3317.0.55.002 - Information Paper: ABS Causes of Death Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, 2006  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 14/03/2008  First Issue
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The international standards and recommendations for the definition and scope of deaths and causes of death statistics in a vital statistics system are set out in the Principles and Recommendations for a Vital Statistics System Revision 2, published by the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD) (currently available at .http://unstats.un.org/unsd/publication/SeriesM/SeriesM_19rev2E.pdf)


The key statistical definitions for births and deaths (including Foetal Deaths) as described by the UNSD are as follows - Para 57:

        (a) The recommended statistical definitions are as follows (the subsequent discussion of vital statistics does not include reference to annulment, judicial separation, adoption, legitimation or recognition)

        (b) LIVE BIRTH - is the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of conception, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy, which after such separation, breathes or shows any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord or definite movement of voluntary muscles, whether or not the umbilical cord has been cut or the placenta is attached; each product of such a birth is considered liveborn (all live-born infants should be registered and counted as such, irrespective of gestational age or whether alive or dead at the time of registration, and if they die at any time following birth they should also be registered and counted as deaths). 24

        (c) DEATH - is the permanent disappearance of all evidence of life at any time after live birth has taken place (postnatal cessation of vital functions without capability of resuscitation) (This definition excludes foetal deaths, which are defined separately below).

        (d) FOETAL DEATH [DEADBORN FOETUS] - is death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of conception, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy; the death is indicated by the fact that after such separation the foetus does not breathe or show any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord or definite movement of voluntary muscles25 (note that this definition broadly includes all terminations of pregnancy other than live births, as defined above).26

        24, 25 See WHO, International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision (Geneva, 1992) vol. 2; in earlier years, first priority was given to births and deaths (See Economic and Social Council resolution 1307 (XIV), para. 2).

        26 The legal requirements for the registration of foetal deaths vary from country to country. It is recommended that dead foetuses weighing 500 or more grams at birth (or those of 22 completed weeks of gestation or crown-heel body length of 25 or more centimetres if weight is not known) be registered. In addition, for statistical purposes, it is recommended that such terminology as “abortion”, “early foetal death”, and “late foetal death” be replaced by the use of weight-specific measures, e.g., the foetal death rate for foetuses of 1,000 or more grams or the foetal death rate for foetuses weighing between 500 and 1,000 grams etc.); see ibid.


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 Standard Geographical 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. 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. Those deaths of Norfolk Island usual residents which occur in Australia (or en-route to Australia) and which are registered in an Australian state or territory are included in the causes of death collection.

Following the introduction of the Territories Law Reform Act, 1992 (AG, 2008) to include the Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands as part of the geography of Australia, commencing with September quarter 1993 population estimates include estimates for these two territories. To reflect this change, another category of the state and territory level was 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, causes of death data do not include deaths of persons usually resident in Other Territories. From 1997, causes 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 causes 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 all 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 month 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 causes of death 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 2007 processing year.

Under the previous scope rule it was possible for registrations to not be recorded at all within the total historical record of all deaths which have occurred. For the purposes of this explanation, the reference year Y refers to the calendar year ending 31 December.From the 2007 reference year, the following business rules are used by the ABS to determine the scope of the death and causes of death collection for any given reference year.
        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.


      • 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