Fatima Payman quits Labor and moves to crossbench over Palestine split

Katina Curtis and Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
Labor Senator Fatima Payman arrives for a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, July 4, 2024.
Labor Senator Fatima Payman arrives for a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, July 4, 2024. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

WA senator Fatima Payman has quit Labor but will remain in the Senate as an independent after falling out with the party over her pro-Palestine stance.

Senator Payman choked back tears as she ended speculation about her future at a press conference in Parliament House on Thursday.

She has vowed to be “WA’s voice” on the crossbench, speaking up not just for Palestinian recognition but also Indigenous incarceration and the cost-of-living crisis.

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“With a heavy heart but a clear conscience, I announce my resignation from the Australian Labor Party,” she said.

Senator Payman said the Federal Government’s “indifference” to the Gaza conflict made her question the direction of the party.

“I am torn, deeply torn,” she said.

“On one hand, I have the immense support of the rank-and-file members, unionists, the lifelong party volunteers, who are calling on me to hang in there and to make change happen internally.”

“On the other hand, I am pressured to conform to caucus solidarity and toe the party line. I see no middle ground and my conscience leaves me no choice.”

Labor Senator Fatima Payman leaves after a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, July 4, 2024. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Senator Fatima Payman choked back tears as she annoucned she was leaving the Labor party. Credit: Mick Tsikas/AAPImage

After holding the press conference, Senator Payman joined the Senate chamber for the second half of question time, sitting on the crossbench.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese informed the lower house of the senator’s decision, saying she had sent a message to him that said, “Thank you for your leadership, has been an honour and a privilege to serve... (and) went on to indicate her resignation from the ALP”.

ALP national president Wayne Swan posted to the party’s social media following Senator Payman’s move to the crossbench, saying Labor “can’t win the battle of ideas without political unity”.

“Our past achievements tell us there is simply no substitute for the power of collective action to deliver social progress domestically and internationally,” Mr Swan said in a statement.

“Senator Payman’s decision to place herself outside the Party can only empower Labor’s opponents on the far right and on the left who have always opposed progressive foreign, economic and environmental policy.”

Mr Albanese indefinitely suspended the senator from federal caucus on Sunday after she broke party rules and crossed the floor to support a Greens motion on Palestinian statehood.

While she was initially only suspended for one meeting, Mr Albanese increased the sanction after she said on national television she would continue to cross the floor on the issue.

He was backed in by the full caucus at its meeting on Tuesday.

Fatima Payman sits on the crossbench.
Fatima Payman sits on the crossbench. Credit: Mick Tsikas/AAPImage

Mr Albanese on Wednesday foreshadowed Senator Payman’s resignation and hinted she had been plotting her exit for more than a month.

Senator Payman rejected that accusation but confirmed she had spoken to so-called “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery two days before she crossed the floor to back the Greens’ motion.

She is not planning to link up the Muslim groups preparing to run candidates against Labor MPs in western Sydney seats.

The 29-year-old was elected in 2022 to a rare third WA Senate seat for Labor.

Leaving the party means she will be on the hook to repay campaign expenses Labor incurred for her election, as revealed this week.

In a twist to the story, until caucus suspended her on Tuesday, Senator Payman was a member of the WA Labor administrative committee that will decide the size of this bill.

Senator Payman has been increasingly diverging from the Government’s position on Palestine and the timing of her interventions has put many parliamentary colleagues offside.

The day after the Budget in May, she made a speech to media, originally intended to be delivered to a rally outside Parliament House, accusing Israel of genocide, saying Australia was not doing enough and using the controversial phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” which Mr Albanese had previously condemned as violent language.

This fortnight’s spillover of tensions has overshadowed the Government’s sales pitch for its July 1 tax cuts, power bill rebates and wage rises for the lowest-paid workers.

She has faced an intense personal struggle with the Government’s position on the war in Gaza and has been publicly pushed by many activists to speak out.

The Government has moved to a more pro-Palestine position over the nine months since the October 7 attacks but some within its ranks — not only Senator Payman — believe that has happened too slowly.

However, there is anger from her colleagues because Senator Payman did not use any of the internal processes, formal or informal, to raise her concerns before going public or crossing the floor.

On Monday, she said she had been “exiled” from the party and felt that Labor colleagues were trying to intimidate her into leaving Parliament.

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