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Australia: Contemporary Affairs
The abrupt shift of national leadership in June 2010 from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard brought significant changes in the influence of religion on Australian politics. Whereas Rudd was an outspoken supporter of bringing his Christian faith to bear on his political positions, Gillard – Australia’s first female prime minister – is open about her own atheism. In regard to the issue of gay marriage, certain Australian territories have legalized same-sex unions but the Australian national government continues to examine the issue, with potential bills aiming to legalize gay marriage being debated every year since 2009. Overall, Australian society has experienced a drastic increase in secularism over the past few years. According to the 2011 Australian census, only 40 percent of Australians consider themselves Christian, a figure that is down significantly from the 64 percent response in the country’s 2006 census. While the number of proclaimed Christians in Australia is seemingly decreasing, Islam has been identified as one of the fastest growing religions in the country, and Islamic leaders believe their community in Australia has risen to more than double the official figure of 330,000. In a crucial ruling in June 2012, the Australian high court ruled that a national law that provided funds to chaplains to run programs in public schools was unconstitutional, reinforcing the distinction between Church and state and Australian society and politics.