What is the role of the godless in Australia’s current social and political climate? What level of influence should the the non-religious have in Australia’s version of secularism?

The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) is calling for a national discussion on these questions, given the 2016 Census results.

With xx% of Australians marking “No religion” on their Census form and overtaking the previously-highest response “Catholic” for the first time in Census history, it is an issue of utmost importance.

Kylie Sturgess, president of the AFA, says:

“The godless in Australia is a 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 as much as they listen to the faithful on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, voluntary euthanasia, religious education in state schools and anything else where religious beliefs affect policy.”

The AFA will kick-start this nationwide discussion 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.

Kylie Sturgess says:

“Politicians, business leaders and influencers take heed, because this is an important milestone in Australia’s history. All of us who marked down ‘No religion’ did so because we want to talk about secularism in the Australian context. We will be making our opinions known, and there’s power in numbers.

We welcome input from the religious and the non-religious alike, so we invite everyone to be part of Reason to Hope. It’ll be a great chance to talk constructively about the issues that matter to all of us, in a thought-provoking but also entertaining way.”

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.

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 XX%. 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