Suspended for her Palestine vote, Labor's Fatima Payman is isolated from colleagues but has pockets of support (2024)

In short:

Labor senator Fatima Payman has been publicly criticised by senior colleagues after her indefinite suspension from the parliamentary Labor Party.

Senator Payman was suspended after she said she would continue to defy the parliamentary party's position on Palestinian recognition, after she voted with the Greens last week.

What's next?

PM Anthony Albanese has left the door open for Senator Payman to return.

Labor senator Fatima Payman drew heavy fire from her colleagues on Monday morning after she was banished from the federal party for her defiance over Palestine.

The senator was summoned to the prime minister's Canberra residence on Sunday afternoon after she declared she would continue to vote with her conscience on Palestinian recognition.

There she was told she would be suspended from the parliamentary party, a move that stopped short of total expulsion and left the door open to her return if she agreed to follow the Labor caucus rules.

But in the meantime she remains in limbo, telling the ABC's Insiders earlier on Sunday she did not want to leave the Labor party but would vote for any future Senate motion on Palestinian recognition.

'Fatima chooses to do it her way'

Several Labor MPs were scathing of her conduct on Monday morning, including fellow West Australian Anne Aly.

Ms Aly, the first Muslim woman elected to the federal parliament, has herself often deviated from the party's line on the Gaza conflict, but told the ABC's RN Breakfast she did not agree with Senator Payman's approach.

"Each of us walks our own journey … I choose to do things in a way I think will make a material difference on the ground to people in Palestine. Fatima chooses to do it her way," she said.

Senator Payman has maintained her choice to vote last week for a Greens motion on Palestinian recognition was consistent with the Labor party's platform, which regards recognition as "an important priority" and endorses a two-state solution.

"We cannot continue to support a two-state solution and only recognise one," she said.

But Ms Aly said the government's position was better expressed in an amendment it sought to move, which added that recognition should be part of a "just" peace process.

"[That] is exactly what was put forward … She could have voted for [it] if she held Labor values."

Senator Payman abstained from voting on the Labor amendment, participating only in the final vote on the Greens' motion.

Labor Party rules require all elected members to vote for the party's agreed position on all parliamentary matters, unless the caucus decides a free "conscience" vote is allowed.

The practice has caused controversy in the past, including when Senator Penny Wong voted against a Greens push for same-sex marriage in 2008, respecting the party's decision despite her strong disagreement.

How to respond to breaches of this rule is up to the Labor caucus, a group that includes all elected politicians in both houses of parliament. The caucus will hold its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Senator Payman's suspension from the caucus does not mean she is suspended from the Labor Party, a decision that can only be made by the party's national executive.

The party also cannot remove her from the Senate, where she will sit as a crossbencher for as long as she is suspended.

'No individual is bigger than the team'

Anthony Albanese told ABC News Radio Senator Payman had disrupted the government's plan to talk about the cost of living on the day new tax cuts started to flow to taxpayers.

"It's a day where we want to talk about tax cuts … And instead, you have seamlessly segued into the actions of an individual which is designed to undermine what is the collective position that the Labor Party has determined," he said.

"No individual is bigger than the team. And Fatima Payman is welcome to return to participating in the team if she accepts she's a member of it."

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth told the ABC Senator Payman had "been very clear that she doesn't want to abide by the rules of the Labor Party" and had "responsibilities" she needed to uphold to remain in the Labor caucus.

"I think it's the right call by the prime minister."

Treasurer Jim Chalmers also supported the PM's decision, saying he believed the party did best when it acted collectively.

But he added he did "care about the views of the Muslim community … I understand the pressures that they feel, that we all feel about these horrific events in the Middle East".

Resources Minister Madeleine King, the most senior West Australian in the government, said "solidarity" was central to the Labor Party's operations.

"It's very clear to everyone, and has been for a long time, that to move together after discussion you have to band together and have solidarity with you colleagues. That is how we operate, and it's how we've always operated."

Before her indefinite suspension, deputy PM Richard Marles said it was "a difficult situation" and the government had "sought to act with restraint" because it wanted to maintain "social cohesion."

But he added "we are all members of the team. We only get the privilege of serving in this parliament not because of who we are as individuals, but because when we stand for election, the word Labor is next to our name."

Josh Burns calls for unity

One Labor MP who has publicly offered support for Senator Payman is Josh Burns, who told the ABC he did not agree with her stance but did not want to see further punishment.

Burns, a Jewish MP who called his government's support for a UN motion on Palestinian UN membership a "miscalculation", said the party should be "an example to the Australian community about how to debate difficult issues respectfully."

Senator Payman said Mr Burns was "a good friend" who had "checked on me more than any other colleague," saying some other colleagues had given her a "cold shoulder".

But she also said on Sunday she had received support from party members and others in the community.

Several pro-Palestinian and Muslim community groups have come to Senator Payman's support, including the Labor member group Labor Friends of Palestine NSW.

"We stand with Senator Payman," the group said on Sunday in a post on the social media platform X.

"Your support for recognition of Palestine represents party policy and the strong views of most Australian Labor Party members and voters. Federal Government needs to listen, not silence you."

Suspended for her Palestine vote, Labor's Fatima Payman is isolated from colleagues but has pockets of support (2024)

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