OBJECTIVE: To describe the incidence of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in Australia between 1982 and 1991. DESIGN: State and Territory Health Departments notified new diagnoses of AIDS to the National AIDS Registry. Information reported for each case included sex, date of birth, date of AIDS diagnosis, presumed mode of exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and illness(es) on which the diagnosis of AIDS was based. RESULTS: To the end of March 1992, 3,160 cases of AIDS were reported as having been diagnosed between 1982 and the end of 1991. The cumulative incidence per head of population was about twice as high in New South Wales as in Australia as a whole. Over 97% of cases were in men, of whom 91% were adults or adolescents reporting homosexual contact. In women, 40% of cases were acquired through receipt of blood, blood products or tissue. The annual incidence of AIDS rose sharply until about 1988, but the annual rates of increase slowed in subsequent years. This trend was also apparent in cases acquired through sexual contact between men. In other exposure groups, numbers of cases were much smaller and trends less apparent. However, there was no indication of a similar levelling in AIDS incidence, except among blood transfusion recipients, in whom incidence may be declining. CONCLUSION: Transmission of HIV among people with AIDS in Australia has been overwhelmingly attributed to sexual contact between men. The annual incidence of cases attributed to sexual contact between men appears to be stabilising.