ABS – cultural diversity

Adapted from a longer article by Rev Dr Apwee Ting, Uniting Church Assembly National Consultant and published here.

The 2021 Census has revealed Australia is more culturally and religious diverse than ever. For the first time, first and second generation migrants make up more than half of the Australian population (51.5%).

The data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released last week showed that:

  • 27.6% of the population were born overseas.
  • Top 5 languages used at home, other than English, were Mandarin (2.7%), Arabic (1.4%), Vietnamese (1.3%), Cantonese (1.2%) and Punjabi (0.9%). 
  • Top 5 ancestries were English (33.0%), Australian (29.9%), Irish (9.5%), Scottish (8.6%) and Chinese (5.5%). 
  • Top 5 religious affiliations were No religion (38.9%), Catholic (20%), Anglican (9.8%), Islam (3.2%) and Hinduism (2.7%).

The communities we live in are growing in diversity. Our neighbourhoods are made up of people of different cultures, languages and belief systems.

These changes have important implications for how we understand our identity and how we live out our life as the Church in Australia.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Uniting Church recognised and embraced its culturally diverse communities when in 1985 we declared “We are a Multicultural Church”.

As our wider community becomes more diverse, so do our faith communities.

There are many emerging, vibrant and growing culturally and linguistically diverse communities across our synods. This is something we should celebrate.

Diversity is a gift from God to be celebrated with joyfulness. Diversity challenges us to expand our grace margin to accept, embrace and celebrate those who are different from us.

The recent 16th Assembly passed a proposal that seeks to deepen the Uniting Church’s commitment to living faith and life interculturally. This recognises there is more work for us to do.

We intentionally seek to become an Intercultural Church by building trusting, open and honest relationships among all cultures and languages.

The Census revealed Christianity is still the most common religion in Australia, with over 40 per cent (43.9%) identifying as Christian. However, this has reduced from over 50% (52.1%) in 2016 and from over 60% (61.1%) in 2011.

Other religions are growing but continue to make up a small proportion of the population. Hinduism has grown by 55.3% to 684,002 people, or 2.7% of the population. Islam has grown to 813,392 people, which is 3.2% of the Australian population.

In responding to religious diversity, the Assembly’s Seeking Common Ground Circle invites people to participate in our work across faiths, and with people of no faith. We recognise the importance of ‘sacred ground’ or a ‘space of grace’ when we accept each person as made in the image of God and beloved by God, regardless of their beliefs.

The Uniting Church has a role to play in modelling workplace practices and in calling for policies and laws which ensure all people, of all faiths, can continue to practice their faith without fear or discrimination.

With have consistently said that any legislative provisions for religious freedom should be driven by an overriding focus on enabling and maintaining a society which encourages mutual respect for all beliefs, including those of no faith, and is free from discrimination that demeans and diminishes people’s dignity.

There is also the opportunity we have of coming together across our different faiths or beliefs, to build trust, friendship and to learn from one another. Each year the Uniting Church co-hosts an Iftar Dinner with the Affinity Intercultural Foundation. These are important occasions building trust and understanding.

Indeed, the latest Census data has important implications for us as a Church, but we should not miss the doors of opportunity.

Our life, culturally and religiously, has been enriched by diversity, and will continue to be so.


ABS – religious affiliation

Reflecting on the ABS data on religious affiliation.

Adapted from an article by Rev Sharon Hollis, President of the Uniting Church in Australia and posted here.

The 2021 Census figures released last week reflect a trend for people to be less interested in and committed to the Christian faith and organised Christian churches in particular.  

For the first time, fewer than half the Australian population identified as Christian (43.9% down from 52% in 2016) and 38.9% said they had no religion (up from 22% in 2011).  

While these figures point to decline, they are also an opportunity to reset, to re-examine our life as the Church and to discern the call of the Spirit in the transformation that is taking place.  

There is an opportunity to reshape how we see ourselves in the public space. We are one voice among many in the public conversation. We need to develop a deeper theology of living our faith away from the centre of society.  

There is an opportunity to listen to those who no longer identify with organised Christian churches. To wonder, with humility, why fewer people are interested in hearing from the church about the Gospel. 

It demands a willingness to change those things in our life that hinder people from hearing the good news of love, justice and life that the story of Jesus proclaims.  

Most of all, we should not lose heart. We need to be creative, courageous and hopeful about the good news of life in Jesus Christ. Let us seek fresh and new ways to share the story of Jesus, seeking to witness to God’s transforming love in all we do.


Backhouse Lecture 2022

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) Australia has been meeting (2-10 July). The Backhouse Lecture is a highlight every year.
This year, the theme was “Creating hope: Working for justice in catastrophic times”presented by Yarrow Goodley on 5 July.

In the Lecture, Yarrow looks at the critical issue of climate justice – at how our responses to the climate emergency have the potential for great suffering, as well as great redemption. In a world where the rich pollute, and the poor suffer, we do not just need to address our rapidly-warming planet, but also the injustices which drive this environmental catastrophe. Yarrow, in conversation with Quaker and non-Quaker activists, explores the history of this crisis, and the despair and hope we must negotiate in coming to grips with a problem of planetary proportions. This crisis offers us an unparalleled opportunity to remake our political, economic and social systems, in ways that support a liveable planet, while addressing the profound injustices of our age, especially racial inequality. Yarrow asks us ‘what can we do?’ and seeks to offer ways forward that create hope not just for all people, but for all the living creatures on our small blue-green planet.
About the author: Yarrow was nineteen years old in 1988, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded, and the IPCC’s five-yearly reports have sounded ever more dire warnings throughout their adulthood. Having worked all their life as an early childhood educator, Yarrow is reminded every day of the uncertain future that awaits their young students. These children will be Yarrow’s current age in 2070 – a future that may be either apocalyptic or utopian, depending on our actions now. As a Quaker, an activist, and a gardener, Yarrow aims for that utopian future, even when the path to that place is murky.

Sandy's Comments

Founding Day for Salvation Army

July 2nd is Founders’ Day, and is an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of General William and Catherine Booth, who founded The Salvation Army in London, England, in 1865. ⁣Celebrating 157 years of the Salvation Army helping those in need.

⁣William’s quote is a reminder of the vision that wherever there is hardship or injustice, the Salvos will live, love and fight, alongside others, to transform Australia one life at a time with the love of Jesus. ⁣

Salvation Army website


ABS – religion in Australia

(edited from ABC article based on 2021 census statistics released this week)

The 2021 census has revealed a growing nation – more than 25 million people – that is more diverse than ever.

It also depicts a country undergoing significant cultural changes.

For the first time, fewer than half of Australians identified as Christian, though Christianity remained the nation’s most common religion (declared by 43.9% of the population).

Meanwhile, the number of Australians who said they had no religion rose to 38.9% (from 30.1% in 2016).

The data also shows almost half of Australians had a parent born overseas, and more than a quarter were themselves born overseas.

Christianity was the stated religion of about 90% of Australians until 1966, when its dominance began to wane.

The ABS says migration has affected the trends since, though much of the change is due to the growth of atheist and secular beliefs.

The fastest-growing religions, according to the latest census, are Hinduism (2.7% of the population) and Islam (3.2%), though these worshippers remain small minorities.

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Nazi symbol prohibition

Victoria has become Australia’s first state to specifically ban the display of the Nazi swastika.

SBS News
The Age

Under a new law, the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022, people who intentionally exhibit the symbol face up to a year in jail or a A$22,000 fine. The bill, hailed as a “thunderous blow” to white supremacists was passed in the Victorian Parliament on 21st June 2022.

The legislation was introduced in May 2022 to Parliament, when deputy opposition leader David Southwick, who is Jewish and has campaigned for the ban for a number of years, urged the government to have the new laws come into effect immediately.

The Bill was passed with bipartisan support.

Ros Spence, Minister for Multicultural Affairs, said, “These laws are part of our unwavering commitment to challenge antisemitism, hatred and racism wherever and whenever they occur.”

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said “nobody has the right to spread racism, hate or anti-Semitism”. (Statement from Premier’s Department here).

Like many places globally, Australia has seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in recent times.

Victoria already has anti-hate speech laws – but they have been criticised for having “gaps”. 

A push for reform intensified in 2020 when a couple raised a swastika flag above their home, angering the local community.

State officials called the new legislation a “proud moment”. Three other states have said they will introduce similar laws.

The Nazi swastika has become internationally recognised for representing anti-Semitism and racism after Adolf Hitler adopted it as the Nazi Party symbol in 1920.

“The Nazi symbol glorifies one of the most hateful ideologies in history – its public display does nothing but cause further pain and division,” said Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes. “It’s a proud moment to see these important laws pass with bipartisan support. I’m glad to see that no matter what side of politics, we can agree that this vile behaviour will not be tolerated in Victoria.”

There are exemptions for showing the symbol in historical, educational and artistic contexts. It can also be used in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious contexts, as it has been for millennia, where it represents peace and well-being.

Faith groups in Victoria have welcomed the state government’s decision to pass legislation banning the public display of the Nazi symbol.

Surinder Jain, Vice President of the Hindu Council of Australia says the Bill will help battle public confusion around the difference between the Nazi symbol and the ancient Indian swastika. “Because when we display it people misunderstand it to be the Nazi hate symbol Hakenkreuz – the hooked cross. This Bill makes a clear distinction between the two. It does the right thing by banning the hate symbol. And it does the right thing by exempting sacred symbols used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.”

“The bill will help battle public confusion around the difference between the Nazi symbol and the ancient Indian swastika”

(Surinder Jain, Vice President of the Hindu Council of Australia)

Victoria’s Jewish community also welcomed the bill. Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission (a Jewish organization founded to fight antisemitism) Dvir Abramovich began campaigning for the ban five years ago. He said a Jewish person being confronted by the Nazi swastika is “as threatening as being confronted by a gun”.

“I think people often forget what the Nazi swastika represents – the final solution. That is, the extermination of six million Jews in gas chambers. It represents the desire by the Third Reich to eliminate every single Jewish person on earth. It is the ultimate emblem of evil”.

Andy Meddick MP, addressing the Victorian Parliament, said: ‘This Bill today is not just about a symbol but about an ideology that took an ancient and respected symbol, perverted it, warped it and desecrated it so deeply that the world has come to see it almost exclusively as a symbol of a regime of such deep rooted hatred, murder, rape, genocide, and acts so vile that it’s hard to believe the human species could be capable of them”.

People will be prosecuted only if they defy a first request to remove the symbol.

Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich – who campaigned for the law – called it a “thunderous blow” to the neo-Nazi movement.

“As our nation confronts the deep stain of a resurgent white-supremacist movement that peddles a dangerous and dehumanising agenda, this parliament has declared that the symbol of Nazism will never find a safe harbour in our state,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents around the world dramatically increased last year, according to a study by Tel Aviv University. Australia had 88 in one month alone – a national record.

In 2020, Australia’s intelligence chief warned of a “real threat” to the country’s security from neo-Nazis. He said “small cells” of right-wing extremists were meeting regularly to salute Nazi flags and share their ideology.

Since the pandemic began, unions and others have also accused far-right groups of “infiltrating” large protests about lockdowns and other restrictions.

The new laws will come into effect in six months to allow for a campaign about the origins of the religious and cultural swastika to be rolled out. The government says it has brought forward the date when the legislation will come into effect, originally planned to take 12 months, based on feedback from religious, legal and community groups.

News Sandy's Comments

ABS 2011 Census

Find out what the (August) 2021 Census of Population and Housing data reveals about where we live, our ancestry and what languages we speak. 

10am, Tuesday 28th June 2022 at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra and live streamed on Tuesday 28 June 2022 at 10:00am AEST. A link to the live stream will be made available on the ABS webpage.

If you are unable to tune in on the day, the launch will be recorded and available on the ABS website and the ABS YouTube channel after the event.

For the first time, the Census will also provide information about long term health conditions and service in the Australian Defence Force.

Presenters include:

  • Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury
  • Dr David Gruen AO, Australian Statistician
  • Professor Sandra Harding AO, Emeritus Professor, James Cook University and former Chair of the Australian Advisory Council (2001-2006)
  • Teresa Dickinson PSM, Deputy Australian Statistician and Senior Responsible Officer for the 2021 Census.

An audience question and answer session will follow from 10:30am AEST. A platform to ask questions will be available from this page until the end of the session. If you would like your name and organisation read out with your question, please add this to the top of your question. Questions will be moderated.

The ABS will release 2021 Census data in a staged approach. There will be three key release phases.

  1. 28 June 2022 – most topics will be released for almost all geographic outputs for place of usual residence and for place of enumeration on Census night.
  2. October 2022 – a smaller number of topics including employment and location-based variables will be released.
  3. Early to mid-2023 – complex topics that require additional processing such as distance to work, socio-economic indexes for areas (SEIFA) will be released.

WCC statement on Ukraine

WCC central committee statement on war in Ukraine: “war, with the killing and all the other miserable consequences it entails, is incompatible with God’s very nature”.

Deploring the illegal and unjustifiable war “inflicted on the people and sovereign state of Ukraine” the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee lamented “the awful and continuing toll of deaths, destruction and displacement, of destroyed relationships and ever more deeply entrenched antagonism between the people of the region, of escalating confrontation globally, of increased famine risk in food insecure regions of the world, of economic hardship and heightened social and political instability in many countries.”

In a public statement, the WCC governing body declared that “war, with the killing and all the other miserable consequences it entails, is incompatible with God’s very nature and will for humanity and against our fundamental Christian and ecumenical principles.” 

The statement further “rejects any misuse of religious language and authority to justify armed aggression.”

The governing body reiterated “the appeal of the global fellowship of churches represented in the WCC for an end to this tragic war, for an immediate ceasefire to halt the death and destruction, and for dialogue and negotiations to secure a sustainable peace.”

The statement further calls for “a much greater investment by the international community in searching for and promoting peace, rather than in escalating confrontation and division” and affirms “the mandate and special role of the World Council of Churches in accompanying its member churches in the region and as a platform and safe space for encounter and dialogue in order to address the many pressing issues for the world and for the ecumenical movement arising from this conflict, and the obligation of its members to seek unity and together serve the world, and therefore urges members of the ecumenical fellowship in Russia and Ukraine to make use of this platform.”

Read the full statement here.

News Sandy's Comments

A commitment to peace

(original post 15th June 2022)

Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca has been serving as acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches.

He reflects, “We all remember March 2020. The world went into lockdown as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe.”

Yet the WCC has remained a vibrant fellowship of churches.

“Wars and conflicts have erupted in different parts of the world, bringing loss of lives, destruction, famine, dislocations of populations, refugees. At every step, it has been my prayer that the WCC can be a space for dialogue, for listening and caring for one another, and for just peace and reconciliation.”

As followers of Christ, we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. “It would be very easy to use the language of the politicians, but we are called to use the language of faith, of our faith. It is easy to exclude, excommunicate, and demonize, but we are called as WCC to use a free and safe platform of encounter and dialogue, to meet and listen to one another even if and when we disagree.”

This has always been the way of the WCC, he said. “I believe in the power of dialogue in the process toward reconciliation,” he said. “Imposed peace is not peace; a lasting peace has to be a just peace.”

War cannot be just or holy, he said. “In this time, until the end of my responsibility as acting general secretary that you have entrusted to me, I will not stop speaking against any aggression, invasion, or war, I will continue being prophetic, but I will do my best to keep the WCC what it was meant to be and to keep the table of dialogue open,” he said.

This upcoming 11th WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe has a focus on love, compassion, reconciliation, healing, and unity – even in the context of a global pandemic and war.

The WCC is at a turning point in history, Sauca concluded. “We need to stay together with strong bonds of love and commitment, our legacy for the period post-Karlsruhe being a strong and meaningful WCC.”

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Changes to Equal Opportunity Act (2010)

Source: Justice and Community Safety, Victoria State Government

The Victorian Government recently made changes to the Equal Opportunity Act (2010) regarding changes to religious exceptions in anti-discrimination laws

These changes came into effect on 14 June 2022.

Under the changes, religious bodies and schools are prohibited from discriminating (except in limited circumstances where the discrimination is reasonable and proportionate) against people based on:

  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • lawful sexual activity
  • marital status
  • parental status
  • gender identity.

These changes ensure a fairer balance between the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from discrimination.

Discrimination by religious bodies and schools in relation to employment

From 14 June 2022, religious bodies and schools can only discriminate against employees or potential employees where:

  • conformity with religious beliefs is an inherent (i.e. core, essential or important) requirement of the job
  • the other person cannot meet that inherent requirement because of their religious belief or activity
  • the discrimination is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

Discrimination by religious bodies and schools in other circumstances

From 14 June 2022, schools can only discriminate based on a student, or prospective student’s, religious beliefs or activities. However, the discrimination must be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances and:

  • to do so would conform with the school’s doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion, or
  • the discrimination is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of the school’s religion.

Further changes will on occur on 14 December 2022 for religious bodies that provide goods or services funded by the Victorian Government. From this date, when providing goods and services funded by the Victorian Government, religious bodies will only be able to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief. They will not be able to discriminate based on other personal characteristics.   

Discrimination by individuals

There is no longer an exception for individuals. This means an individual will not be able to discriminate against another person in the circumstances covered by the Equal Opportunity Act in order to comply with their religious beliefs.

What will not change

The government has not changed the law that allows religious bodies and schools to discriminate in relation to:

  • ordaining or appointing priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • training or educating people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • selecting or appointing people to perform functions relating to, or participating in, any religious observance or practice.

More information on what this means for you is at (External link).

Information in other languages

If you would like information about these reforms, including in your own language, call the VEOHRC’s Enquiry Line on 1300 292 153 (External link), open 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday. 

If you need an interpreter, call 1300 152 494 (External link).