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A morbidly fascinating look at Australian causes of death

Recently a discussion came up on the ITPA discourse, where the Australian Federal Government is trying to get backdoor1 access to the content of encrypted messaging apps.

This included a great quote2 from our esteemed leader Malcolm Turnbull:

"The laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only laws that apply in Australia is the law of Australia."

Patrick Gray has a great write-up where he suggests that what the Government are really after is a way to compel companies like Apple and Google to push a rogue update to targeted handsets that will allow law enforcement access to the decrypted communications on the device itself.

Inevitably the question of whether all the recent anti-terror legislation passed by the Australian Federal Government was saving lives, and how many people had been killed by terrorism with one member stating more people had been killed by knives than by terrorism.

yet we don't see the government trying to ban knives, or legislating that only blunt knives can be sold.

While I completely agree with the above, I thought it would be interesting to look through some hard data3.

I went to the Australian Bureau Statistics website where they publish ten years worth of cause of death data in Australia. I downloaded the Underlying cause of death, All causes, Australia spread sheet and started reading through.

Unsurprisingly ABS doesn't list "terrorism" as a cause of death, I suspect any terrorism related deaths would be under "CHAPTER XX External causes of morbidity and mortality (V01-Y98)", then under "Other external causes of mortality (X60-Y36)", then "Assault (X85-Y09)" and finally under whichever specific heading was relevant. For example "Assault by explosive material (X96)" or "Assault by rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge (X94)".

Because I was unable to work out which deaths were from terrorism in the ABS statistics, I then found a fairly well sourced Wikipedia article from which we get the following table

Year Number of incidents4 Deaths Injuries
2006 2 0 0
2007 0 0 0
2008 3 0 0
2009 1 0 0
2010 1 0 0
2011 0 0 0
2012 0 0 0
2013 1 0 0
2014 8 4 7
2015 7 2 0
Total 23 6 7

Which gives us 6 deaths over the same 10 year period as the ABS statistics. Of the 1,454,112 deaths in that period that's about 0.0004% were from terrorism, it slips in just behind "Other disorders of penis (N48)" killing 7 people and "Inflammatory disorders of male genital organs, not elsewhere classified (N49)" taking the lives of 64 men between 2006 and 2015.

Terrorism absolutely pales in comparison to our top category5 "CHAPTER IX Diseases of the circulatory system (I00-I99)" with a whopping 31.4% totaling 456,956 deaths over ten years.

Not all, but many deaths from diseases of the circulatory system are preventable. Tens of thousands of lives, maybe even hundreds of thousands of lives over that same ten year period could have been saved with greater investment in Health Promotion6 and tougher laws7 on tobacco, alcohol and fastfood.

  1. They say they "don't want a backdoor", what they want is something different, and then proceed to describe a system that by any reasonable definition is a backdoor. 

  2. In fairness to Malcolm, if you followed me around with a camera all day and made me do several press conferences on a number of different subjects, you wouldn't have to wait long for me to say something gobsmackingly stupid too. 

  3. I fully admit that I went into this with a theory and was simply looking for data to back up what I already believed. So while this data is accurate, I didn't put much effort into looking for data which refuted my world view, you can take this with a grain of salt if you like. 

  4. Of course there is the question of when does something change from simply crime to terrorism? When does a boat become a ship? How long is a piece of string? but I'm happy to go with whats in the Wikipedia article. 

  5. I know that "Diseases of the circulatory system" is a whole broad category of causes rather than a single cause, but I would say that "Terrorism" is a whole category too, it's not broken down into individual causes so it's a fair comparison. 

  6. Full disclosure, I work for The West Australian Health Promotion Foundation. Also in case any readers lack common sense, My views that I express on my personal blog are my own, and not those of my employer. 

  7. To be clear here, when I say "tougher laws" I don't support prohibition. If informed adults want to put something into their own body that's up to them. I'm talking about things like plain packaging, health warnings, advertising restrictions and higher taxes. The devil is in the details but I support the idea of a sugar tax for example. 

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