The Australian Bureau of Statistics is hoping that next year’s census will be the most comprehensive, and is expecting two thirds of households to log their forms online.
But that’s not the only sign of the times. Participants will have the option to choose “no religion”– and, for the first time ever, the option will top the list of faiths and denominations instead of at the bottom.
The move is in response to perceived bias.
Meredith Doig, president of the Rationalist Society of Australia told The Australian the change was “welcome and overdue”, adding that the option of no religion was previously presented as an afterthought. “It was like being at the end of the donkey vote,” she said.
“Bringing the ‘no religion’ option right up to the front at least means the person who is reading that list immediately sees that they have the option of ticking ‘no religion’,” said Dr Doig.
This is the first substantial change made to the question of religion in more than a generation.
The number of people reporting no religion in Australia has increased substantially over the past hundred years, from one in 250 people to one in five, according to the ABS.
In 1911 there were 10,000 people (0.4 per cent) who chose the option ‘No religion’ on their Census form; in 2011 there were just under 4.8 million (22 per cent of Australians). As a single response to the question on religion, only Catholic was higher at 25 per cent of the population, with Anglican third highest at 17 per cent.
The ABS said it had received many requests to change the religious affiliation question.
“After user consultation and testing, the ABS has decided to move the ‘no religion’ response category to be the first response category in the question, so it will be more consistent with other questions and the order of their response categories,” the ABS said.
Let’s talk: Do you think the change to the census is warranted? Does it make the census more fair or is there some other agenda at play?