Native Elder Tom Calma continues his lifelong fight for justice



During decades of public advocacy, Indigenous Elder Tom Calma has played an important role in the struggle for social change.

After being named Senior Australian of the Year for 2023, his focus is now on providing a voice to parliament.

“Australians have only known a system where Indigenous Peoples are treated as problems to be solved, not as partners and active participants in determining their destiny,” he said Wednesday night.

“We need to have lasting partnerships so that Indigenous communities can help inform policy and legal decisions affecting their lives and we can recognize the special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s history.”

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Professor Calma said the referendum would allow for changes in the constitution as well as improvements in the lives of indigenous peoples.

“A vote is symbolic because it includes all of our First Nations in our country’s founding document. It addresses the injustice of their past exclusion and offers healing for the future,” he said.

“Enshrinement will mean that our fate will no longer be determined by the vagaries of politics and ever-changing governments.”

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For over 40 years he has helped defend the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, from helping to set up the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples to being one of the co-chairs of Reconciliation Australia.

His calls to reduce the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians helped deliver the Close the Gap campaign.

Besides being part of the co-design process of the vote to parliament, he also paved his way in academia.

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Appointed Chancellor of the University of Canberra, he was only the second Indigenous person to hold such a position anywhere in Australia.

Prof Calma, who still serves in this position, says education remains key to advancing indigenous people.

Danielle Roche, president of the National Australia Day Council, said he was one of the country’s most respected social justice campaigners.

“Tom has dedicated his life and career to being a champion of equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, paving the way for reconciliation,” she said.



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