The Australian Bureau of Statistics has confirmed the “Religion Question” in the 2016 census will very likely be changed.
A major trial of the 2016 census has been conducted in selected areas of South Australia and Western Australia over recent weeks. A new form of the Religion Question was included, where the option to tick “No religion” comes before the list of religions. The religions listed will be: Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Presbyterian, Buddhism, Islam, Orthodox, Baptist and Hinduism. Respondents will be able to specify “Other” at the bottom of the list, with examples given including Judaism, Salvation Army, and humanism.
In the lead up to the major trial, a series of focus groups and one-to-one interviews was conducted which tested different formats for the Religion Question. An ABS spokesperson said there might be further change in the 2021 census.
Data from the major trial will be analysed before the final format is submitted to the Federal Government for approval, scheduled for the first quarter of 2015. Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Steve Ciobo (Member for Moncrieff, Qld) has carriage of this process.
The change to the Religion Question has been the target of lobbying by freethought organisations for many years. Having the “No religion” option at the bottom of the list has systematically overestimated the number of ‘religious’ Australians, skewing the allocation of scarce government resources. The ABS said they were expecting to see a change in the time series data.
Nearly half (438 of 915) of all submissions to the ABS regarding the content of the census related to the Religion Question.