Abbott all for diversity in campaign trail outing sealed with a kiss

IF TONY Abbott wanted evidence to support his claim that his party is the face of modern Australia, he found it in abundance over morning tea at the Mulgrave Country Club in Wheelers Hill on day three of his mini-campaign.

''One of the things that makes me very proud to be a Liberal is the diversity of the candidates we are putting forward for election this time around,'' he remarked, introducing two in the room who will contest Labor-held seats in Victoria.

One of them, John Nguyen, was five when he fled Vietnam in a boat with his siblings and grandparents in 1979. He was processed in a camp in Malaysia and accepted as a refugee by Malcolm Fraser. ''We were on the seas three days and three nights,'' he recalls. ''We were attacked by pirates seven times.''

Mr Nguyen, who is trying to unseat Anna Burke in the seat of Chisholm, went on to make a career in financial services and was across the street when the World Trade Centre came down in New York in September 2001. Ask him about the Coalition's hard line on asylum seekers, and he says it is about getting the right balance between border protection and welcoming those in need.

The parents of another, Emanuele Cicchiello, came from the Italian city of Benevento in 1963. He is now the deputy school principal for an independent school in Cranbourne and describes his mission in trying to unseat Labor's Alan Griffin in the seat of Bruce as helping ''Tony deliver the knockout punch to this inept Labor government''.

About 15 members of the Cicchiello extended family of 200 were present to see Mr Abbott ''kick-start'' his campaign.

Then there was Lyombe ''Leo'' Lyimo, a 21-year-old of African and Armenian heritage with a striking hairstyle, from Homenetmen Arax, an organisation dedicated to engaging youth through sport and culture. He was there to observe Mr Abbott, and says he was impressed with what he saw.

''This is what modern Australia is all about,'' a beaming Mr Abbott told the gathering. ''This is today's Australia: a country that makes people from the four corners of the earth welcome because they have come here, not to change our way of life, but to join our way of life. They have come here not to detract from our country, but to add to it.''

If it sounds at odds with the ''we-decide-who-comes-to-the-country'' rhetoric of the past three years, Mr Abbott would politely suggest that it's because you haven't been paying attention.

The same goes for the slogan of this week's mini-campaign - hope, reward, opportunity - which he insists is utterly consistent with the stop-the-boats, cut-the-waste, repeal-the-taxes mantra of 2010.

Certainly the substance remains, and begins with a commitment to repeal the carbon tax, which Mr Abbott insists ''is going to damage, if not destroy, the affordable energy which was a basis of Victoria's traditional strengths in manufacturing industry''.

But the emphasis is emphatically on the positive - and the promise of ''a government you can feel good about''.

If the tone was low-key, with no sign of senior Liberals such as Premier Ted Baillieu, Mr Abbott was accompanied by daughter Frances and in full campaign mode.

Earlier, during a visit to the Royal Children's Hospital, he offered comfort to a plethora of patients and their parents, planting a kiss on the cheek of six-year-old Shantel, who seemed to understand the bigger picture. ''I'll see you on TV,'' she told Mr Abbott before he departed for Wheelers Hill.

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