In the period 1996-2001, the life expectancy at birth for Indigenous Australians was estimated to be 59.4 years for males and 64.8 years for females, compared with 76.6 years for all males and 82.0 years for all females for the period 1998-2000, a difference of approximately 17 years for both males and females.
For the period 1999-2003, in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, 75% of recorded Indigenous male deaths and 65% of Indigenous female deaths occurred before the age of 65 years. This compared with 26% and 16%, respectively, of deaths of non-Indigenous males and females. For all age groups below 65 years, the age-specific death rates for persons identified as Indigenous in the selected jurisdictions were at least twice those for other Australians. The largest differences occurred at ages 35-44 and 45-54 years where the death rates for Indigenous Australians were five times those recorded for non-Indigenous Australians.
Based on 1999-2002 year of occurrence of death and 2003 year of registration of death, the three leading causes of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the four jurisdictions were diseases of the circulatory system, injury (predominantly accidents, intentional self-harm and assault) and cancer.
Over the period 1999-2003, Indigenous males and females died at almost three times the rate of non-Indigenous males and females. Indigenous Australians also had higher rates of mortality from all major causes of death. For example, mortality rates for Indigenous males and females for endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases (including diabetes) were around seven and 11 times, respectively, those for non-Indigenous males and females.
Deaths where multiple causes were reported were more common among Indigenous males and females. For example, 19% of deaths among Indigenous males and 21% of deaths among Indigenous females recorded five or more causes of death, compared with 14% and 13% of non-Indigenous male and female deaths respectively.
An analysis of trends in mortality showed that between 1991 and 2002 there were significant declines in recorded mortality in Western Australia for both males and females. There was also a significant decline in recorded infant mortality in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory over the same period. This is supported by an observed increase in the age at death in the first quartile in these jurisdictions. Of the five main causes of death examined - neoplasms; endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases; diseases of the circulatory system; diseases of the respiratory system; and injury - only mortality from diseases of the circulatory system showed a consistently significant decline.
While the analyses in this chapter support a conclusion that Indigenous mortality has declined, it is important to note that estimates of the magnitude of the trend could also reflect changes in reporting Indigenous status in deaths registrations.
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