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A couple fill out a paper Census form (ABS)

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has backed Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB’s fight against the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which wants to effectively wipe religion out of the next Census. Source: The Catholic Weekly. 

The ABS plans to change “What is your religion?” to “Does the person have a religion?” with a tick box for “no” but not one for “yes” in the 2026 Census.

Instead of providing a list with tick boxes of the most prevalent religions in the country as in previous counts, there will only be an option to write an answer in a blank space.

Writing in The Australian on April 30, Archbishop Costelloe said the write-in-only option is an “unwarranted complication” that will result in many responses being “invalid”, “indecipherable”, or “ambiguous”.

Archbishop Fisher said Australians pride themselves on being the most successful multicultural nation in the world.

“The most recent Census showed that recently-arrived migrants are far more likely to be affiliated with a religion than the general population.

“Making the Census religion question more complex will make it difficult for those for whom English might be a second or third language to record their religious identity, and the resultant paucity of data will limit the ability of governments and faith communities to be able to direct assistance where it will be most needed.

“The majority of Australians profess a religious faith and should be able to easily state so on the Census.”

Trudy Dantis, of the ACBC National Centre for Pastoral Research, said the phrasing of the new proposed question would be a “double bias” against people of faith.

Dr Dantis said her biggest concern was that the new question about religion will “definitely impact standardisation and the ability to track responses over time.”

“The tick box format has been implemented successfully in successive censuses and gives us really rich data.

“The highest response rate for this question, which is a voluntary question, was 93.1 percent in the 2021 Census.”


Back in your box: Archbishops slam planned changes to the 2026 Census (By Marilyn Rodrigues, The Catholic Weekly)