The Liberal MP for the inner-west Sydney seat of Reid has doubled down on claims she made about her Labor rival being a failed candidate in south-west Sydney, leading to accusations she confused one Asian-Australian for another.
Labor candidate Sally Sitou urged Liberal MP Fiona Martin to apologise for her comments on Wednesday morning, after Martin claimed during a debate aired on 2GB that Sitou was only running in Reid because she had been ousted by Kristina Keneally and “couldn’t run in Fowler”.
The tense exchange – which came as the pair also clashed over parliamentary integrity and their loyalties to the electorate – led to speculation that Martin had confused Sitou, a Chinese-Australian, for Vietnamese-Australian lawyer Tu Le, who was overlooked for preselection in Fowler in favour of Keneally last year.
Sitou later said she had never sought preselection for Fowler. “I don’t know what Dr Martin is talking about. She’s making up lies,” Sitou said. “In high pressure situations like this people make mistakes. All I’m asking Dr Martin to do is admit a mistake and say sorry.”
But Martin’s refusal to back down from the claim has heightened tensions in the high-stakes race for Reid, which Martin holds on a 3.2 per cent margin but Labor is hopeful of winning.
Martin and Sitou spent the rest of the day campaigning side-by-side at the Reid pre-poll booth in Homebush West, where their volunteers traded barbs but the two candidates kept their distance.
One voter approached Martin on the issue outside the polling booth, saying she should know better in the multicultural electorate.
But Martin has insisted she did not confuse Sitou for Le, and instead referred to reports in from 2018.
The article reported Sitou was one of 12 candidates touted as a possibility to replace Cabramatta Labor MP Nick Lalich if he retired from State Parliament while undergoing medical treatment. Lalich, who has held Cabramatta since 2008, has not resigned.
“Sally is a failed state candidate for Cabramatta and she is now seat-shopping in Reid,” Martin told the .
But Sitou said Martin was “making things up”. “I think if you look at the footage [from 2GB] you can see I was genuinely baffled by her bringing up Fowler. I have never run for that seat, I have never asked for pre-selection for Fowler,” she said.
“I have not run for preselection in Cabramatta, I have not stood for the seat of Cabramatta, I am running in Reid. This is a community I love, this is a community I’m raising my family in. My opponent cannot say the same.”
Martin grew up in Reid and went to school in Strathfield and Five Dock, but now lives in Ryde, in the neighbouring electorate of Bennelong, where she built her home.
Labor’s deputy leader Richard Marles said Martin needed to explain herself as he appeared alongside Sitou in Homebush West. Martin was accompanied at the polling booth by Liberal senator Andrew Bragg.
Martin’s claim on 2GB came after she questioned Sitou about growing up outside the electorate. Sitou said she was proud to have grown up in Cabramatta and that her parents had worked hard to give her opportunities they did not have. She moved to Homebush in 2019.
“We were fortunate enough to be able to afford to buy a little townhouse in Homebush, and I’m really proud of that … It’s a community that we love and we are proud to be raising our family there,” she said.
Martin interjected and said: “Because you found an opportunity and you couldn’t run in Fowler. Kristina Keneally kicked you out of Fowler, too.”
Sitou replied: “Now she’s just making things up.”
In a tweet posted after the interview, Sitou said Martin “either has me confused for a different Asian-Australian, or she is deliberately misleading people”.
The pair also clashed over the need for a federal integrity commission, which Martin has previously said is not a key issue with voters.
Sitou said people in Drummoyne, the more affluent part of the electorate, were raising concerns about climate change and integrity in Parliament.
“Oh God, integrity?” Martin responded. “If you’re talking about integrity, start with your own people.”
Sitou said she had knocked on 22,000 doors to make her judgment. “Our current sitting member doesn’t believe that people care about integrity in Parliament, and I think she needs to look at her own backyard. She needs to look at the current cabinet. There is so much dodginess in there, it feels like a Sopranos movie,” she said.
Martin said surveys showed integrity did not rate in Reid voters’ top five list of concerns, which was dominated by cost of living.
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( Information from smh.com.au was used in this report. To Read More, click here )