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‘I have been exiled’: Fatima Payman pledges to abstain from Senate votes while suspended from caucus

Katina Curtis and Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
Labor senator Fatima Payman has been “indefinitely suspended” from the Labor Party caucus after a series of defiant actions related to her support for Palestine.
Labor senator Fatima Payman has been “indefinitely suspended” from the Labor Party caucus after a series of defiant actions related to her support for Palestine. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

WA senator Fatima Payman says she has been “exiled” from the Labor Party and believes some colleagues are trying to get her to resign from Parliament.

She will abstain from all votes in the Upper House this week except on matters of conscience.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese indefinitely suspended Senator Payman from the Labor caucus on Sunday after she said she would continue to cross the floor on votes related to recognising Palestinian statehood.

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He said “no individual is bigger than the team” and that Senator Payman made a deliberate decision to disrupt the Government’s attempts to sell its flagship tax cuts when she made the vow live on on national television.

Senator Payman said she had “lost all contact with my caucus colleagues” since Mr Albanese made the suspension.

“I have been removed from caucus meetings, committees, internal group chats and whips bulletins,” she said.

“I have been told to avoid all chamber duties that require a vote including divisions, motions and matters of public interest.

“I have been exiled.

“These actions lead me to believe that some members are attempting to intimidate me into resigning from the Senate.”

Senator Payman said she would abstain from voting in the Senate this week “unless a matter of conscience arises where I’ll uphold the true values and principles of the Labor Party”.

It potentially makes the Government’s job harder to pass legislation such as the 2028 ban on live sheep exports.

“I will use this time to reflect on my future and the best way to represent the people of Western Australia,” Senator Payman said.

Multiple Labor MPs have told how they had reached out to Senator Payman over the past week only to be rebuffed or ignored.

During the swearing-in of new Governor-General Sam Mostyn on Monday morning, Senator Payman sat at the outskirts of the Senate chamber, looking at her phone while colleagues chatted during the lengthy wait for proceedings to start.

Afterwards, Tanya Plibersek had a quiet chat to Senator Payman and gave her a hug as they exited the chamber.

Labor Senator Fatima Payman is embraced by Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek during the swearing in ceremony of Governor-General of Australia Sam Mostyn in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, July 1, 2024. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Labor Senator Fatima Payman is embraced by Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek during the swearing in ceremony of Governor-General of Australia Sam Mostyn. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

In his first public comments since issuing the sanction, Mr Albanese referenced his AFL side Hawthorn’s thumping defeat of West Coast on Sunday night to explain the decision.

“The way that they won was that they’re not the best team on paper, but they act as a team,” the Prime Minister told ABC News radio.

“They pass the ball to each other. They don’t just kick at random. They don’t say, ‘We won’t worry about the rules, we’ll throw rather than handball.

“They listen to the coach’s instructions.”

Mr Albanese pointed out West Coast had the “best young footballer in the league” — a clear reference to superstar Harley Reid.

He said Senator Payman’s actions were designed to “undermine” Labor’s agreed position on Palestine.

The Labor leadership is prepared to welcome Senator Payman back into the fold if she agrees to toe the line.

Minister Anne Aly – a fellow West Australian and the first Muslim woman elected to Federal Parliament – said she hoped Senator Payman remained a Labor Party member and came back to caucus in the long-term.

“I fought long and hard to ensure that we have a diverse representation in our parliament ... diversity of background, ethnicity, age, gender, a whole range of different diversities,” she said.

“There were a few times over the weekend … where I was rather emotional because I thought, when I first came in here, I thought, I’ll take the bullets and I’ll take the death threats and I’ll take all of that, but it’ll be easier for the next person.”

Dr Aly said she had hoped the Senate would last week end up supporting a motion that called for the recognition of Palestine as part of a two-state solution, and that calling for recognition without any context was “tokenistic”.

“I choose to do things in a way that I think will make a material difference on the ground to the people of Palestine,” she said.

“Fatima chooses to do things in her way, and I think that there is an acknowledgement and a support from different sections of the community for both.”

Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi accused pro-Palestine Labor MPs who had not crossed the floor – including Dr Aly – of “cowardice”.

“If they say they care about Palestinian justice, they must vote for it,” she said.

Labor’s factional groupings will meet on Monday evening where they will decide whether to push for further or different action regarding Senator Payman during Tuesday’s caucus meeting.

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