Prof Calma is an Aboriginal Elder from the Kungarakan tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja tribal group whose traditional lands are south west of Darwin and on the Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory of Australia, respectively. He has been involved in Indigenous affairs at a local, community, state, national and international level and worked in the public sector for over 45 years and is currently on a number of boards and committees focussing on rural and remote Australia, health, education, justice reinvestment, research, reconciliation and economic development.
Prof Calma was appointed National Coordinator, Tackling Indigenous Smoking in March 2010 to lead the fight against tobacco use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Prof Calma was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission from 2004 to 2010. He also served as Race Discrimination Commissioner from 2004 until 2009.
Through his 2005 Social Justice Report, Prof Calma called for the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to be closed within a generation and advocated embedding a social determinants philosophy into public policy around health, education and employment in order to address Indigenous inequality gaps. This spearheaded the Close the Gap for Indigenous Health Equality Campaign resulting in COAG’s Closing the Gap response in December 2007.
Prof Calma chaired the Close the Gap Steering Committee for Indigenous Health Equality since its inception in March 2006 and retired as Co-Chair of the Steering Committee in 2010. He remains an active member of the CTG Steering Committee. The Close the Gap Campaign has effectively brought national attention to achieving health equality for Indigenous people by 2030.
Prof Calma is a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and empowerment, and in addition to the Close the Gap Campaign, has been instrumental in establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, development of the inaugural National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy, and promotion of Justice Reinvestment.
Prof Calma has broad experience in the public sector, particularly in national policy development and programme management in the Indigenous health, mental health, suicide prevention, SEWB, education, community development and employment arenas. He served as Senior Adviser to the Minister of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs in 2003, and represented Australia's education and training interests as a senior diplomat in India and Vietnam from 1995 to 2002.
In 2007 Prof Calma was named by Bulletin Magazine as the Most Influential Indigenous Person in Australia; and in 2008 he was named GQ Magazine’s 2008 Man of Inspiration for his work in Indigenous Affairs.
On 20 May 2010, Prof Calma was awarded an honorary doctor of letters from Charles Darwin University in recognition of decades of public service, particularly in relation to his work in education, training and employment in Indigenous communities.
Prof Calma was named by Australian Doctor Magazine (2010) as one of the 50 Most Influential People in medicine in Australia.
On 15 February 2011, Prof Calma was awarded an honorary doctor of science from Curtin University in recognition of his work, advocacy and leadership in Indigenous health reform and Indigenous affairs.
In the Queen’s Birthday 2012 Honours Awards Prof Calma was awarded an Order of Australia; Officer of the General Division (AO) for distinguished service to the Indigenous community as an advocate for human rights and social justice, through contributions to government policy and reform, and to cross cultural understanding. He was appointed as an Adjunct Associate Professor at ANU's National Centre for Indigenous Studies in May 2012.
Prof Calma was the 2013 ACT Australian of the Year in recognition of his work as an inspirational advocate for human rights and social justice having dedicated his life to improving the lives of Indigenous Australians.
On 1 January 2014 Prof Calma became the 6th Chancellor of the University of Canberra and the first Indigenous male Chancellor of an Australian university.
On 16 April 2014, Prof Calma was awarded an honorary doctor of the university from Flinders University in recognition of his work, advocacy and leadership in Indigenous health reform.
In November 2014 Prof Calma was awarded the Indigenous Allied Health Australia Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his lifelong dedication to improving the lives of Indigenous Australians and in September 2017 was appointed the inaugural Patron of Indigenous Allied Health Australia.
Prof Calma was appointed a Professor at the University of Sydney Medical School from 1 January 2015 to perform the role of Chair and Patron of the Poche Indigenous Health Network.
In October 2015 Professor Calma was awarded one of four Inaugural University of South Australia Alumni Awards for his service to society and in November 2015 was awarded the Public Health Association of Australia’s pre-eminent Sidney Sax Public Health Medal for notable contribution to the protection and promotion of public health, advancing community awareness of public health measures and advancing the ideals and practice of equity in the provision of health care.
On 30 June 2016 in Canberra The Honourable John Berry, Ambassador of the United States of American to Australia, presented Professor Calma with a US Flag that was flown over the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington DC in recognition of his “leadership in promoting equality, social tolerance and youth advancement.”
In August 2016 Prof Calma was one of two external members appointed to the Australian Public Service Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council and in October 2016 he was appointed Chair of the Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity (AFSE) hub at the University of Melbourne. The AFSE is one of six hubs globally focused on developing the next generation of transformative leaders.
In January 2017 he was appointed an Adjunct Professor with the University of Queensland and in May 2017 Prof Calma was one of three Indigenous Australian’s honoured by Australia Post in the 2017 Legends Commemorative Stamp series.
In May 2018 Prof Calma was inducted into the ACT Honour Walk 2018.