diseases and causes of disease or injury as recorded on many types of medical records as well as death records The ICD has been revised periodically to incorporate changes in the medical field. Currently ICD 10th revision is used for Australian cause of death statistics

    ICD-10 is a variable-axis classification meaning the epidemiological data and statistical data is grouped as follows:
    epidemic diseases
    constitutional or general diseases
    local diseases arranged by site
    developmental diseases injuries

    For further information about the ICD refer to WHO | International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

    An online version of the ICD 10th Revision can be found by following this link ICD-10:

    Other concepts (summary)

    • standardised death rate
    • age-specific death rate
    • infant death rate
    • fetal death
    • infant death
    • multiple causes of death
    • neonatal death
    • perinatal death
    • period of gestation
    • stillbirth
    • underlying cause of death
    • years of potential life lost

    New South Wales
    South Australia
    Western Australia
    Northern Territory
    Statistical Division
    Statistical Subdivision
    Statistical Local Area
    Legal Local Government Area
    Statistical District

    Comments and/or Other Regions


    Frequency comments

    Information is collected from the relevant State and Territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages on a monthly basis.


    Causes of Death statistics have been produced since the early 1900's using various versions of ICD. Each State/Territory office of ABS was responsible for the collection and processing of causes of death data registered with that State/Territory up until 1993 when this function was centralised in the Brisbane office of ABS. Prior to 1997, only the underlying cause of death was coded, but with the adoption of the US developed Mortality Medical Data Software (MMDS), all causes of death, as well as underlying cause, were coded for 1997 and subsequent years. The adoption of MMDS caused a break in the underlying cause of death statistical series due to differing coding interpretations inherent in the US software. ICD-10 was introduced for the 1999 processing cycle and applied to data from 1997. Comparability factors to allow comparison between ICD-9 and ICD-10 have been developed and published.


    Data availability comments

    10/03/2010 06:28 PM