Fatima Payman says floor-crossing will not be ‘once-off gesture’ in her advocacy for Palestine

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Katina Curtis
The Nightly
Labor Senator Fatima Payman in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, May 16, 2024.
Labor Senator Fatima Payman in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, May 16, 2024. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

WA senator Fatima Payman has reiterated her desire to remain a Labor Party member despite breaking caucus solidarity rules but says her floor-crossing to back Palestinian statehood will not be a “once-off gesture”.

The senator broke her silence in an interview with online youth media outlet 6 News amid growing anger from many colleagues — including those sympathetic to her position on Palestine — about the soft consequences of her breaking ranks.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has told her not to attend next week’s caucus meeting.

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However, there had been an expectation from many Labor colleagues that given the party’s fierce commitment to both allowing robust internal debates and then showing solidarity for resolved positions, she would face expulsion from their ranks.

However, the Government’s senior ranks are concerned about maintaining broader social cohesion and also supporting the first-term senator.

Senator Payman acknowledged she had had “many welfare checks” from colleagues who had “shown you know, their support for my mental health and making sure that I don’t feel alone” but avoided answering whether any had supported her floor-crossing.

She insisted, as she did immediately after the vote on Tuesday night, that she was following the Labor ethos.

“This is about justice. This is about doing the right thing and being on the right side of history. And I just implore that and hope that by me continuing within the party, I can convince my colleagues to come on board,” she said.

“We were elected to be standing up for our values. It’s not a homogenous caucus. So I do understand that there are various perspectives within our caucus. But it is important on matters like this that we get to vote with our conscience.”

This puts her at odds with Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who drew on her experience in the years-long fight to shift Labor’s position on same-sex marriage.

Senator Wong said all Labor politicians brought personal commitments to their position but also had to be committed to the collective.

“It’s about our respect for one another and our belief that the collective, we stand together,” she said.

“Even when we disagree, we have those arguments internally as you saw over many years in the marriage equality debate. That’s what I did and I think that’s the right way to go about it.”

Senator Payman acknowledged there were others within the caucus who had long campaigned for the recognition of Palestine, ”some that have advocated longer than I’ve been on this earth for”.

“It is really important for me to ensure that what I’ve done isn’t just a once-off gesture, but rather, I know that this is part of an incremental move towards recognising Palestine but also it’s about reinstating that hope within our communities, showing them that yes, we do listen, we are representing your voices,” she said.

“I still have my Labor Party values and people not being overly supportive or eager to jump on board won’t derail me from you know, continuing to vote with my conscience but also advocating for this very important cause.

“It was me voting with my conscience and doing what was right and ensuring that I represented the voice of West Australians, young people, the communities that had reached out to me and the voices of our rank and file members.”

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