Professor and Kungarakan Elder, Tom Calma AO, has been named 2023’s Senior Australian of the Year for decades of public advocacy and fighting for social change.
Current Chancellor of the University of Canberra, Professor Calma is an active volunteer, consultant, academic, and the first Indigenous Australian inducted as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
For more than 40 years, Professor Calma has helped push for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – helping set up the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and co-chairing Reconciliation Australia.
At a ceremony on Wednesday night, Professor Calma received the honour from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and addressed the older people of Australia in his speech to draw attention to misinformation and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a voice in Parliament.
“I want to particularly address senior Australians because you are the demographic being targeted with misinformation by pundits who are either ill-informed or have malicious intent regarding the voice,” he said.
“A voice is symbolic as it includes all of our First Nations in the foundation document of our country. It addresses the injustice of their past exclusion and provides healing for the future.
Professor Calma explained Indigenous peoples are treated as problems to be solved instead of partners in justice and called for a strengthened partnership between Government and Indigenous communities to implement a referendum that would see constitutional and policy changes.
“Enshrinement will mean our fate will no longer be determined by the whims of politics and ever-changing Governments,” Professor Calma said.
As part of his work with the Close the Gap campaign, Professor Calma also wants to see a decrease in the life expectancy divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
He also led the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program and has co-led the co-design of a Voice to Parliament initiative.
National Australia Day Council Chair, Danielle Roche, said Professor Calma was one of Australia’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, lighting the path towards reconciliation,” she said.
It is the second year in a row the Senior Australian of the Year award has gone to an ACT local after Val Dempsey won the title in 2022.