New UC Chancellor calls for a fairer Australia

New UC Chancellor calls for a fairer Australia

Claudia Doman

20 February 2014: Health and human rights campaigner Dr Tom Calma AO was formally installed as University of Canberra Chancellor after addressing the National Press Club today.

During his address, Dr Calma, widely respected for his advocacy for social justice and inclusion, discussed the importance of education as a “vaccination against poverty” and the critical role universities play in making Australia “healthier, fairer and wealthier”.

Tom Calma

University of Canberra Chancellor Dr Tom Calma AO addresses the audience at the installation ceremony. Photo: Michelle McAulay

The 2013 Australian of the Year has taken over as Chancellor from Dr John Mackay, becoming the sixth Chancellor of the University of Canberra.

Dr Calma talked about what is needed to close the inequality gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and why reconciliation and recognition of the first Australians is fundamental.

One of the drivers of the Close the Gap campaign that advocates for health equality by 2030, Dr Calma said that when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and rural health “universities must be more than teachers, interested observers and researchers.”

“We must be active partners. Partners creating, researching, adding to the latest evidence, the best techniques, cutting-edge treatments and state-of-the-art equipment.”

Dr Calma, the first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander man to hold the position of chancellor of an Australian university, said he was proud to be one of a small number of Indigenous Australians in senior governance positions in higher education.

“It’s encouraging that Indigenous participation at all levels – not just chancellors – is growing.”

He said more than 1,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people completed university degrees in 2012. In the past four decades, over 25,000 Indigenous Australians have completed tertiary studies and by 2020 it is estimated that number will reach 50,000.

Dr Calma acknowledged that these are “small steps” but said that greater effort needs to be the focus of institutions and the community “to ensure higher education is an aspiration and an achievable goal”.

“The University of Canberra, which has had a Reconciliation Action Plan in place since 2010, is constantly working towards this goal,” he said.

“The University is continuously looking for ways to break down barriers to higher education for Indigenous students as well as building strong relationships and enhanced respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”

“I’m proud to be Chancellor of the University of Canberra.”

Watch Dr Calma's National Press Club Address below:

About Tom Calma AO

Dr Tom Calma is an Aboriginal elder of the Kungarakan tribal group, a member of the Iwaidja tribal group and a tireless champion for the rights, responsibilities and welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Dr 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. Dr Calma’s most recent previous position was that of 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.

He has campaigned for health, social justice, inclusion and equality issues, about which he feels strongly. His 2005 Social Justice Report laid the foundation for the Close the Gap campaign; a collaboration of some 40 Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian health and human rights groups.

Dr Calma has been involved in and with the tertiary education sector since 1980 as an academic, in representing Australia's interest in higher education internationally, on research grants, in reviewing administrative and academic structures and on advisory boards and committees at eight universities.

In 2012 he was awarded an Order of Australia; Officer of the General Division (AO) and named ACT Australian of the Year 2013 for his service and commitment to the Indigenous community as an advocate for human rights and social justice.

He became Deputy Chancellor of the University of Canberra on 1 January 2012 and took over as Chancellor on 1 January 2014.