MEDIA RELEASE: Non-religious Australians deserve fair representation following continued growth of ‘No Religion’ in Census
The voices of non-religious Australians deserve representation in government institutions and in the media in proportion to their increasing number, according to the coalition of organisations behind the Census21 – Not Religious? (Census21) campaign.
Census data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today show that the percentage of Australians identifying as having no religion has climbed to 38.9 per cent – up from 29.9 per cent at the 2016 Census and 22.3 per cent in 2011.
People who marked ‘no religion’ in the Census last year made up by far the largest cohort of the public. For the first time, fewer than half of Australians – 43.9 per cent – say they are Christian, with the largest Christian denominations being Catholicism (20 per cent) and Anglicanism (9.8 per cent).
In the lead-up to Census night in August last year, the Census21 campaign encouraged Australians to accurately answer the religion question on the Census. The campaign was backed by the Atheist Foundation of Australia, Sydney Atheists, Rationalist Society of Australia, Humanists Australia, National Secular Lobby and Humanists Victoria.
Campaign spokesperson Michael Dove said the ‘no religion’ result added further urgency to the need for key institutions of Australia’s democracy to modernise and become more inclusive of non-religious people.
Mr Dove said religion continues to have a privileged place in Australian society, with religious organisations receiving an unfair amount of public funding and tax concessions, and enjoying an inflated influence on government and the media.
“At the opening of each day in all state parliaments and in the federal parliament, everyone in attendance is asked to stand for a Christian prayer ritual. This also happens at hundreds of local governments across the country,” he said.
“Clearly, as a significant and growing number of Australians say they do not have a religion, it is untenable and wrong for our parliaments and local governments to be imposing prayer rituals as part of their official proceedings.
“The same is the case for some of our most important national commemorations, such as Anzac Day. Instead of dawn services resembling Christian church services, they should be secular and welcoming of all people, religious and non-religious alike.
“The ABC is another example of a place where non-religious voices are marginalised. The ABC has a large stable of religious and spiritual programs but not one focusing on the secular or non-religious viewpoint.”
Mr Dove said the campaign message, which encouraged Australians to honestly reflect on their relationship with religion, had resonated widely last year.
“It’s clear the campaign had an impact. People understood the importance of the Census producing a more accurate result for the religion question. We thank everyone who supported our campaign,” he said
“Importantly, the campaign successfully brought all kinds of non-religious people together – people who had previously marked themselves as ‘atheist’, ‘humanist’, ‘rationalist’ or otherwise – under the ‘No religion’ banner to ensure we could achieve a more accurate Census result.
“We need to build on this at future censuses so that non-religious people are properly represented in political and civic life in Australia. It’s critical to have accurate data so the rising cohort of non-religious groups are able to compete for public funding.”
Mr Dove said the result still likely understated the true picture of non-religious Australia, given the biased nature of the Census question.
He said the ABS must now look at changing the question ahead of the 2026 Census to remove the inherent bias. The phrasing of the question – ‘What is the person’s religion?‘ – continues to presume that all people have a religion.
The coalition of groups behind the Census21 campaign will now turn its attention to lobbying for change to the phrasing of the census question.