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International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 282,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 19.3 million. According to the 1996 census, 71 percent of citizens consider themselves to be Christian, including 27 percent Roman Catholic, 22 percent who are Anglican, and 22 percent who are of other Christian denominations. During the first census in 1911, 96 percent of citizens identified themselves as Christian. Traditional Christian denominations have seen their total number and proportion of affiliates stagnate or decrease significantly since the 1950's. Of the Christian denominations, Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses showed the largest increase in members from 1991 to 1996, 16 percent and 12 percent respectively. In 1996 approximately 17 percent of citizens considered themselves to have no religion, a 35 percent increase from 1991.

At the time of the European settlement of the country, aboriginal inhabitants followed religions that were animistic in nature, involving belief in spirits behind the forces of nature and the influence of ancestral spirit beings. Aboriginal beliefs and spirituality, even among those aborigines who identify themselves as members of a traditional organized religion, are intrinsically linked to the land generally and to certain sites of significance in particular. According to the 1996 census, 2 percent of Aborigines and 0.04 percent of all citizens practice traditional indigenous religions. Almost 72 percent of Aborigines practice some form of Christianity, while 16 percent list no religion. The percentage of Aborigines who practice Christianity and who list no religion mirrors almost exactly the percentages in the wider community.

Recent increased immigration from Southeast Asia and the Middle East has expanded considerably the numbers of citizens who identify themselves as Buddhists and Muslims, about 200,000 and 68,000 respectively. Affiliates of non-Christian religions, while only 3.5 percent of the population, have shown the largest increases in members since the 1991 census. Stated affiliation with Hinduism increased by 55 percent, with Buddhism by 43 percent, with Islam by 36 percent, and with Judaism by 8 percent. These changes have resulted partly from trends in immigration. In 1996 approximately 48 percent of those who had arrived in the country since 1991 were Christians, 23 percent had no religion, 8 percent were affiliated with Buddhism, 8 percent with Islam, and 1 percent with Judaism.

Missionaries work in the country; however, there are no current statistics available on their number.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. A provision of the Constitution precludes the adoption of a state religion. Minority religions are given equal rights to land, status, and building of places of worship.

Religious groups are not required to register.

The Government has put in place extensive programs to promote public acceptance of diversity and multicultural pluralism, although none are focused specifically on religion.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

In a 1998 report on freedom of religion and belief in the country by the federally funded but independent Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), the Commission stated that "despite the legal protections that apply in different jurisdictions, many Australians suffer discrimination on the basis of religious belief or non-belief, including members of both mainstream and non-mainstream religions and those of no religious persuasion." Many non-Christian adherents have complained to the HREOC that the overwhelming dominance of traditional Christianity in civic life has the potential to marginalize large numbers of citizens. However, they have not presented any concrete evidence of such marginalization. Persons who suffer discrimination on the basis of religion may resort to the court system, which is an effective method of obtaining redress.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of the promoting of human rights.

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