Parties outline competing visions of diversity

The Prime Minister has enthused about diversity on the eve of Australia Day while the Coalition has warned against ''closed communities''.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told a morning tea at The Lodge that diversity was ''the best of Australia'' and a snapshot of our self-image.

But Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has cautioned that it ''does not provide license for closed communities''.

Mr Morrison told an audience in London: ''It surely cannot be the purpose of multicultural policy that Australians elect to disengage from our society for religious, cultural or ethnic reasons.''

Ns Gillard told a gathering of Australian of the Year finalists that ''by looking across this crowd, you are seeing the diversity of Australia, you are seeing the best of Australia''.

The finalists include the indigenous leaders Shane Phillips and Tom Calma, Afghan refugee Akram Azimi, Indian-born community physician Sadhana Mahajani and Ghanaian dancer Francis Owusu.

''If you needed to explain to anyone what Australia is,'' the Prime Minister said, ''what our self-image is, then perhaps the easiest way to do it would be to bring them into this room and to ask them to look around these faces, as I am doing now.

''We are looking at a crowd of people . . . from representatives of our First Australians to people who have made Australia home during their lifetime.

''Diversity is the word.''

Earlier in London, Mr Morrison had outlined his ''post multiculturalism approach'' in an address to the Menzies centre for Australian studies.

While the Prime Minister reinforced cultural and ethnic difference, Mr Morrison wanted to ''restore some balance by ensuring that we are more focused on promoting what we have in common rather than how different we are''.

''Our respect for diversity does not provide license for closed communities,'' Mr Morrison said.

''This is not what Australia is about. Is is also in direct conflict with the overwhelming experience . . . where people have come to join us, not change us''.

To support his view Mr Morrison cited a 2012 social cohesion study for the Scanlon Foundation, which found lower levels of social cohesion in areas of high immigrant concentration.

The study's authors, who interviewed some 2000 residents in four of Australia's highest immigrant, low income Local Government Areas ā€“ Fairfield and Bankstown in Sydney, Hume and Greater Dandenong in Victoria - found that the lower levels of social cohesion in the areas of high immigrant concentration ''cannot be simply attributed to the consequences of economic disadvantage''.

Mr Morrison said: ''it surely cannot be the purpose of multicultural policy that Australians elect to disengage from our society for religious, cultural or ethnic reasons.''

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The story Parties outline competing visions of diversity first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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