The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
The Morrison Government welcomes the release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Causes of Death, Australia, 2020 report today, with Australia recording the greatest drop of deaths in the last decade.
Overall last year, Australia recorded 161,300 deaths – this is six per cent less than in 2019. Australia is one of only a small number of countries including New Zealand and Denmark which recorded a lower death rate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is also reassuring to see that Australia did not record an increase in suicide deaths as predicted by published modelling. The official statistics have now confirmed the number of suicide deaths in 2020 was 3,139, 5.4% lower than the number of suicide deaths in 2019 (3,318). This is an age-standardised rate of 12.1 deaths per 100,000 people, a 6.2% decrease from 2019 (12.9) and the lowest national figure since 2016 overall, and the lowest since 2013 for females.
However, sadly, 223 Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders lost their lives to suicide, a 3.7% increase from 215 in 2019. This is an age-standardised rate of 27.1, more than twice that of the non-Indigenous population. In addition, while most age groups saw a slight decrease, the suicide rate among 15-24 year old’s remained relatively steady (14.2 per 100,000 population in 2020, compared to 14.1 per 100,000 in 2019).
Every suicide death is a national tragedy and has a devastating impact on families, friends and communities and the Morrison Government remains committed to achieving zero suicides in this country. While the data released today is generally a small but encouraging step, continuing the immense effort to save lives and protect lives – particularly among our First Nations communities and younger Australians – is more important than ever.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has included the provision of substantial funding to support the mental health of Australians, including boosting digital supports, establishing pop-up clinics and providing dedicated services to the most vulnerable. We have also ensured that these services will be in place during the long recovery through our $2.3 billion National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan announced in the 2021-22 Budget.
Central to this support is the recognition of the role of compassionate, person centred care. So we thank all of our frontline health care workers and mental health and suicide prevention workforce for their tireless work and recognise the absolutely essential role they play in keeping us all safe and well.
Beyond suicide, the report released today also highlights that our biggest cause of death remains the same – with one in every 10 Australians dying from heart disease. The Morrison Government continues to invest in a range of measures to treat and prevent heart disease, including our $220 million, 10-year Mission for Cardiovascular Health.
Heart disease is followed by dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), stroke, lung cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Together, these top five causes accounted for more than one third of all deaths in 2020. This underlines the critical importance of our unprecedented investments in cardiovascular health, heart disease and stroke, and in respiratory diseases and certain cancers. It also reaffirms the integrity of our health policy response across these key areas.
The largest decrease was in Australians dying from respiratory diseases – down 24 per cent in 2020. The drop in influenza deaths was unprecedented – only 55 Australians died from flu in the first half of 2020, and not one in the second half. In the previous year, 1,080 Australians died from flu. This dramatic decrease is mainly attributed to COVID-19 measures such as increased handwashing and social distancing.
COVID-19 was the 38th leading cause of death in 2020, with 898 registered deaths in total. Last year, Australia had the third lowest COVID-19 mortality rate amongst countries in the OECD, in 2021, we have the second lowest COVID-19 mortality rate.
This shows that our pandemic response has protected Australians and saved lives and I thank the Australian community for their extraordinary efforts in combatting the virus.
This continues with the vaccine rollout, with record numbers of Australians getting immunised. At last count, more than half the population – nearly 11 million people – are fully vaccinated. Vaccination remains the number one priority in our pandemic response.
Drugs and alcohol continue to be a significant health problem, 1,500 Australians died of an alcohol-induced death in 2020, up 8.3 per cent since 2019. This includes conditions associated with long term alcohol use, including liver cirrhosis. The Government will continue to tackle this challenge, which impacts not just individuals, but families, friends and whole communities.
I commend the ABS for its Causes of Death report. This is an important document. By knowing what causes deaths, we are better able to improve the health of all Australians.
Anyone experiencing distress can seek immediate advice and support through Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), or the Government’s digital mental health gateway, Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au).
If you are concerned about suicide, living with someone who is considering suicide, or bereaved by suicide, the Suicide Call Back Service is available at 1300 659 467 or www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au.