During decades of public advocacy, Indigenous elder Tom Calma has been instrumental in fighting for social change.
After being named the Senior Australian of the Year for 2023, his attention now turns to delivering a voice to parliament.
“Australians have only ever known a system where Indigenous peoples are treated as problems to be solved, not as partners and active participants in determining their destiny,” he said on Wednesday night.
“We must have enduring partnerships so that Indigenous communities can help inform policy and legal decisions that impact their lives and we can recognise the special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s history.”
Professor Calma said the referendum would allow for both changes to the constitution and for improvement in the lives of Indigenous people.
“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,” he said.
“Enshrinement will mean our fate will no longer be determined by the whims of politics and ever changing governments.”
For more than 40 years, he has helped champion the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, from helping set up National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples to being one of the co-chairs of Reconciliation Australia.
His calls to decrease the life expectancy divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians that helped deliver the Close the Gap campaign.
As well as being part of the co-design process of the voice to parliament, he has also blazed a trail in the world of academia.
Appointed University of Canberra chancellor, he was just the second Indigenous person in such a position anywhere in Australia.
Still serving in the role, Prof Calma says education remains key to advancing Indigenous people.
National Australia Day Council chair Danielle Roche said he was one of the country’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.
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