WA Labor Senator Fatima Payman weighs up future as pro-Palestine stance leaves her on the outer

Dan Jervis-Bardy, Katina Curtis and Josh Zimmerman
The Nightly
Labor Senator Fatima Payman in the Senate chamber at Parliament House on Monday, June 24.
Labor Senator Fatima Payman in the Senate chamber at Parliament House on Monday, June 24. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Fatima Payman’s future as a Labor senator is under a cloud as her strong pro-Palestine position ostracises her from the party.

Senator Payman has stopped talking to senior colleagues amid rumours she is considering quitting Labor and voting in support of a pro-Palestine motion from the Greens in Federal Parliament later this week.

Labor rules prevent its MPs from crossing the floor except on rare matters of conscience, meaning the Afghan-born West Australian senator would face expulsion if she backed the Greens’ motion while still a member.

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Expulsion would also mean losing access to party-provided services, including electorate databases and most likely Labor-aligned staff from her office.

The Nightly has contacted Senator Payman for comment.

The 29-year-old has become increasingly isolated internally after breaking ranks in May to accuse Israel of carrying out a “genocide” in Gaza.

While some colleagues — including cabinet minister Ed Husic — publicly expressed support for the first-term senator, many others were privately seething at a shock intervention that distracted from the Government’s post-budget sell.

Senator Payman did not give her colleagues the heads up before calling a snap press conference to make the comments, which she concluded with the politically contentious chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

She has since quit two parliamentary committees and one Labor caucus committee, while continuing to express her pro-Palestine position on social media and at public rallies.

That included writing an opinion piece, published last week by global news outlet Al Jazeera, in which she argued it was a “moral and ethical imperative” for Australia to recognise Palestine as a state.

The Government has no immediate plans to recognise Palestine, although Foreign Minister Penny Wong has opened the door to doing so as part of a two-state solution.

Thousands attended a pro-Palestine rally at Forrest Place today by Friends of Palestine. Pictured - Labor's Fatima Payman
Labor's Fatima Payman at a pro-Palestine rally in Perth. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

The Nightly understands Senator Payman has stopped seeking counsel from even her closest confidantes in Parliament.

Senior Labor sources were in the dark on Monday about her intentions, although The Nightly has confirmed she remains a party member.

She was present in Senate question time on Monday afternoon.

Senator Payman is the first Muslim woman who wears a hijab to sit in Federal Parliament after clinching WA’s sixth Senate seat at the last federal election.

She is a member of Labor’s left faction, having previously worked as an organiser with the powerful United Workers’ Union prior to entering parliament.

Asked if he was concerned about reports his Federal colleague was considering her future, WA Premier Roger Cook said the Gaza conflict was a “confronting and difficult issue” for Senator Payman.

“We acknowledge that and we thank her for her perseverance, but also her passion that she brings to representing the people of Western Australia,” he said.

Mr Cook backed the Federal Government’s decision not to recognise Palestine at this time, as he called for calm amid rising domestic tensions about the Middle East conflict.

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