Social Justice Commisioner’s speech

Went to the Yabun Festival in Victoria Park to hear Tom Calma, give a speech on his past five years as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.

Tom Calma. Pic: from HREOC website

He retires from that position at the end of January (this week), so he did a summary of his achievements.

But question time was particularly spiky, with a couple of blokes saying exactly what they thought about Calma’s “shortcomings”. In a verbal sense, it was on for young and old.

I wouldn’t have expected that for a person’s “farewell to the job” speech. I felt the criticisms were a bit unfair, as they were saying they’d wanted more progress, and Calma had already outlined what was achieved and that was the best that he could do. No point banging someone over the head for that.

I haven’t read all the relevent reports so dunno re: accuracy, but am going with Calma being correct.

Calma said the apology to Stolen Generations was good, but “there’s along way to go for true justice and equality”.

He said the fight must continue, particulary to “close the health gap” (12-17 years less life expectancy). Also, a National Congress and National Indigenous Steering Committee will be set up in october this year which will have elected people, 50/50 gender split, and everyone would have to pass ASIC requirements (eg. not be a former bankrupt). The Federal Govt has allocated $30 million for the first four years.

An audience member said that only “goody goodies” could be on the Congress, and “outspoken” people would be barred.

But Calma said becuase money is involved, everyone has to measure up to basic standards of the Ethics Council or else they won’t get any funding.

“We must fight together. We must stand together on fundamental basics. Dont’ waste opportunities. Our children need equal life chances.”

He said in the past, “our best people left for the city and didn’t go back to the community”.

“Rights mean nothing if we’re our own worst enemy. We must come together to fight for our rights.

The question of sovreignity and an Aboriginal Constitution were raised but, because of the small Aboriginal population of about 3 per cent, Calma said there wasn’t much chance of these.

He said it’s the 10th anniversary of the Sydney Harbour Bridge walk.

His personal motto is: “From self-respect comes dignity and from dignity comes hope.”

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