Coalition slams Prime Minister for not expelling rogue Labor Senator Fatima Payman

Ellen Ransley
The Nightly
Labor Senator Fatima Payman crossed the floor on Tuesday to support a Greens motion to recognise Palestinian statehood.
Labor Senator Fatima Payman crossed the floor on Tuesday to support a Greens motion to recognise Palestinian statehood. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAPImage

The Coalition have accused Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of “weak leadership” after Labor confirmed renegade senator Fatima Payman wouldn’t be suspended or expelled for voting against the party.

The 29-year-old first-term West Australian senator sent shockwaves through the party on Tuesday when she broke Labor Party rules to vote in favour of a Greens motion calling for Palestinian statehood.

It was the first time a Labor politician crossed the floor while in government since 1986, and Senator Payman risked suspension or expulsion from the ALP because party rules state that all members must vote in line with the caucus’ position.

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But Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has confirmed Senator Payman won’t be punished with either of those actions, prompting the Liberal Party to accuse its opponents of being weak.

“What on earth is going on here on the floor of the Senate? We’ve got Labor senators on both sides of the debate,” deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said on Wednesday morning.

“It’s effectively a green light to Labor senators that if you feel strongly about an issue, you can cross the floor.

“So the shield of caucus solidarity is gone, and no one has crossed the floor in Labor since 1986. It’s clearly not Labor Party policy.”

Labor Senator Fatima Payman walks out the chamber after crossing the floor on a motion moved by the Australian Greens to recognize the State of Palestine during debate in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Fatima Payman said defying her party had been the most ‘difficult’ decision. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAPImage

Liberal senator James Paterson had earlier said allowing Senator Payman to stay in the party was a failure of Mr Albanese.

“This is a direct challenge to his authority as Labor leader. And if he fails that, if there are no consequences for Senator Payman, then not just in your eyes, and my eyes, will he be a weak Prime Minister — but in the eyes of his own caucus members,” Senator Paterson said.

“So if she can get away with this, then every other Labor MP and Senator will be thinking, well, maybe I can get away with this in the future. And his authority over the party will be completely shattered.”

Mr Marles said while crossing the floor was a “significant issue”, now was not the time to be “going around expelling people because they’re expressing a particular opinion”.

“I think if you were to ask Senator Payman, she would say it was a very significant issue,” Mr Marles told ABC Radio.

“There isn’t a mandated consequence for this within our rules. It’s actually not with our precedent, and we’re going to handle this in a sensible and a mature way.”

Liberal senator James Paterson said if Senator Payman was allowed to stay in the party, it was a failure of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Both the Government and Opposition attempted to amend the Greens’ motion on Tuesday afternoon, and Senator Payman sat with advisors as a number of procedural votes took place.

But it was the last vote, where the senate was asked to vote on the original wording put forward by the Greens, that Senator Payman walked away from her Labor colleagues.

She left the chamber swiftly after the vote before holding a brief press conference and recounting how each step “felt like a mile”.

“Each step I took across the Senate floor felt like a mile, (but) I know I did not walk these steps by myself, and I know I did not walk them alone,” she said.

“I’ve walked with the West Australians who have stopped me in the streets and told me not to give up. I’ve walked with the rank-and-file Labor party members who told me we must do more. I’ve worked with the core values of the Labor party – equality, justice, fairness and advocacy for the voiceless and the oppressed.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt said Senator Payman had set the bar for other Labor politicians on the issue.

“If a first-term young senator can cross the floor to do the right thing, then other Labor MPs have run out of excuses,” he said..

“There are practical things that Labor could do to put pressure on this extreme Netanyahu government to stop the invasion, including recognise Palestine, and Labor has refused to do any of that. We are going to keep pushing.”

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