Tom Calma, co-writer of the Voice blueprint, seems a hot contender for the Governor-General job when David Hurley’s term expires later this year. The Australian cut loose on January 21 with a front-pager tipping Calma. Cathy Freeman and Ash Barty were at long odds, it’s hard to imagine either as Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces. Jacinta Price, the ‘No’ advocate, was at such long odds (a gazillion-to-one) that reporter Joe Kelly didn’t even mention her. Tom Calma, described as “one of the nation’s most respected Indigenous rights campaigners” was all over the article. Reporter Kelly continued,cob
Professor Calma’s endorsement of a qualified and capable Indigenous person as governor-general of Australia was supported by other prominent Aboriginal Australians, including Referendum Working Group member and leading voice campaigner Thomas Mayo…
“I would think it is time for an Aboriginal person. We’ve had an Aboriginal governor (of South Australia) in pastor Doug Nicholls. But there hasn’t been an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person as governor-general. So why not? I think it is time. We shouldn’t shy away from considering an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person. A person who is amply qualified to do the job on merit is what we would be looking for. Not a token appointment. Someone who has the capacity.”
Asked if he would be interested in the role, Professor Calma said he hadn’t “really given it any thought” but acknowledged people had suggested he was a viable option.
“People have said (that) to me. But that’s up to the government to determine. They will do it through whatever process they use.” (My emphases).
Calma’s reference to the Doug Nicholls precedent is interesting. SA Premier Don Dunstan appointed Nicholls as Governor in 1977 to succeed his bete noire (bete blanc?) Mark Oliphant, the atom-smasher. Governor Oliphant and Dunstan were at loggerheads over Oliphant’s disapproval of pornography. Dunstan wanted someone who would not (as Oliphant did) undermine him at Buckingham Palace, citing the premier’s loosening of censorship and tolerance for pornography.
It happened that mission-schooled Doug Nicholls could barely read and write. Some feared he might not be able to read the traditional opening-of-parliament speeches. Oliphant had concerns that Nicholls’ relatives and tribespeople might swarm Government House and “share”, i.e. pinch, stuff, but this was just Oliphant’s racist speculation and nothing like that occurred. In the event, Nicholls successfully hosted Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1977, although she slept at the royal yacht rather than in his visitors’ suite.
Qualifications and merit have little to do with these appointments. It’s about identity politics, not just here but all over the West. Case in point: President Biden promised during the 2020 election campaign that his vice-president would have to be one of four black women. He then selected cackling nitwit Kamala Harris.
How sad that no-one else has transcribed the radio interview of Tom Calma by the ABC’s Ross Solly on January 22, when Calma ruled himself out. He believes Prime Minister Albanese has already nominated someone to King Charles. It can’t be Calma himself because no-one’s rung him from the PM’s office to get his in-advance acceptance, he says.
Well, be that as it may, I still see Calma as a hot favourite G-G-to-be. Albanese might have been just a bit too busy breaking election tax promises, and put aside any drafts to King Charles. Furthermore, promoting Calma would be the PM’s sop to the Aboriginal Industry and all those Yes voters he dudded for 12 months. Moreover Albanese knows that Calma, like himself, is an ardent republican. As Albanese’s G-G, Calma could campaign to re-ignite the republic push which collapsed with the failed 1999 referendum.
The ABC’s Solly began his interview abruptly, asking Calma, “Is it time to do something a little bit different?” He didn’t say what ‘different’, but from the context it meant the time is at hand for a republic. Calma replied, “Yes, we need to determine where we as a nation want to be — whether to stay under the current regime or do what other Commonwealth countries are doing, looking at alternatives.”
Next Solly question: “To become Governor-General, would you be comfortable with that as an Indigenous Australian?”
Calma leapt into it, citing the first Aboriginal senator, the Liberal Neville Bonner, who he said sought to be “apolitical”. “You can still support the Commonwealth as it exists, but also work to effect change,” Calma continued.
Solly, showing some small reservations about activism at Yarralumla, observed: “Generally the Governor-General doesn’t stir the pot too much. Would it be appropriate for someone in there lobbying for change … any indigenous Australian to go in there and shake a few tailfeathers?”
Calma: “We’re not talking about me [in particular]. It’s an opportunity for a conversation [about the republic] to have with the King and Parliament of England, and talk to the Australian government of the day. It doesn’t mean you [a Governor-General] have to be actively out there advocating publicly and agitating with the community to look at change. The role of the Governor-General is an important one to progress this sort of discussion and reflect what’s happening internationally. The Governor-General can talk with authority whereas others would not be able to.”
Solly: Would this be a logical first step to Australia becoming a republic?
Calma: We’ve been tinkering around the edges talking about it, this is the next logical step, the conversation has got to start. We’ve had a change of regime in the UK [Charles III’s accession], now might be the time to lift some of the discussions around whether we stay as a kingdom [sic] of the UK or look at a bit of self-determination and being our own nation and becoming a republic.
Calma continued that appointing an Aboriginal G-G would not be a sop to the failed Voice referendum, rather a chance to get someone in as G-G “to help progress this”. He said the past three G-Gs had been very strong advocates and talked often with remote communities, and how it would be another plank in the role of G-G to get out across the nation and talk to all the constituents. (Calma is ambiguous here whether he means advocate for Aboriginal welfare, the Voice, or the republic).
Solly next badgered him about whether he wants the Governor-General job. Calma does a professional job of ducking and wearing, saying that
♦ It’s the PM and cabinet’s decision
♦ He wouldn’t answer hypotheticals; he doesn’t have a view
♦ The PM might want a second female G-G
♦ “No-one has approached me, end of story.”
I don’t fully understand the role of the Governor-General, you would have to think about all of those issues of whether to just hold office or effect some change. I’m still involved in a number of [Aboriginal] organisations, the Governor-General becomes Patron of organisations which is great, but a patron is a bit different to being an effective member of a board or council.
If it [appointment] happens let’s have a think about it and see what we can do. I have engaged with all members of the monarchy over the years, I’ve met nearly all of them, I don’t have an issue with them personally, it’s just an issue of us as a nation, how do we want to position ourselves in future?
I found this ABC interview so astoundingly naive that I googled interviewer Solly out of peer interest. He disclosed all to the Canberra Times last November. He’s 57 and hosted ABC 666 breakfast radio for nine years to 2013. He left to be with his wife, current ABC News Daily host Samantha Hawley, on her foreign correspondent gigs (Bangkok, Jakarta, London). When they returned to Sydney in 2022, he resumed ABC radio shows in Canberra. (It seems the only time ABC staff ever actually separate from the ABC is over Gaza). “The audience is so switched on and so knowledgeable”, he said. “I want it to be unpredictable because I think people like to be surprised … I think if something is happening in Canberra and somebody needs to ask the tough questions, then I want people to know I’m going to be the person to do it.”
So now you know. This is all serious stuff.
So, if Calma isn’t the PM’s pick, who is? Looking at the field, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney would get two ticks (female, Aborigine), and Calma’s sidekick on the Voice, Professor Marcia Langton, gets two ticks but one blackball (should that be “whiteball”?) for criticising the blaktivists baying for Israel’s destruction. Bravo, Marcia! Julia Gillard gets one tick (female ex-PM) but three crosses (white settler; bad chooser of at least three boyfriends; ardent supporter of misogynist Speaker and ostraconophobiac Peter Slipper).
If Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM (Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, Melbourne University) were alive, he’d be a shoo-in for Governor-General. But the issue for all the Aboriginal Industry contenders is whether the housing at Yarralumla and Kirribilli is attractive enough. Yunupingu, tireless critic of Aboriginal poverty while icon of the Gumatj, kept a helicopter and pilot on permanent standby ($1400 per hour) at his waterfront palace for his caring nightly visits to each of his four wives scattered around the Gove Peninsular. He was featured on a $1 stamp in 2017 among “Australian Legends”, certainly a legend of virility given his 12 children. Australia Post saw him and fellow-postage-legends Tom Calma and Lowidja ODonoghue as
tireless in their lifelong efforts to improve social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Together, their work has spanned the areas of land rights, economics, self-determination, health, welfare, education and reconciliation.
It’s a scandal that Aboriginal G-Gs would get a staff of only 80 and pre-tax pay at a modest $495,000-plus-keep. When the job is done, their pension comes in at 60 per cent of the salary of the Chief Justice, currently $584,000. That looks like only $350,000 a year for life, indexed. Opera Australia and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are discounting their tickets to $25 for any retired G-G who happens to be Aboriginal, so there’s that too. (Recent immigrants and descendants of settlers pay the full sticker price of $120-200).
Calma is a hard worker. For what was billed merely as the Voice referendum’s courteous nod to our Aboriginal pre-arrivistes, his co-authored blueprint weighs in at 272 pages and included ten tables and 43 diagrams, figures and flow charts, along with one mind-map. For this hefty tome the government paid the pair $216,000 each. Calma’s 2007 annual report as AHRC Social Justice Commissioner was all of 411 pages, and from 2004-10 they averaged 260 annual pages. No conspicuous gain to Aboriginal welfare resulted.
ANU Politics Professor Jay Wanna identified Professor Calma as a “pretty ideal candidate. He’s very good on issues. He was part of the Voice movement. But he didn’t play a prominent political role.” Wakey wakey, Professor! Calma was everywhere, behind the scenes and front-of-house on Labor’s Referendum debacle.
The lovable Tom Calma
While all the other Aboriginal Yes leaders – especially Marcia Langton – did some snarling and reeived some brickbats in return, I have failed to find an unkind word about Calma anywhere. It’s as if he’s above the political maelstrom that surrounded the campaign for the biggest unwanted structural change to Australian democracy since Federation, along with possible reparations based on GDP percents and whatever any cargo-cult treaties might deliver. If his Voice had got up, as an Aborigine he would have gained a special status and extra privileges while his non-Aboriginal wife of 40 years would have second-best civic status. That’s a glass ceiling she’d never break.
Here’s some of Calma’s sledging of the 60 per cent who voted No.
♦ Accepting Senior Australian of the Year Award for 2023 from Prime Minister Albanese, Calma warned fellow-seniors not to listen to “misinformation by pundits who are either ill-informed or have malicious intent regarding the Voice.” This was no slip of the tongue. He used the identical trope in an address to the woke ANU at least year’s ironically-titled “Reconciliation Lecture”.
♦ September 28, 2023: He co-signed a piece in The Lancet for global consumption that appeared under the headline “Racism and the 2023 Australian Constitutional Referendum” – as if racism and voting ‘No’ were synonymous. He blasted alleged “misinformation” and “racist abuse”, claiming the referendum process “taps into a deep well of historical racism that originated on the Australian frontier when Indigenous peoples ‘were violently dispossessed from their lands by the British.”
♦ October 4, 2023: He tells the leftist Guardian ten days before the October 14 vote that the No camp is putting out shocking
misinformation and vitriol – it’s very frustrating when politicians [presumably non-government ones] can be bald-faced liars in this whole process…All of a sudden there’s an emergence of the white supremacist groups getting involved…and others having their attitudes.
To his credit, he didn’t echo Hillary and call No voters “a basket of deplorables”.
Crusader for Aboriginal welfare:
Calma was Aboriginal Social Justice Commissioner from 2004 to 2010 and also Race Discrimination Commissioner to 2009. On domestic violence in remote communities, the data continues shocking and worsening. To put it bluntly, Aboriginal domestic violence involves drunken monsters using blows, kicks, clubs and edged weapons to inflict appalling injuries on their partners and families. Yet tackling this violence did not seem Calma’s highest priority during his six-year tenure. His emphasis appears more to have been on importing United Nations indigenous protocols and initiatives like restorative justice, workshops/conferences and suchlike. In his final 222-page 2009 annual report, there are just 27 mentions of violence, nearly all in passing. There, Calma laments excessive jailing of perpetrators and urges softer remedies.
Did he not notice a study of hospitalisations for head injuries from assault in the May 2008 Medical Journal of Australia, covering WA, SA, NT and Qld? It mentions that for Aboriginal women this head-injury hospitalisation rate was 69 times the rate for non-Aboriginal women. For Aboriginal women aged 30-34 years, the rate was an incredible 93 times worse than for non-Aboriginal women. Within the data, Aboriginals living in rural/remote regions suffered seven times the rate even of urban Aboriginals:
The high rates in our study imply a substantial personal and social burden on injured people, their families and their communities, and a financial burden on already stretched health systems. However, the most serious cost is arguably the stressing and disruption of social bonds among Indigenous Australians as a result of such trauma.
The researchers, after making their appalling findings, reverted to junk theorising about causation, e.g.
It has been asserted that the inferior health status of Indigenous Australians is inextricably linked to their historical legacy, their ongoing social and economic disadvantage (including displacement from their homes, land and lifestyle) and psychosocial trauma, particularly in regard to child separation. (My emphasis).
Community building through crime prevention not more prisons
Justice reinvestment acknowledges what Indigenous communities have known for a long time – taking people out of communities through imprisonment weakens the entire community. Indigenous offenders have valuable roles to play in their communities. Many are parents and also have a wide range of social, cultural and family obligations. When you take these people out of communities you are often placing an additional burden on already stretched family members. And given that family and community connections are so strong in Indigenous communities, be they in urban, regional or remote areas, these impacts ripple throughout the community. We are not only punishing the offender but also all those that are connected with them…
We frequently hear stories of Indigenous offenders who have returned from a stint in prison far worse than when they went in. This perpetuates the cycle of crime and imprisonments, further weakening the community as individuals are very likely to return to custody…
Justice reinvestment will argue for resources at the front end (primary prevention) rather than the back of the system (imprisonment)… Previous Social Justice Reports have outlined some excellent but precariously funded healing and victim services. These are the sorts of programs that could benefit from additional funding as a result of justice reinvestment strategies…(p42) Again, these options are not about being soft on crime, they are about being smart about crime and safety. (p51, My emphases).
Calma went on to deplore the building of new jails in the Northern Territory and Western Australia as counter-productive compared with “community development and prevention programs” (p43). Personally I’d prefer those vicious criminals treated as harshly as any non-Aboriginal who inflicts gross head trauma on a powerless woman.
Calma successor Mick Gooda’s first Social Justice report in 2010 asserted “zero tolerance” for what he called “lateral violence” within Aboriginal communities – bashings, bullying and intimidation, and “backstabbings and attempts to isolate” (p49). Internal mayhems were the third most-prevalent reason for failures of Aboriginal corporations, he said.
In a refreshing aside, Gooda put the onus on communities themselves to address these issues. While he gave a nod to intergenerational trauma from colonisation — an unlikely theory lately rejected by Jacinta Price — he also said that drunkenness, “rather than healing the pain of colonisation and disempowerment … was causing violence, depression and anguish” among residents. He cited the Fitzroy Valley, which had 13 suicides in 2007 alone. “The grog has affected every single person in the valley at one level or another. Aboriginal people in the valley have identified grog as the most important health priority that must be confronted … the women’s refuge was unable to cope with the demand from women seeking refuge from violence at home” (p67-72).
Gooda was equally blunt about the large NT Wadeye community, writing:
Wadeye has appalling health statistics, serious overcrowding, and significant crime and violence which at times render the community virtually dysfunctional. (p109).
The sad contemporary sequels to decades of fat HRC reports and rhetoric include that, in 2022, Fitzroy Crossing was rated the 100th worst of 100 communities on the Crime Map of Australia, based on police data. At Wadeye last year, torching of 37 homes during clan fights forced 500 people – mainly women and children – into the bush , with one man killed by a spear to the head. The Northern Land Council (NLC) issued a mealy-mouthed statement that “government has a clear law and order responsibility.”
Calma is continually lauded as a life-long champion of Aboriginal health and welfare, without much examination of whether his remedies are effective. As far as I can see, key indicators of remote welfare continue to go backwards. It also happens that Calma’s career postings have all involved excellent remuneration and prestige. His early history is set out by Andrew Alexandra in a draft biography.
Calma’s father, Tom Sr, supervised Darwin’s government construction with a workforce of at least 80 and led the clean-up after Cyclone Tracy. The Calmas were among the first Aborigines in Darwin to acquire and then buy a government house, and all four kids graduated from high school. Tom Jr captained sport teams and finished as deputy head prefect, but claimed he had been racially excluded from the head prefect role. He excelled there at public speaking, a valuable skill for his later career.
Post-school, he won a Housing Department scholarship to Adelaide to earn a Diploma of Social Work at SAIT, returning to head up significant education and welfare posts in Darwin. In 1984 he won an Aboriginal Overseas Study Award to investigate satellite-powered distance education for the NT, travelling to Suva, Hawaii, Canada, England and Wales. However his world trip duplicated a Senate Committee trip and his tour “had no immediate practical effect” (apart from the expense).
His high-flyer status led to promotion to Acting State Director of the Commonwealth Employment Service. From there he applied unsuccessfully for a UNESCO Councillor slot in Paris.
He moved to Canberra with family on a fast-tracked career program, becoming executive officer running an Aboriginal support network for the head of the Education Department. In 1995 he gained a diplomatic post marketing Australian education to India and then to Vietnam.
Back in Canberra he became a ministerial senior adviser to Phil Ruddock and moved to an education role with ATSIC. Prime Minister John Howard dissolved ATSIC in 2004 over corruption and dysfunction. The same year, Calma won the post of Aboriginal Social Justice Commissioner to “monitor the human rights of Indigenous Australians” ($257,000 a year). He doubled as non-paid Race Discrimination Commissioner, staying on to 2009-10. In 2008 he gave the response to Kevin Rudd’s “Stolen Generation” apology.
In 2009-11 Calma led creation of a successor body to ATSIC, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. This went into voluntary administration in 2019 when the Morrison government halted funding.
In the past decade he’s been showered with honours including three doctorates, an AO, ACT Australian of the Year 2013, Senior Australian of the Year 2023, Chancellor of Canberra University from 2014-23 ($60,000 a year), a Sydney University Professorship from 2015 ($200,000 p.a. if full-time plus perks), unpaid co-chair of Reconciliation Australia (which has roped in at least 700 pre-school and child-care outfits for toddlers’ indoctrination), Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and dual author with Marcia Langton of the Voice blueprint ($216,000 each).
I might be wrong about Calma’s imminent G-G appointment. Mr Albanese might already have decided to appoint someone like the Indigenous Thomas Mayo, nee Mayor, author of The Voice to Parliament Handbook. If so, I’m sorry to have wasted your reading time.
Tony Thomas’s new book from Connor Court is Anthem of the Unwoke – Yep! The other lot’s gone bonkers. $34.95 from Connor Court here
 Stewart Cockburn and David Ellyard, Oliphant, Axiom Books Adelaide 1981 p 314-19. Whether the Australian Academy of Science will disown or cancel its racist founder is yet to be revealed.
 After only five months of his term, Nicholls resigned over ill-health.
 55 per cent “No” vote.
 Bruce Wilson, colourful fund-raiser for the AWU Workplace Reform Association; fellow-politician Craig Emerson; and Tim Mathieson, convicted on a sexual assault case last October, a year after his decade-long partnership with Gillard ended.
 Professor Margaret Sheil, Provost at the University of Melbourne, said the Honorary Doctorate to Yunupingu was to recognise and celebrate the significance of his work for Indigenous rights. In 1998 Yunupingu was added to the list of 100 “Australian Living National Treasures” selected by the National Trust of Australia as leaders in society “considered to have a great influence over our environment because of the standards and examples they set”. Reconciliation Australia reported for 2023, “The year also saw the loss of Yunupingu… whose contribution to the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was almost unparalleled over more than five decades.”
 The principal said it was to reduce distraction from his studies.
. If HRC commissioners can double as Race Commissioner for half a decade, it suggests neither role is over-taxing. From 2011 Helen Szoke came in as full-time Race Commissioner (pay $275,880, allowances $47,852) alongside Mick Gooda as Social Justice Commissioner ($275,880 plus $42,980 allowances). Today each role commands $384,970 plus allowances. HRC President Rosalind Croucher ($495,000) is currently doubling (unpaid) as Acting Race Commissioner.
 His peer-reviewed science/medicine articles are minor. His election as Fellow in 2022 was via a special provision admitting eminent people lacking science output.
 Calma was named on the Federal Government’s Referendum Working Group until December 31 2024. The rate cited is $823 per day worked. The Working Group Registrar is cited officially as Tricia Stroud, a Kungarakan and Waramungu woman, on a five year term at $313,220 per annum until May 2, 2027. However, this salary appears applicable to her other role of Registrar of Indigenous Corporations for the same period.
 The SMH reported last July 22, “The No campaign unearthed two-year-old videos of Mayo calling for ‘reparations and compensation’ for Indigenous Australians, as well as appearances in online forums run by an organisation which markets itself as the Communist Party of Australia.”