Professor Calma is an Aboriginal Elder from the Kungarakan (Koong ara kun) tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja (Ee wad ja) 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, mental health and suicide prevention, education, justice reinvestment, research, leadership, reconciliation and economic development.
Prof Calma was the 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 and was a senior diplomat in India and Vietnam from 1995 to 2002.
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 has since 2010 held the position of National Coordinator Tackling Indigenous Smoking (0.5 FTE) and he was appointed a Professor (0.4 FTE) at the University of Sydney Medical School on 1 January 2015 to perform the role of Chair and Patron of the Poche Indigenous Health Network. He is a member of the Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council, Co-sponsors with the Australian Public Service Commissioner the Indigenous SES network and is Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia. He joined the board of RA in 2010 and has held the post of Co-Chair since 2012.
He has been on the University of Canberra Council since 2008 and as Chancellor from 2014 to December 2022. Professor Calma has served on the National Council of the Defence Reserves Support Council since 1 March 2013 and will retire on 29 September 2020.