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Major religious affiliations in Australia by census year.[1] In 1971 the instruction "if no religion, write none" was introduced.

Atheism, agnosticism, deism, skepticism, freethought, secular humanism or general secularism is increasing in Australia. Post-war Australia has become a highly secularised country with the proportion of people identifying themselves as Christian declining from 96% in 1901 to 64% in 2006 and those who did not state their religion or declared no religion rising from 2% to over 30% over the same period.[1]

The 2006 census indicated 18.7% or 3,706,555 people self-described as having "no religion" - a rise of three percentage points since the 2001 census. It saw the largest increase in numbers of 800,557 people.[2] Answering the Census question on religious affiliation was optional and a further 2.4 million (11.9%) did not state their religion (or inadequately described it).[3] Thus approximately 30% of Australians did not state a religious affiliation in the 2006 census. According to Norris and Inglehart (2004), 25% of those in Australia do not believe in God[4]



Prior to European settlement, the Aboriginal Australians followed a spiritual system known as the Dreamtime.

European settlement in 1788 brought with it the predominantly Christian denominations.

Since the 1901 census, the "No Religion" percentage of the population has grown from 0.4% of the population to just over a quarter of the population. It should be noted that this question has been emphasised as "optional" since 1933. In 1971 a further clarification was made instructing "If no religion, write none" which saw "a seven-fold increase" in the figures from previous years for those declaring lack of religious beliefs.[5]

Summary of the major religious affiliations (or lack of affiliation) at each Census since 1901[1]
Census year No religion
Not stated/ inadequately described
persons who either stated they
had no religion, or did not
adequately respond to the
question to enable classification
of their religion  %
Total Christian
Religions other than Christianity
Total population counted
1901 0.4 2.0 2.4 96.1 1.4 3 773.8
1911 0.4 2.9 3.3 95.9 0.8 4 455.0
1921 0.5 1.9 2.4 96.9 0.7 5 435.7
1933 0.2 12.9 13.1 86.4 0.4 6 629.8
1947 0.3 11.1 11.4 88.0 0.5 7 579.4
1954 0.3 9.7 10.0 89.4 0.6 8 986.5
1961 0.4 10.7 11.1 88.3 0.7 10 508.2
1966 0.8 10.3 11.1 88.2 0.7 11 599.5
1971 6.7 6.2 12.9 86.2 0.8 12 755.6
1976 8.3 11.4 19.7 78.6 1.0 13 548.4
1981 10.8 11.4 22.2 76.4 1.4 14 576.3
1986 12.7 12.4 25.1 73.0 2.0 15 602.2
1991 12.9 10.5 23.4 74.0 2.6 16 850.3
1996 16.6 9.0 25.6 70.9 3.5 17 752.8
2001 15.5 11.7 27.2 68.0 4.9 18 769.2
2006 18.7 11.9 30.8 63.9 5.6 19 855.3
  • Notes:
    • 1901, 1911, 1921 figures for "Not stated/ inadequately described" included responses that were 'object to state'.
    • A question on religious affiliation has been asked in every Census taken in Australia, but the voluntary nature of this question has only been specifically stated since 1933.
    • In 1971 the instruction 'if no religion, write none' was introduced. In that census there was a seven-fold increase from the previous Census year in the proportion of persons stating they had no religion.

Irreligion in politics

Sir John Latham, who in the 1930s served as Deputy Prime Minister and later as Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, was an atheist and early member of the Rationalist Society of Australia.

Australians tend to be very suspicious of religion being intertwined with politics. Critic and commentator Robert Hughes stated "Any Australian political candidate who declared God was on his side would be laughed off the podium as an idiot or a wowser (prude, intrusive bluenose)."[6] Conversely, Australia has had many openly atheist or agnostic political figures elected to high positions, including prime ministers Gough Whitlam (whose philosophical position has been called "post-Christian"[7]), John Curtin and Bob Hawke, premiers Anna Bligh, Carmen Lawrence and Alan Carpenter, and Governor-general Bill Hayden, who in 1996 was voted as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. Politicians Gareth Evans, Olive Zakharov and Lionel Murphy have also received this award.

Irreligion in popular culture

Many of Australia's most famous satirists and comedians have criticised religion, including Tim Minchin, who has written several songs about religion and creationism; Wil Anderson, whose 2006 stand-up comedy tour "Wil of God" dealt with intelligent design; The Chaser, who are highly popular in Australia for their irreverent, larrikin humour; John Safran, whose television show John Safran vs. God won the 2005 Australian Film Institute award for Best Comedy Series, and many more.

Polls, surveys and statistics

Although many Australians identify themselves as religious, the majority consider religion the least important aspect of their lives when compared with family, partners, work and career, leisure time and politics.[8] This is reflected in Australia's church attendance rates, which are among the lowest in the world and in continuing decline.[9][10] In explaining this phenomenon, writer and broadcaster Paul Collins said "Australians are quietly spiritual rather than explicitly religious", and famous historian Manning Clark defined Australian spirituality as "a shy hope in the heart .... understated, wary of enthusiasm, anti-authoritarian, optimistic, open to others, self-deprecating and ultimately characterized by a serious quiet reverence, a deliberate silence, an inarticulate awe and a serious distaste for glib wordiness."[11]

Donald Horne, one of Australia's best-known public intellectuals, believed rising prosperity in post-war Australia influenced the decline in church-going and general lack of interest in religion. "Churches no longer matter very much to most Australians. If there is a happy eternal life it's for everyone ... For many Australians the pleasures of this life are sufficiently satisfying that religion offers nothing of great appeal," said Horne in his landmark work The Lucky Country.[12]

  • The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper with a centrist viewpoint, asked its readers "Would the world be better off without religion?". 81% responded in the affirmative.[14]
  • Secular marriages are growing increasingly popular in Australia. In 2008, 65 per cent of marriages were celebrated by civil celebrants.[17] This was up from 62.9% in 2007, 56.6% in 2003, 49.5% in 1998 and 41.3% in 1988.[18]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Cultural diversity". 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2008. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2008-02-07. Retrieved 2008-07-15.  
  2. ^ Schliebs, Mark (2007-07-26). "Census figures show more Australians have no religion"".,23599,21976369-2,00.html.  
  3. ^ "3416.0 - Perspectives on Migrants, 2007: Birthplace and Religion". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2008-02-25. Retrieved 2008-08-15.  
  4. ^ Norris, Pippa and Ronald Inglehart. 2004. Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press
  5. ^ ABS - 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2006 - Religious Affiliation
  6. ^ Australian Christianity, Convict Creations. Retrieved on 14 April 2009.
  7. ^ Churches feel Whitlam's smiling wrath, The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved on 3 May 2009.
  8. ^ Morris, Lindy. God's OK, it's just the religion bit we don't like (2008), Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved on 14 April 2009.
  9. ^ NCLS releases latest estimates of church attendance, National Church Life Survey, Media release, 28 February 2004
  10. ^ National Church Life Survey: church-going declines further, Retrieved on 14 April 2009.
  11. ^ Collins, Paul. Australians quietly spiritual, not Godless, Retrieved on 15 April 2009.
  12. ^ Buttrose, Larry. Sport, grog and godliness, The Australian. Retrieved on 11 September 2009.
  13. ^ GALLUP WorldView - data accessed on 17 january 2009
  14. ^ IQ2 Debate : Would the world be better off without religion?, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2008. Retrieved on 14 April 2009.
  15. ^ Fenton, Andrew. Faith no more - atheists in the city of churches, The Advertiser, 2009. Retrieved on 16 April 2009.
  16. ^ Lampman, Jane. "Global survey: youths see spiritual dimension to life", The Christian Science Monitor, 2008. Retrieved on 14 April 2009.
  17. ^ [1] Retrieved on 31 August 2009
  18. ^ Marriage in Australia, Retrieved on 14 April 2009.


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