This study attempts to measure premature mortality, in addition to overall death rates, in order to provide more information that can be used to develop and monitor health programmes that are aimed at reducing premature (often preventable) mortality in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Premature years of potential life lost (PYPLL) and valued years of potential life lost methods are applied for mortality data in NSW from 1990 to 2002. Variations in these measures for 2001 are studied further in terms of age, sex, urban/rural residence, and socio-economic status. PYPLL rates for all leading causes of death have declined. It is shown that the average male to female ratio of PYPLLs is highest for accidents, injury and poisoning (3.4:1) followed by mental disorders (2.7:1) and cardiovascular diseases (2.6:1). Although fewer women than men die of cardiovascular diseases, there is a greater proportionate importance of cerebrovascular mortality among women. In order to further reduce premature deaths, programs are required to improve the health of people living in lower socio-economic status areas, especially in rural NSW. Targeted regional or community level programs are required to reduce avoidable deaths due to accidents, injury and poisoning occasioned by motor vehicle accidents, poisoning and suicide among young adults.