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Corrupted census data on religion ‘gifts’ billions to Churches

By Brian Morris

On Tuesday 10th August every Australian will be asked to complete the 5-yearly census. A primary objective of each census is to collect accurate data from individuals and households, allowing the federal government to provide, “better services and infrastructure planning – and to responsibly allocate funding and resources.”

One section of the census – over many decades – has been anything but “responsible”. New academic research now validates what secular organisations have known for years – that census Question 23 on Religious Affiliation is a loaded question that corrupts the statistics. It inflates the status of religion and allows billions in unjustified funding to be granted to wealthy church institutions, to the detriment of secular public health and education.

Costing $470 million in 2016, and tipped to be higher this August, taxpayers expect the census to be reliable and accurate. It is not. It’s crystal clear that on one question in particular, census data is hopelessly corrupted.

Research specialist, Neil Francis, has completed an academic analysis of religion in society to produced a 152-page in-depth study; Religiosity in Australia. The findings are stark, with political ramifications that run deep.

“At the 2016 census, 60% of Australians indicated an affiliation with a religious denomination. This is widely assumed a reliable headline indication of Australians’ religiosity. It isn’t. Bias in the census religion question leads to overstatement of affiliation on weak family historical grounds, rather than actual religious belief and practice.”

ABS – the Australian Bureau of Statistics – is responsible for every aspect of each census. They should know their published results are misleading, so the questions to ask are (1) why is that so, and (2) how is it that ABS has for decades rejected calls from nation-wide secular organisations for a more “balanced” question? We shall come to that shortly, but first, what is the census question ABS has been asking for so long, and why is it misleading?

Headlining the religious question is a bold statement; Religious Affiliation. Instinctively, it helps contaminate the data by inferring a family affiliated bias. Then, the loaded question; “What is the person’s religion?” Implicitly it assumes every citizen has a religion, and it sets up a wrong conclusion that Australia is a “Christian nation.”

Following each census since 2006, hundreds of submissions have called for a more ‘open’ question but ABS has rejected them all. They claim the question should not be altered as it requires “continuity” – and their priority is only to test “affiliation”, not a person’s genuine belief or religious commitment.

But the question has indeed been modified in the past, and “affiliation” simply skews the truth of a current religious conviction – or lack of belief. It encourages regression to childhood, and a family-induced faith that is no longer followed or relevant.

Patently, ABS is not interested in collecting current “here and now” data on the religious beliefs of Australians – and we shall ask “why” shortly. In ‘Religiosity in Australia’ Neil Francis again points to how the data is corrupted.

“When expressly asked if they ‘belong’ to their religious organisation, a majority – 62 percent of Australians – say they don’t, including 24 percent Catholics, 44 percent of Anglicans.”

These are alarming statistics when ABS recorded just 30 percent ‘No Religion’ in 2016. And Dr Andy Marks, the vice-chancellor of Western Sydney University, says only 7.5 percent of MPs identify as “No Religion”. Measured against the realistic public figure at 62 percent, citizens are a staggering 8 times less religious than federal MPs.

Creating a false picture of religiosity in Australia has allowed governments to hand out billions in additional taxpayer funds to wealthy churches to run their private religious enterprises in nation-wide education, health, welfare and aged care – most of which has little to do with genuine charity or public service.

Historically, an unhealthy symbiosis between religion and government is well established

Over millennia, it is inescapable that governments foster and support religion as a means of calming the masses – and they continue to do so. It’s the tried-and-true ‘carrot and stick’ philosophy of Imperial Rome – cooperate and prosper, or face the consequences. Countless philosophers have written on the symbiotic relationship between religion and government. One of the first was Lucius Annaeus Seneca – the 1st century CE stoic philosopher – who stated; “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”

So why has ABS rejected every call for greater transparency?

It is a fair question, given recent events. Church leaders and a host of Christian activists lobby MPs continually for greater religious privileges – and increasingly so since Same Sex Marriage was legalised in 2017. And it’s not unusual that governments, too, will influence sections of the public service. Pork-barrelling has a long tarnished history – most recently with rorts in sport and car park funding.

The ABC’s Insiders program, on 4th July, saw journalist Karen Middleton refer to the growing concern over the “Car Park” rorts – where Scott Morrison is said to have signed off on a swag of car park projects in marginal Liberal seats, just days prior to the 2019 election. Middleton said, “so you’re seeing public servants now making a ‘political’ defence of the government”. She pointed to departments bowing to projects that were critically flawed.

And on 5th July, online journal Independent Australia published a report that senior figures at the Reserve Bank of Australia had made inaccurate statements in support of the government. Public servants are required to serve the nation without partisan bias. There’s concern, too, that Australia has lost its top-10 global anti-corruption ranking.

Has ABS come under any pressure to maintain the status of religion?

The question needs to be asked. All parliamentarians – and mainstream media too – would do well to read the full 152-page Religiosity in Australia. The report has amassed clear evidence that public support for organised religion is not simply “in decline”, it has essentially degraded to half the figure suggested by the 2016 census.

Primarily it’s a rump of devout Catholics, evangelicals, and Pentecostals who believe that only they are qualified to govern – much like PM Scott Morrison, and others, who claim they were called to do “God’s work.”

Combining religion and politics has never ended well – particularly when conservative governments enmesh with the new “puritan” strains of religion that are based on the beliefs of biblical literalism. They deny science, climate change, and human evolution – and tragically, these parents teach their kids the same misinformation.

Regrettably, ABS helps perpetuate this fallacy of a ‘Christian nation’. And they show another bizarre distortion of reality. In this August 10th census ABS will now include ATHEISM as an optional “religion” – the provocative claim of evangelists! Has the Bureau completely lost the plot, or somehow been influenced to play religious politics?

Brian Morris is a former Journalist and Public Relations professional and the author of Sacred to Secular, a critically acclaimed analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm that it does.


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  1. Baby Jewels

    The ABS is not the benign organisation they pretend to be. Another organisation corrupted by the LNP? I would say yes.

  2. Ken

    Your article clearly explains the current situation of how the census does NOT reflect to true situation
    and the RSA Neil Francis video on Youtube backs up this with clear and precise graphs and stats.
    Let’s encourage everyone to fill in the Census form more accurately and hope the general population
    do their best so we get a more accurate and true result this time.

  3. JohnB

    Thank you for drawing attention to this bias.

    “Data is only what you want it to be.” I want mine to be factual and secular when it comes from government or its authorities; more so when the data is used to determine the types of services available to myself and others as secular Australians.

    Every secular survivor and many of the professionals who treat them knows this one from personal experience even they may not have known the facts and data behind that.

    The data also says we have been screwed over by your government in favor of Christianity, most likely because it is used as a tool to falsely gain and hold power over the people. This in Secular is an abhorrent breach of trust against every Australian and it is time it was stopped.

  4. Andrew J. Smith

    Interesting, and this ‘Middleton said, “so you’re seeing public servants now making a ‘political’ defence of the government”. She pointed to departments bowing to projects that were critically flawed.’

    A former HR manager friend started complaining when working in the Federal PS (till few years ago), of more subtly autocratic management or directions; directives come down, nothing could be discussed but simply agreed to and supported.

    In one’s own experience in higher education similar with only top down communication, casual teaching personnel, no collegiality, no innovation and old industrial methods aka Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor (scientific management) production lines.

    Fits the objective of old monocultural white Christian ‘fossils’ in business and govt. who represent a minority of mostly business and old cultural interests aka elements of Christianity, implicitly promoting radical right libertarian socio-economic ideology and eugenics

  5. Russell Craig

    ABS ran Same Sex marriage vote and it got up. . . that would have seen the happy clappers somewhat miffed I sense.

  6. wam

    It seems obvious that religion is not asking questions whilst atheism is the result of asking why, where, when? Christians like jews and muslims operate under the by men for men rules of trust me keep the faith. Indeed the plethora of catholic school adverts centre on faith. One of the questions asked in a phone survey last night was whether I agree that public school student should have 30 minutes religious instruction per week included in the curriculum? The beliefs of individuals should not be secret and protected under religious freedom. How is the filou precedent going to be used??? ps any idea where the $billions being splashed by scummo come from???

  7. Florence Howarth

    There needs to be another question on religion on the Census following the one that asks what religion. It should also ask are a practising Christain… What religion you tick.

  8. DrakeN

    I reiterate:

    “Religions are the most successful, longest enduring confidence tricks ever imposed on humanity.”

  9. New England Cocky

    @Brian Morris: This article supports my long held contention that the DoGS Case gave a false judgment against the best interests of Australian voters.

    In retrospect, there is little argument that the slum condition Catholic parochial schools were in place to give the religious a self-supporting income rather than rely upon charity and to instill self-serving parochial social values in socially disadvantaged communities.

    Even so, Coles DO NOT SUBSIDISE WOOLWORTHS and the state has a free education system for every student, including those with special needs that the Catholic parochial schools exclude because of perceived difficulties.

    Perhaps it is time to make the private schools financially accountable after too many decades of free reign in spending on pretty assets to obscure the poor academic performance of these third rate child minding facilities, before ceasing the next funding round renewal and allowing those private schools to survive on their too many earthly assets while re-directing education funding to the state schools where it truly belongs.

  10. ajogrady

    Religion is the advertising agency for a unproven and non existent product.
    For some, religion is the cloak they wear to disguise their evil and corrupt behaviour.
    Religion is the curse that stalks the gullible, the weak and the vulnerable in other words the poor that in turn are manipulated by the wealthy for for their own ends. Blind faith is responsible for the elimination of reason and logic from those afflicted with the belief in false promises whilst living in a fools paradise. It is fallacious by definition and a curse not a cure for what are mankind’s failings.
    Someone once said Fascism will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. Does this not describe the L/NP or more succinctly Australia is now in the grip of a cabal of flag waving, cross carrying, heartless and cruel misogynistic Fascists who pathologically lie to the Australian people that will lead to Australia becoming a pariah state and and economic backwater.

  11. Jack sprat

    “Religion is what stops the poor people killing the rich” Nepoleon Bonaparte .

  12. Canguro

    re. the aptronymic Alex Antic, I suppose it’s a cheap shot but one could say Antic is as antic does, given the OED definition of antic as adjectival and meaning ‘grotesque or bizarre’.

    Another poxy lawyer who believes his over-educated brain gives him the right to pontificate on matters way outside his brief.

    Wikipedia refers to his 2019 opposition to the decriminalisation of sex workers whilst simultaneously noting that they were discriminated against and hence it would be hypocritical to legalise them while opposition existed to the use of grid girls at the Australian Gran Prix. What convoluted mental mechanisms he must employ to come up with these positions!

    I look forward to him being outed as another shrubbery lurker… going through the bins outside the ABC studios looking for evidence of left-wing subversive activities that he can then forward to ASIO for appropriate action.

  13. Glenn

    “Atheism” in the Census is not a new thing. It has been a sub-category of “No Religion” for at least the past 4 Censuses. Most people with no religion just mark the box, but it’s possible to mark “Other” and write in “Atheism”, “Agnosticism”, “Humanism” or “Rationalism”, which get included in the No Religion count as sub-categories labelled “Secular beliefs”. So there is no change to this.

  14. Pingback: Opinion: Census must change to stop "Spiritual Pork-barrellling" | Plain Reason

  15. Pingback: Research on Religious Affiliation is Deeply Flawed - Death, Grief, and Belief

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