A new element was added to the already impressive CV of Tom Calma yesterday with his inauguration as Chancellor of the University of Canberra. He is the first Aboriginal man to hold such a position in Australia.
The inauguration took place immediately after Dr Calma addressed the National Press Club.
Dr Calma focused on educational opportunity as one of the key elements which needs to be improved in order to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous wellbeing. He reminded his audience that Australia had been slower than other similar countries in seeing its first peoples join the ranks of prestigious professions in proportionate numbers. Canada and New Zealand had trained Indigenous doctors in 1866 and 1899 respectively.
Although there has been good progress (there are now around 180 Indigenous doctors and 260 Indigenous medical students in Australia), to reach parity of 3 per cent in the medical profession would require over 2,400 more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors immediately.
He reminded his listeners that every year of additional education is likely to improve health outcomes. Better educational outcomes for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders could be helped with bilingual lessons, fixing the high rate of ear disease among children and addressing overcrowded housing.
Dr Calma commented on the importance of the Government listening seriously to people's views on where budget cuts and savings could safely be made. It is important for people to feel included and that their voice is being heard.
He also encouraged people everywhere to donate to causes such as tertiary education - especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. He commended systems such as workplace giving programs.
Note: you can read and hear Tom Calma's address to the 12th National Rural Health Conference (April 2013): http://bit.ly/1nREpCV