RSA backs call for the ABS to fix problems with Census question

Si Gladman / 09 November 2022

The Rationalist Society of Australia is urging its members and supporters to support the call for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to fix the problems with the religion question in the Census.

The ABS is currently reviewing the religion question, with a public consultation period open for submissions until 18 November.

As one of the community organisations in the coalition behind the Census21 – Not Religious? campaign, the RSA supports the campaign’s submission urging the ABS to change the question.

In a media release last week, the campaign recommended that the current question – “What is the person’s religion?” – be re-worded to remove the loaded bias that assumes each respondent has a religion.

The campaign’s submission said that the ABS should, at a minimum, re-word the question and insert ‘if any’ as a qualifying suffix – to make the question: “What religion does the person belong to, if any?” However, the submission also said that the preferred approach would be for the ABS to use a two-part question: a) “Does the person have a religion?” b) “What is the person’s religion?”

Read the campaign’s full submission here.

RSA president Meredith Doig said members and supporters should take the opportunity to make a submission to the ABS review process. 

“It’s so vital that our policy-makers and decision-makers have accurate Census data to inform their decisions on matters of funding and taxation, and on influence and representation in government and the media. Yet the Census is failing Australians because the religion question is clearly biased in assuming that all people are religious. As a result, the Census continues to overstate the importance of religion in Australia,” she said.

“Now is the time to make our voices heard and to demand that the ABS fixes the problems with the religion question.”

In the RSA Webinar in August, social scientist and RSA Fellow Neil Francis argued that the new Census figure for ‘no religion’ – about 39 per cent – greatly understated the real figure, which he showed should be about 55 per cent.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

All the more reason.