Professor Tom Calma AO

Adjunct scholar



Professor Tom Calma AO was appointed as an Adjunct Associate Professor at NCIS in May 2012. He brings extensive experience to NCIS, particularly in Indigenous education and human rights in which he has been involved at the local, community, state, territory, national and international level for the past 45 years. Professor 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 Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territory of Australia, respectively.


Professor Calma has been involved in Indigenous affairs at a local, community, state, national and international level and worked in the public sector for 45 years and is currently on a number of boards and committees focusing on rural and remote Australia, health, mental health, suicide prevention, education, justice reinvestment, research, reconciliation and economic development. These include the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, Poche Centres for Indigenous Health Network, The Charlie Perkins Scholarship Trust, Ninti One Ltd, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health and Cancer Australia’s Leadership Group on Indigenous Cancer Control.

Professor Calma is currently on leave as Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia while undertakes the role of Co-Chair of the Senior Advisory Group for the co-design of an Indigenous Voice to Government. He was a member of the recently completed Australian Education Council’s Post-Secondary Education Pathways Review and Deputy Chair of the Commonwealth Department of Health’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan Implementation Plan Review Working Group.

Professor Calma is patron of MCERA (Media Centre for Education Research Australia), The Churchill Fellowship Trust, Indigenous Allied Health Australia IAHA), Poche Indigenous Health Network (PIHN), Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia and the University of South Australia Deadly Alumni. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland and was appointed an ANZSOG Fellow in 2019.

Professor Calma was appointed National Coordinator, Tackling Indigenous Smoking in March 2010 to lead the fight against tobacco use in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Professor 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, Professor 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.

Professor 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. The Close the Gap Campaign has effectively brought national attention to achieving health equality for Indigenous people by 2030.

Professor 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.

Professor Calma has been an expert consultant to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (UWA); a Chief Investigator on the ARC Project 'Reducing Incarceration using Justice Reinvestment: A Case Study' (ANU); a member of the Review Panel of the David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research of the University of South Australia; and a member of the Indigenous Research Ethics Guidelines Review Working Committee of the National Health & Medical Research Council.

Professor Calma 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, Professor Calma was named by Bulletin Magazine as the Most Influential Indigenous Person in Australia; in 2008 he was named GQ Magazine's 2008 Man of Inspiration for his work in Indigenous Affairs.

On 20 May 2010, Professor 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.

Professor Calma was named by Australian Doctor Magazine (2010) as One of the 50 Most Influential People in Medicine in Australia.

On 15 February 2011, Professor 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, Professor 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.

Professor 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 after serving 5 years on the Council, Professor Calma became the 6th Chancellor of the University of Canberra and the first Indigenous male Chancellor of an Australian university.

On 16 April 2014, Professor 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, Professor Calma was awarded the Indigenous Allied Health Australia Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his lifelong dedication to improving the lives of Indigenous Australians.

In January 2015 Professor Calma was appointed a Professor of Practice (Indigenous Engagement) at the University of Sydney to perform the role of Chair and Patron of the Poche Indigenous Health Network. The Network is located in 5 universities across five states and the NT.

Scholarly interests

Professor Calma has extensive interest in Indigenous studies research, with particular focus on health, mental health and suicide prevention, education, Indigenous language preservation and economic development. He is and has been a Chief Investigator on NHMRC and ARC projects, is a regular public speaker and co-author of academic and non-academic publications.

Updated:  2 July 2020/ Responsible Officer:  NCIS Project Coordinator/ Page Contact:  NCIS Administrative Officer