Liberal MP Fiona Martin denies mixing up Asian Australian candidates in debate with Sally Sitou

Labor’s candidate for Reid is demanding an apology from Liberal MP Fiona Martin, claiming she has either confused her with another Asian Australian political aspirant or misled voters.

In a debate between Martin and her Labor rival Sally Sitou on 2GB radio, Martin sensationally claimed that “Kristina Keneally kicked you out of Fowler too” in an apparent reference to Keneally winning preselection over Vietnamese Australian lawyer Tu Le in Fowler.

In a heated exchange, Martin asked Sitou where she grew up, drawing a comparison between the Chinese Australian candidate who grew up in Cabramatta, and herself.

“I grew up in Reid,” Martin said. “I went to school at Five Dock and Strathfield.”

Sitou then asked “Where do you live?”, prompting Martin to say she had “deep roots” in Reid but she lives “very close by”. Martin rents in Ryde, in the neighbouring electorate of Bennelong.

Sitou said she “didn’t want to raise this but I chose to live in this electorate because I love the community”.

Martin countered that Sitou had moved to Reid because she “found an opportunity” and “couldn’t run in Fowler”. “Kristina Keneally kicked you out of Fowler too.”

Sitou said Martin was “just making things up”. “That’s how ridiculous this debate has gotten. I’m sorry your listeners have had to listen to that.”

Sitou later tweeted that she had “never sought to run for Fowler”.

“My opponent either has me confused for a different Asian-Australian, or she is deliberately misleading people.”

In comments to Guardian Australia, Martin denied having confused Sitou for Le.

“Sally grew up in Fowler. Keneally reportedly declined Reid and went for Fowler. I think it makes sense to want to represent the area you grew up in or where you have a long association. Sally’s association with Reid is less than three years total.”

Martin cited news reports in 2018 suggesting Sitou could run for the state seat of Cabramatta.

Le was backed in Fowler by retiring Labor MP Chris Hayes, but lost preselection to Keneally in late 2021 after the Labor senator opted to contest a lower house seat because Deborah O’Neill secured a higher spot on the Senate ticket.

Le was critical of the decision, arguing that Keneally’s preselection was a “missed opportunity” to properly represent Fowler, a culturally diverse electorate in Sydney’s south-west.

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