Fatima Payman: PM expects rogue senator to toe the line as she hints at more pro-Palestine protests

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
Labor Senator Fatima Payman in the Senate chamber at Parliament House.
Labor Senator Fatima Payman in the Senate chamber at Parliament House. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has put rogue WA Senator Fatima Payman on notice as she flags more pro-Palestine protests, saying he expects his colleagues to “comply” with party conventions.

Mr Albanese said the Greens parliamentary “stunt” calling for Palestinian statehood, which Senator Payman crossed the floor to support, would do nothing to advance peace in the Middle East.

The latest rebuke came as senior Labor minister Tony Burke said he was “very glad” Senator Payman was a Labor member.

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Senator Payman has been told not to attend next week’s Labor caucus meeting after defying party convention to cross the floor and support the Greens’ Palestine motion on Tuesday night.

The relatively soft punishment has infuriated some Labor MPs who believe the breach of caucus solidarity warrants a harsher penalty.

Senator Payman’s future was not discussed during Friday’s meeting of Labor’s national executive, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the deliberations.

The senator’s conduct is considered a matter for the Federal caucus, sources say.

In her first interview since the dramatic vote, Senator Payman told online youth media outlet 6 News that crossing the floor would not be a “one-off gesture”.

Instead, she saw the vote as an “incremental” step in an ongoing campaign to push the Federal Government to recognise Palestinian statehood.

It is not clear if that means she plans to support future Greens motions, which will inevitably be brought forward, or express her position in other ways.

Mr Albanese was asked on Friday what consequences, if any, Senator Payman might face if she again broke ranks again to support a Greens motion.

The prime minister said his position was “very clear”, suggesting the one-week caucus suspension would be the extent of the punishment.

However, he made clear that he expected Senator Payman to toe the line.

“We expect that people will participate in our caucus processes and comply,” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Albanese dismissed the significance of Tuesday night’s Senate vote, describing it as a “stunt”.

“The important thing to note about this week is that Senate motions do not determine Australia’s foreign policy. And the Greens political party (is) engaged in stunts, not in looking for solutions.”

Mr Albanese’s comments follow a major rebuke from Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who said the prime minister had shown “great restraint” in dealing with Senator Payman’s action.

Senator Wong — who never broke ranks during her years-long fight to shift Labor’s position on same-sex marriage — said she understood her colleagues’ anger.

“Obviously we understand the importance of Caucus solidarity. It is very rare for a Labor person not to respect that,” she said.

Senator Payman does have the strong backing of Workplace Relations Minister Mr Burke.

Mr Burke, whose Sydney electorate includes a large Muslim community, has made numerous comments supporting the Palestinian cause since the outbreak of the Gaza conflict.

“I work very well with Fatima Payman and I’m very glad she’s a member of the Labor party and a member of the Labour caucus,” Mr Burke said.

Mr Burke criticised the Greens and Coalition for opposing Labor’s amended motion put forward during Tuesday’s debate, which would have backed recognising Palestine as part of a peace process to reach a two-state solution.

“Had that amendment been carried, we would, instead of having a (Greens) motion that was defeated, we actually would have had something that would have been carried and would have been quite significant.

“So, I’m disappointed that that didn’t get over the line.”

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