Federal Politics

Federal election 2016: Death rates by electorate

Voters in Malcolm Turnbull's electorate have one of the lowest death rates in Australia, reveals a new analysis mapping deaths across the political divide. 

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Premature deaths in the Prime Minister's eastern Sydney seat of Wentworth sat well below (26 per cent) the national average, found the analysis of Australian Electoral Commission and mortality data.

Down in Bill Shorten's Melbourne electorate of Maribyrnong, the premature death rate (any death under the age of 75) scraped in just five percentage points below the national average, the research by the University of Melbourne and Torrens University Public Health experts showed.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Watsons Bay in his electorate of Wentworth in Sydney.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Watsons Bay in his electorate of Wentworth in Sydney. Photo: Andrew Meares

The picture was far bleaker in Barnaby Joyce's New England electorate with a premature death rate 19 per cent above the national average. 

The results for each party leader mirror the differences in premature mortality rates across political lines, with the analysis showing that health inequalities were strongly associated with voting preferences. 

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"This data is a way of showing people the divides and reminding them that through their voting they can remind politicians on all sides that there is something here to address," said one of the study co-authors Professor John Glover at Torrens University Public Health Information Development Unit. 

Death rates were 1.3 times higher in electorates of lower socioeconomic status compared to well-off seats, the researchers found.

Labor tended to be favoured over the Coalition in urban and regional electorates with higher premature mortality rates, according to the data mapped by an online interactive atlas.

Liberal Paul Fletcher's seat of Bradfield - one of the country's most affluent electorates on Sydney's upper north shore - boasted the lowest premature mortality, 60 per cent below the national rate.  

Liberal-held electorates North Sydney, Berowra and Tony Abbott's seat of Warringah, all had some of the lowest premature mortality rates in the country.

Death rates rose in outer metropolitan electorates, with Labor-held seats Chifley, in far western Sydney, one of the highest at 17 per cent above the national average, and Holt, in Melbourne's far south east, climbing eight per cent above the average.

"Labor represents urban areas of higher mortality, but they're not as high as rural mortality rates," said lead researcher Professor Philip Clarke in the Centre for Health Policy at the University of Melbourne. 

"The coalition covers both ends of the spectrum," Professor Clarke said.

"Some of the lowest [rates of mortality] were in Liberal seats around Sydney and Melbourne, but they also have the highest mortality, which effectively are all the National party seats," he said. 

The glaring exception was the Labor Northern Territory seat of Lingiari, which had the highest rate by far – almost twice the national average – most likely because of the yawning health gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, Professor Clarke said. 

"We know inequality across the world is growing," Professor Glover said.

The gap in premature death rates between the top and bottom 20 per cent when ranked by social advantage has blown out from 40 per cent in 1990 to over 70 per cent in 2013, Professor Glover said. 

"All factors affecting premature mortality are modifiable: access to education , employment, good housing, income … It's not as if we can't do anything about this," he said.

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