Professor Ian Ring of the Centre for Health Service Development, University of Wollongong, and John O'Brien of the Epidemiology Services Unit, Queensland Health, say Australia now rivals Switzerland for the second-lowest mortality rate in the world.
"But our overall position is diminished somewhat by premature deaths from several potentially preventable conditions and by inequalities in their distribution [within the population]," say the authors.
The areas with the greatest potential for reductions in mortality are circulatory diseases, suicide, injury and violence, smoking-related conditions, and cancers amenable to prevention or early detection.
Population inequalities include those between low and high socioeconomic groups, between males and females, and in particular between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
"Elimination of the 17-18 year difference in life expectancy between Indigenous Australians and their non-Indigenous counterparts would add about five months to the total life expectancy of Australians," say the authors.
"Disparities in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations are larger in Australia than in New Zealand, Canada or the USA.
"Australia should aim to become the country with the lowest mortality rate in the world.
"This could realistically be achieved by benchmarking performance nationally and internationally, applying current knowledge and available interventions, matching policies with funding, and implementing systemic national programs and activities to promote health.
"Becoming the best requires redirection of health policies to focus on the issues with most potential for improvement, and for Australia to lift its game on the use of national health information, and above all, to avoid resource-free policies."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.