Non-believers by far Australia’s largest single ‘religious’ group: Now give us the recognition we deserve

The godless in Australia say enough is enough.

After today’s release of Census data showing that non-believers make up 30.1% of the population – easily overtaking the previously-highest response “Catholic” for the first time in Census history – the Atheist Foundation of Australia says it is time to stop pandering to religious minorities and take religion out of politics.

Kylie Sturgess, president of the AFA, says:

“The godless in Australia is a huge force to be reckoned with. Whether you’re an atheist, agnostic, humanist, rationalist, a free-thinker or even someone who considers themselves spiritual but not religious, you’re part of a powerful voting block that deserves to be heard.

Our political, business and cultural leaders must listen to the non-religious when we demand public policy that’s based on evidence, not religious beliefs. This includes policy on abortion, marriage equality, voluntary euthanasia, religious education in state schools and anything else where religious beliefs hold undue influence.”

The AFA says while certain religions – represented by the Australian Christian Lobby, for example – enjoy close connections with certain politicians, atheist representatives have tried, and failed, on multiple occasions to meet with policy-makers.

Kylie Sturgess says:

“It seems to us that certain religious groups get automatic consideration in the public policy sphere. They enjoy a privileged position that isn’t afforded to other large groups, such as the non-religious. That has to stop. Politicians, business leaders and influencers take heed: this is an important milestone in Australia’s history. Those who marked down ‘No religion” deserve much more recognition. We will be making our opinions known, and there’s power in numbers.”

The Atheist Foundation of Australia will kick-start this much-needed recognition with Reason to Hope, the largest convention of its kind in the southern hemisphere, to be staged in Melbourne in February next year. Headlining the global atheist convention will be Sir Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, with British science comedian Robin Ince, American author Greta Christina and Australians Jane Caro, Tracey Spicer, Rod Quantock, Clementine Ford and Jason Ball also scheduled to appear.


Tickets are now on sale for the 2018 Global Atheist Convention, via


In the lead up to the 2016 Census, the AFA led a public awareness campaign about changes to the way the religion question was asked. For more background, see below.


The AFA’s national public awareness campaign to ‘Mark no religion’ ran for six weeks prior to Census night.

It included signage at more than 500 pharmacies and supermarket carparks, on various websites, on one billboard in Melbourne, and via social media.


An example of the AFA's advertising campaign signage

The campaign was instigated and paid for by the Atheist Foundation of Australia, with help from crowdfunding and other groups such as the Rationalist Society of Australia, Sydney Atheists and the Humanist Society of Victoria.

It invited Australians to mark ‘No religion’ on their Census form, if that best described their religious state.



The 2016 Census was the first in Australia’s history where the ‘No religion’ option sat at the top of ten possible responses, rather than at the bottom.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics made this change to make the religion question consistent with the way other questions were asked on the form.

Australia’s non-religious population has grown since the first Census in 1911, from 0.4% to today’s 30.1%. Up until now, only ‘Catholic’ had a higher response rate, at 25%.


Globally, the numbers of ‘non-religious’ is increasing. Religiously-unaffiliated people account for 16% of the world’s population. They make up the largest “religious group” in seven countries and territories, and they are the second-largest group in roughly half (48%) of the world’s nations *.

In 2016, Ireland’s number of “non-religious” people increased by a whopping 73%. Scotland’s increased from 40% to 52%. In 2014 the percentage of non-religious people in England and Wales grew from 25% to 48.5%. In 2013, New Zealand’s ‘non-religious’ numbers grew from 35% to 42%.

A survey of more than 35,000 Americans found that the percentage of adults who described themselves as Christians dropped by nearly eight percentage points in seven years, from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. *

* What is each country’s second-largest religious group


Kylie Sturgess

Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc

  • Brett Davis

    Great news! This might get the other 69.9% of Australians thinking …

    • John Davidson of Kialla East 3

      Excuse me. They are religious, they don’t know how to think.

  • Robert McLean

    The religiously indisposed will perhaps not be meeting this news with a hearty hallelujah!

  • Andre X

    This is just the beginning. Just give us another ten years. You aint seen nuthin yet.
    List of demands:
    1. Religion out of politics, including no prayers in parliament.
    2. No Chaplins in schools.
    3. No taxpayer funds for faith-based schools.
    4. No tax exemption for religious organisations (ok except for their charity work).
    Feel free to add to this list.

    • PaulMurrayCbr

      5 – consensual sex is not a crime, even if it involves an exchange of consideration
      6 – growing a little dope on the balcony and smoking it after work is not a crime

      I’d expand on #4: religious proselytism is not charitable per se. Holding religious services is not charitable per se. Churches should be treated the same as gyms – people join these things because they decide that going to church/gym is good for them, and that’s ok.

      7 – actively spreading anti-science misinformation should be an offence when done by a company or other incorporated body. Incorporated bodies are not natural persons and exist at the sufferance of the state – they ought not be permitted to operate if what they are doing is contrary to the public interest. The rightful judge of the public interest is a democratically elected government.

    • Clancy Aimers-McGuinness

      No Chaplains in tje ADF or other secular government funded orgnisations either.

  • EdwinaCanberra

    I support evidence-based public policy – not belief-system influenced public policy – & the strict separation of Church & State.

    I’ve long been concerned that the influence of religious groups – especially, but not only, the Catholic Church – on politics & policy is not consistent with good public policy development in a secular society.

    I support moves to challenge this & welcome AFA’s efforts on this front.

  • AtheismRules

    Projecting based on the last few decades :
    a) By 2035 “NON RELIGIOUS” will be bigger than ALL Christian groups combined.
    b) By 2042 “NON RELIGIOUS” will be bigger than ALL Religions combined.

  • killerbee

    Next we need to move on those politicians like Kevin Andrews, Tony Abbott and that fool senator from Tasmania (I can’t be bothered looking up his name) and all those others that put their religious interest above the interest of Australians. We need to target these people in pre selections if you’re a party member or in the general elections and get them out of Parliament

  • Andre X

    OK, yes I agree. That is sort of what I was aiming at.

  • Shantakumar Wickramasinghe

    In Australia regular TV programs are available to numerous religion groups from Christianity, Buddhism, Islam etc. to Sai Baba worshipers. Why the Atheist foundation do not have such TV programs? It is high time we Atheists to get in to Australian TV. Rationally thinking Australians would love to see and hear Richard Dawkins in TV I believe.

  • ulysses8765

    Atheists and other non-believers should press for one very important change in my view – affirmations to religious books/deities should be removed altogether from the court process in all legal jurisdictions of Australia for a numer of extremely important reasons including:
    1.There is only one recognized legal authority under our system of law in our country and it is neither anybody’s favourite supreme deity or any “holy’ text or your choosing.
    2.Religious affirmations are not recognized in other areas of Australian law – e.g. legal marriage versus religious marriage.
    2.So called, “systems of law” set out in “holy books” neither reflect our system of law nor advocate adherence to it.
    3.There is no universally agreed interpretation of the “laws” set out in any of those holy texts.
    4.Because our system of law is based upon strict rules of evidence, not divine creed, faith, feelings in your gut, or personal experiences of god. Thus all holy books are anathema to evidence based rules of law.
    5.There is no agreed methodology or process that can be used to convert, transpose, transfer or adapt consistently and accurately “divine” edicts, “holy laws” or other religious tenets to the common or criminal law.
    5.Religious affirmations and other influences in law/legal proceedings have never evolved from the natural history of western secular law but rather domination of one or more religious institutions over the social order.

    The irony of participating in a system of law defined by rules of evidence and swearing on holy books utterly devoid of anything resembling evidence has never escaped me.

  • Mglass

    The increase in the “no religion” answer in the 2016 census was partly due to moving the option from the bottom of the question on religion to the top.

    However, there’s another measures of secularisation in the 2016 census: the religiosity of succeeding generations of adults. Those 65 and over were only 16.1% no religion. People from 50-64 were 25.2% no religion (more than in the 2011 census for all ages). People from 35-49 were 30.9% no religion and people from 18-24 were 38.7% no religion. These figures suggest that the no religion figures are set to rise even more in the next census.

    Another measure of secularisation is the rate of civil marriages in Australia. In the 1960s it varied between 10.63% (1968) and 11.63% (1961). It was 11.92% in 1970, 36% in 1980, 42.1% in 1990, 52.8% in 2000, 69.2% in 2010 and 74.9% in 2015. In 2015, only 25% of marriages were conducted by ministers of religion. That’s a huge difference in half a century.