Why Should I Care About The Census?

The Census may be providing a misleading picture of the number of Australians who practice a religion. Every census in Australia has included a question about religious affiliation, with the voluntary nature of the question stated specifically since 1933. In 1971 the instruction ‘if no religion, write none’ was introduced. The result was a seven-fold increase in the number of individuals identifying as non-religious. Since 1971 the percentage of Australians stating they had no religion has steadily increased to 16% in 1996 and 2001, and 18.7% in 2006. However studies conducted by church groups themselves indicate that this figure may provide a misleading picture of religious observance in Australia.

According to a survey conducted by the National Church Life Survey, weekly church attendance in 2001 for Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches was about 1,660,000 which equates to 8.8% of a population of 18,769,249. It is therefore reasonable to suggest that the percentage of non-religious individuals may be higher than census figures indicate.

Why Inaccurate Census Data Matters?

Information from the census is used by government and community groups to make decisions on the provision of services, policy making and funding allocation.

Census information is often used to defend policy and funding decisions such as:

  • the introduction of the National Schools Chaplaincy Program
  • government funding of private religious schools
  • the nature and extent of religious broadcasting in both private and public media
  • the provision of religious services to the military, the incarcerated and other groups away from home
  • decisions on access to abortion
  • funding for population planning
  • representation to the Vatican or other foreign theocratic entities
  • contracting of public services such as job search to non-public agencies
  • exemption from taxes