What Aussies say about religion and politics

Faith is taking a battering – on multiple fronts.

Only 22 per cent of Australians believe politicians act in the public interest and the number of Australians who say they hold religious beliefs has plummeted.

Newly released Roy Morgan data sourced from an almost 20-year-long survey found that in 2003, almost three-quarters of Australians (73.2 per cent) said they belonged to a religion. By the end of 2020, that figure had fallen to just over half (53.4 per cent).

In 2003, 68.1 per cent of the population described themselves as Christian; in 2020, that figure had dropped to 44 per cent. The Sikh religion is one of the fastest growing groups in Australia with more than 125,000 members.

And the proportion of Australians who describe themselves as having no religion has risen from 26 per cent in 2003 to 45.5 per cent in 2020.

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Despite these changes, the percentage of Australians who say they regularly attend a church or other place of worship has changed very little, from 18.8 per cent in 2003 to 17.4 per cent in 2020.

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine says: “Australia and Australians have changed in many different ways over the past two decades or so … There has been a drop of over 24 per cent in those who describe themselves as Christian.

“However, while the percentage of the population who hold religious beliefs has dropped markedly, the percentage who say they regularly attend a church or other place of worship has remained remarkably consistent. The key word here being ‘regularly’. At Easter, along with Christmas, regulars numbers are boosted by others making annual or biannual ‘special celebration’ visits to church.”

Last year, a teachers’ union called for the removal of scripture classes from public schools, saying they should be taught outside normal school hours.

New South Wales Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said religious education was a private matter for parents and their children.

“School time is for teaching and learning, and special religious instruction should not be interrupting the crucial learning of students during the school day,” Mr Gavrielatos said.

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Moving onto that other ‘favourite’ topic – politics.

The annual Next25 Navigator Public Interest Index shows Australians, on the whole, are deeply unhappy with their public institutions.

In addition to only 22 per cent believing politicians act in the public interest, just 27 per cent believe politicians prioritise voters over donors.

The index found that half of Australians believe the nation is performing well as a democracy, and retirees and high-income earners rate that aspiration more highly than 20 to 29-year-olds, women and low-income earners.

Next25 chief Ralph Ashton said: “Our research found four in five Australians believe politicians have the most say in setting priorities for Australia, but only one in five believe politicians are acting in the public interest.

“This is a clear fail for the political class.”

The index, based on responses from about 2800 people, found that dissatisfaction was widespread in multiple areas. Of the six institutions measured – politics, business, media, public service, academia and NGOs – none scored more than 40 per cent.

NGOs ranked highest for acting in the public interest (40 per cent), followed by academia and experts (37 per cent), business (32 per cent), the public service (27 per cent), the media (26 per cent) and politicians (22 per cent).

“This is a massive wake-up call for politicians, for business, for media, for the public service and even for NGOs,” Mr Ashton said.

“They’re either not listening to the public or they’re communicating really poorly what they are doing in the public interest. Either way, every sector we asked the public about has a big problem.”

Is religion an important part of your life? Has that changed over the decades? In what ways?

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Written by Janelle Ward