Jun 30, 2010

Gillard’s not our first atheist

Julia Gillard will not be hurt by revealing she is an atheist. Of the 12 prime ministers preceding her, Kevin Rudd alone was overtly Christian, writes press gallery veteran Rob Chalmers.

Julia Gillard will not be hurt by revealing (when questioned, note) she is an atheist. Of the 12 prime ministers preceding her, Kevin Rudd alone was overtly Christian. He wore it like a neon sign on his sleeve. Press conferences outside church on a Sunday were common. For sheer crassness, it was hard to top the efforts of Rudd in lobbying the Pope to declare Mary McKillop a saint. It beats John Howard’s performance of visiting Bob Santamaria on his deathbed. Howard must have known that Santamaria, although the fearsome enemy of Communism, could not stand him. In the end none of this helped Rudd when the polls began to drop. Of the PMs who came to, or remained in office, as a result of an election, neither Curtin, Chifley, Menzies, Holt, Gorton, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating or Howard was regularly seen on their knees, apart from funerals and weddings. (I include those who remained in office as a result of an election because some became PM as a result of changes in party leadership -- for example, Gorton became PM on the death of Holt and subsequently won the 1969 election). Hawke as PM was an agnostic and Whitlam a proud atheist. Whitlam earned the undying hatred of the churches when he removed the sales tax from the contraceptive pill for women. The general population thought it a great idea. The founding fathers wisely decided that Australia should have a secular Constitution, not attached to any religion. Whitlam’s most famous reference to the Almighty came with his dismissal by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr in 1975. Then came the dramatic reading of the instrument of dissolution of the parliament on the front steps of the building by Kerr’s secretary, David Smith. The steps were crowded with onlookers and MPs and Whitlam was slightly behind Smith looking over his shoulder. When Smith finished his reading with the standard exhortation 'God save the Queen', Whitlam told those assembled: “Well may he say God save the Queen, for nothing will save the Governor-General." Last Easter, the churches and atheists had a good old stoush on whether or not there is a God. Whatever the intellectual argument, it's clear most Australians couldn’t care less about God. Bureau of Statistics figures show that in 2001 barely 10% named a Christian religion to which they adhered. Between 1996 and 2001 (a mere five years), the number of adherents dropped by 7%. The biggest denomination, Catholic was a mere 764,800 in 2001, amounting to a dismaying drop (for the church) of 13%. Anglican/Protestant, the next biggest denomination at 759,000, was steady. Only the Holy roller, hot gospeller, minority groups gained substantial ground. Church attendance is currently less than 8% of the total population and those at church are mostly grey haired old ladies. The small Muslim population is, of course, devoted to their Mosque and there is a much smaller group of Buddhists. Fortunately the Almighty, unlike the unfortunate United States, does not receive calls from political leaders (even Rudd when PM) to assist them in their various missions. George Bush was always calling on Him (or Her for the sisterhood) for assistance in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Canberra, the Lord's Prayer is read by the speaker and senate president every day to start proceedings. This was not the practice in the first parliament after Federation and it was because of pressure from a much larger (proportionately) population of Christians that the parliament agreed to prayers. Gillard will of course show respect to those who have religious faith, but Australians generally, apart from having no interest in religion, regard it as a private matter as they do s-xual preferences of others. Tony Abbott, who once trained for the priesthood, is a devout Catholic, but will not attempt to make anything of Gillard’s atheism. He should make sure that every Coalition MP gets this message.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

68 thoughts on “Gillard’s not our first atheist

  1. shepherdmarilyn

    I don’t have the foggiest idea why anyone would bother to write this drivel.

  2. abarker

    …Possibly because the ridiculously small amounts of Happy Clappers seem to command so much social and political pressure.

    Go Julia. It’s about time.

  3. Bill

    Howard was a regular church attender, and made no secret of his affiliation.

  4. Michael James

    Howard did not use his church attendance as a backdrop to media pressers either, unlike our former Bureaucrat in Chief.

    Honestly, this article seems to be part of the media’s beatification (irony intended) of our Lady of the Sacred BloodNut, Saint Julia of Gillard.

    Frankly, it’s unlikely that the vast majority of the population gives two tosses about Gillard’s position on religion. Most people seem to see a persons religious affiliation as a matter of personal choice, one that has no need to become talking fodder for the commentariat.

    It’s more likely that the generally athiest / agnostic media see this as a way of contrasting her with Abbot’s more religious bent, simply because someone who is a serious Christian makes them uneasy.

  5. Holden Back

    Or maybe Michael James that moralising selectively on matters of doctrine and pretending you are seriously religious sickensthe general population.

  6. Oscar

    To quote the late, great Douglas Adams …

    Who is this God person anyway?

  7. Pat Miller

    The confusion generated when so-called christian values muddy the waters of good policy is a travesty. The amount of money funneled through religions because of their tax exempt status is mind boggling and the happy clappers do not have the monopoly on altruism.

    Ditch their tax free status and separate church and state. We might have an obsolete constitution but the founding fathers (not too many mothers!) got the secular bit right.

  8. geomac

    Marilyn If you think this article is drivel then you will go bonkers at what will come from the far right. Similarly to the falsehoods that are spread about boat arrivals the same people will portray Gillard as unfit for the office of PM based on her atheism. Personally I couldn,t give a toss about someones stance as to the existence of a god. Where I get concerned if it directs their policy decisions about all Australians, the majority of which dont take religion as a guide to social behaviour.
    I automatically suspect any public figure who makes a fuss about their religion or stresses their adherence to their faith. Almost always they then advocate actions that go against the tenet of their faith but as with religious god botherers bend their faith to suit their own agenda. I was raised a catholic but see people like Abbott and Andrews as people who have no idea about what christianity is about. If I was asked in a census I would call myself an agnostic.

  9. Scott

    “Bureau of Statistics figures show that in 2001 barely 10% named a Christian religion to which they adhered”

    This is a rubbish statement. ABS figures clearly show that the percentage of people nominating a christian religion in 2001 was 68% (20.7% anglican, 26.6% catholic, 20.7% other christian). Add in the 4.9% other religions and you have 72.9% of Australians believing in some sort of deity.

    The numbers are wrong as well. Catholic numbers were 4.8 million in 1996 but increased to 5 million in 2001 (an increase of 4%). Anglicans dropped by 0.6% from 3.9 million to 3.88 million.

    Don’t believe me? Check out the ABS link below. All figures from the 2001 census.

    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/46d1bc47ac9d0c7bca256c470025ff87/bfdda1ca506d6cfaca2570de0014496e!OpenDocument

    I have no problems with Gillard being an atheist. However I do have issues with dodgy journalism and incorrect data.

  10. geomac


    I,m with you on the tax free status. Charities yes but religious groups no. this wouldn,t affect religious charities just their affiliated religion.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details