Religion

Australia has no state religion; Section 116 of the Australian Constitution prohibits the federal government from making any law to establish any religion, impose any religious observance, or prohibit the free exercise of any religion. In the 2016 census, 52.1% of Australians were counted as Christian, including 22.6% as Roman Catholic and 13.3% as Anglican; 30.1% of the population reported having “no religion”; 8.2% identify with non-Christian religions, the largest of these being Islam (2.6%), followed by Buddhism (2.4%), Hinduism (1.9%), Sikhism (0.5%) and Judaism (0.4%). The remaining 9.7% of the population did not provide an adequate answer. Those who reported having no religion increased conspicuously from 19% in 2006 to 22% in 2011 to 30.1% in 2016.

Before European settlement, the animist beliefs of Australia’s indigenous people had been practised for many thousands of years. Mainland Aboriginal Australians’ spirituality is known as the Dreamtime and it places a heavy emphasis on belonging to the land. The collection of stories that it contains shaped Aboriginal law and customs. Aboriginal art, story and dance continue to draw on these spiritual traditions. The spirituality and customs of Torres Strait Islanders, who inhabit the islands between Australia and New Guinea, reflected their Melanesian origins and dependence on the sea. The 1996 Australian census counted more than 7000 respondents as followers of traditional Aboriginal religion.

Since the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships in 1788, Christianity has become the major religion practised in Australia. Christian churches have played an integral role in the development of education, health and welfare services in Australia. For much of Australian history, the Church of England (now known as the Anglican Church of Australia) was the largest religious denomination, with a large Roman Catholic minority. However, multicultural immigration has contributed to a steep decline in its relative position since the Second World War. Similarly, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism have all grown in Australia over the past half-century.

Australia has one of the lowest levels of religious adherence in the world. In 2001, only 8.8% of Australians attended church on a weekly basis.