The presence of Christianity in Australia began with the foundation of a British colony at New South Wales in 1788. Christianity remains the largest religion in Australia, though declining religiosity and diversifying immigration intakes of recent decades have seen the percentage of the population identifying as Christian in the national census decline from 96.1% at the time of the Federation of Australia in the 1901 census, to 52.1% in the 2016 census.
In the 2016 census, Catholics constituted 22.6% of the population, the Anglicans 13.3%, and the Uniting Church had 3.7%. Post-war immigration has grown the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and there are large and growing Pentecostal groups, such as Sydney’s Hillsong Church. According to the 2016 census, Queensland (56.03%) and New South Wales (55.18%) had Christian majorities, while the lowest proportion of Christians were found in the Northern Territory (47.69%) and the Australian Capital Territory (45.38%).
The Christian footprint in Australian society and culture remains broad, particularly in areas of social welfare and education provision and in the marking of festivals such as Easter and Christmas. Though the Australian Constitution of 1901 protects freedom of religion and separation of church and state, the Church of England held legal privileges in the early colonial period, when Catholicism in particular was suppressed, and sectarianism was a feature of Australian politics well into the 20th century, as was collaboration by Church and State in seeking the conversion of the indigenous population to Christianity. Today, the Catholic Church is second only to government as a provider of social services, through organisations such as Catholic Social Services Australia and the St Vincent De Paul Society. The Anglican Church’s Anglicare network is similarly engaged in areas such as emergency relief, aged care, family support service and help for the homeless. Other denominations assist through networks like UnitingCare Australia and the Salvation Army, and around a quarter of students attend church owned schools.
Historically significant Australian Christians have included the Reverend John Dunmore Lang, Saint Mary MacKillop, Catherine Helen Spence, Pastor David Unaipon, the Reverend John Flynn, Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls and General Eva Evelyn Burrows of the Salvation Army. High-profile contemporary Australian Christians include Tim Costello; Baptist minister and current CEO of World Vision Australia; Frank Brennan, Jesuit human rights lawyer; John Dickson, historian and founder of The Centre for Public Christianity; Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy; Phillip Aspinall the current Archbishop of Brisbane, Philip Freier the current Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne; and recent Prime Ministers John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison.