Causes of Death

   Page tools:

    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, for coroner certified deaths, the ABS supplements this data with information from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS).

    Availability of high quality death statistics, and consequently population estimates and mortality data, is of importance 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.

Ideally, for compiling annual time series, the number of deaths should be recorded and reported as those which occurred within a given reference period such as a calendar year. However, there can be lags in the registration of deaths with the state or territory registries and so not all deaths are registered in the year they occur, There may also be further delays to the ABS receiving lodgement of the death from the registries due to processing or data transfer lags. Therefore every death record will have:
  • a date on which the death occurred (the date of occurrence);
  • a date on which the death is registered with the state and territory registry (date of registration); and
  • a date on which the registered death is lodged with the ABS and deemed in scope.

With exception to the statistics published by Year of Occurrence, all deaths referred to in the Causes of Death publication relate to the number of deaths registered, not those which actually occurred, in the years shown.


The scope for each reference year of the death registrations includes:
  • deaths registered in the reference year and received by the ABS in the reference year;
  • deaths registered in the reference year and received by the ABS in the first quarter of the subsequent year; and
  • deaths registered in the years prior to the reference year but not received by ABS until the reference year or the first quarter of the subsequent year, provided that these records have not been included in any statistics from earlier periods.

From 2007 onwards, data for a particular reference year includes all deaths registered in Australia for the reference year that are received by the ABS by the end of the March quarter of the subsequent year. Death records received by the ABS during the March quarter of 2017 which were initially registered in 2016 (but for which registration was not fully completed until 2017) were assigned to the 2016 reference year. Any registrations relating to 2016 which were received by the ABS from April 2017 will be assigned to the 2017 reference year.

Prior to 2007, the scope for the reference year of the Death Registrations collection included:
  • deaths registered in the reference year and received by the ABS in the reference year;
  • deaths registered in the reference year and received by the ABS in the first quarter of the subsequent year; and
  • deaths registered during the two years prior to the reference year but not received by the ABS until the reference year.


The ABS Causes of Death 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 causes of death statistics.

Deaths registered on Norfolk Island from 1 July 2016 are included in this publication for the first time. This is due to the introduction of the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015. Norfolk Island deaths are included in statistics for "Other Territories" as well as totals for all of Australia. Deaths registered on Norfolk Island prior to 1 July 2016 were not in scope for death statistics.

The current scope of the statistics includes:
  • 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;
  • deaths occurring on Norfolk Island from 1 July 2016 are included. This is due to the introduction of the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015. Norfolk Island deaths are included in statistics for 'Other Territories' as well as totals for all of Australia. Deaths occurring on Norfolk Island prior to 1 July 2016 are not in scope for Deaths statistics;
  • 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; and
  • deaths that occurred in earlier reference periods that have not been previously registered (late registrations).

The scope of the statistics excludes:
  • repatriation of human remains where the death occurred overseas;
  • deaths overseas of foreign diplomatic staff (where these are able to be identified);
  • stillbirths/fetal deaths (these are included in counts of perinatal deaths, which are included in the Causes of Death, Australia publication).

Scope of perinatal death statistics

The scope of perinatal death statistics includes all fetal deaths (at least 20 weeks' gestation or at least 400 grams' birth weight) and neonatal deaths (all live born babies who die within 28 completed days of birth, regardless of gestation or birth weight).

Fetal deaths are registered only as a stillbirth, and are not in scope of either the Births, Australia (cat. no. 3301.0) or Deaths, Australia (cat. no. 3302.0) collections. Fetal deaths are part of the Perinatal collection, but not the Causes of Death collection. Neonatal deaths are in scope of the Deaths, Causes of Death and Perinatal collections.


    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

Main outputs include underlying cause of death, multiple causes of death and perinatal deaths by: reference year and year of occurrence; geography; and demographic characteristics (including age, sex, country of birth and Indigenous status).


Socio-Demographic Classifications

A range of socio-demographic data is available from the causes of death collection. Standard classifications used in the presentation of causes of death statistics include age, sex, country of birth, and Indigenous status. Statistical standards for social and demographic variables have been developed by the ABS. Where these are not released in the Causes of Death published outputs, they can be sourced on request from the ABS.

Geographic Classifications

Two geographic classifications are used:

  • The Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) for Usual Residence. Since the publication of Causes of Death, Australia, 2011, the ABS has released data based on this geography classification.
  • The Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC) for Country of Birth.

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 the ICD 10th revision is used for Australian cause of death statistics.
The ICD-10 is a variable-axis classification meaning that the classification does not group diseases only based on anatomical sites, but also on the type of disease. Epidemiological data and statistical data is grouped according to:

  • epidemic diseases;
  • constitutional or general diseases;
  • local diseases arranged by site;
  • developmental diseases; and
  • injuries.

For example, a systemic disease such as sepsis is grouped with infectious diseases; a disease primarily affecting one body system, such as a myocardial infarction, is grouped with circulatory diseases; and a congenital condition, such as spina bifida, is grouped with congenital conditions.

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

The various versions of the ICD 10th Revision are available online.

    Other concepts (summary)
    • underlying cause of death
    • multiple causes of death
    • standardised death rate
    • age-specific death rate
    • crude death rate
    • infant death rate
    • fetal death
    • infant death
    • neonatal death
    • perinatal death
    • period of gestation
    • stillbirth
    • years of potential life lost

    New South Wales
    South Australia
    Western Australia
    Northern Territory
    Statistical Local Area
    Other (specify below)

    Comments and/or Other Regions

Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSA)
Rest of State
Statistical Areas Level 4 (SA4)
Statistical Areas Level 3 (SA3)
Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2)
Local Governments Areas
Remoteness Areas


    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 the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Each State/Territory office of the ABS was responsible for the collection and processing of causes of death data registered with that State/Territory until 1993, when this function was centralised in the Brisbane office of the 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 by the ABS.

From the 2013 reference year onwards, new automated coding software called Iris was implemented to replace MMDS. This enabled the ABS to apply a series of ICD-10 updates, bringing the coding of Australian mortality data up to date with international best practice. A review of coding practices was also undertaken at this time, focusing on maximising compliance with coding rules detailed in Volume 2 of the ICD-10. See ABS Implementation of the Iris Software: Understanding Coding and Process Improvements (Technical Note) in Causes of Death, Australia, 2013 ( 3303.0) for further details.


    Data availability comments

Further information about cause of death statistics can be obtained by contacting the National Information Referral Service on 1300 135 070.

A national causes of death unit record file can be obtained through the Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (data is available on application for legitimate research purposes only).

    26/09/2018 07:37 AM