Mr 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 Northern Territory, 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 35 years.
Mr Calma has broad experience in public administration, particularly in Indigenous education programs and in developing employment and training programs for Indigenous people from both a national policy and program perspective.
He served three terms as a Director of Aboriginal Hostels Ltd and as a Company Director for a private tourism and hospitality venture in the Northern Territory.
Until his appointment as Commissioner, on 12 July 2004 for five years, Mr Calma managed the Community Development and Education Branch at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS) where he worked with remote Indigenous communities to implement community-based and driven empowerment and participation programs. In 2003, he was Senior Adviser Indigenous Affairs to the Minister of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs.
From 1995-2002, he worked as a senior Australian diplomat in India and Vietnam representing Australia’s interests in education and training. During his time in India, he also oversaw the management of the Australian international education offices in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
He moved to Canberra in 1992 and undertook various assignments, including Executive Director to the Secretary and Senior Executive of the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DEETYA).
In the early 1980s, Mr Calma and Indigenous colleagues established the Aboriginal Task Force (ATF) at the Darwin Community College (which later became the Darwin Institute of Technology ), which provided second chance education programs for Indigenous people. He became a senior lecturer and head of the ATF for six years.
He has also served as Race Discrimination Commissioner from 12 July 2004 until 12 July 2009. In this role Mr Calma has convened three Australia/New Zealand Race Relations Roundtables and launched significant papers including the ‘Voices’ publication as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations for the Racial Discrimination Act in 2005.
He has produced two ‘Face the Facts’ publications providing factual information about Australia’s cultural diversity and conducted the ‘Unlocking Doors’ project with police and Muslim communities in 2006/07.
Mr Calma presented a Multiculturalism Position Paper in August 2007 to reinvigorate community debate and government commitment to multiculturalism. More recently, he launched the Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century project in September 2008 and has undertaken a major project researching the needs of African Australians.
Commissioner Calma is a White Ribbon Day Ambassador for 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. White Ribbon Day is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Commissioner Calma is also a national patron of the Wakakirri National Story Festival for 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Mr Calma was awarded the prestigious number 1 position in the Indigenous category for the Bulletin magazine’s Power 100 for 2007. The Power 100 selects the 100 most powerful people in Australia. It is judged by a group of 10 who select people they consider share one common trait – the ability and desire to drive change.
Mr Calma was also awarded the 2008 Man of Inspiration award in GQ Australia Magazine’s 2008 Man of the Year awards. Other nominees in this category included climate change activist Bill McHarg, cricketer Glenn McGrath and Australian of the Year Lee Kernaghan.
In July 2009, Mr Calma’s term as Social Justice Commissioner was extended for six months until the end of January 2010.