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Senator Fatima Payman’s pledge to Labor revealed amid staff exodus

Katina Curtis and Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
Labor Senator Fatima Paymansays she has been “exiled” from Labor and feels some within the party were trying to intimidate her into leaving Parliament.
Labor Senator Fatima Paymansays she has been “exiled” from Labor and feels some within the party were trying to intimidate her into leaving Parliament. Credit: Mick Tsikas/AAPImage

Fatima Payman could be on the hook to repay campaign funds if she quits the Labor Party after all WA election candidates signed a pledge to abide by caucus solidarity and remain party members.

The WA senator has had informal talks with Glenn Druery, the political adviser known as the “preference whisperer” for his role in getting micro-party and independent candidates elected.

Labor’s caucus has now unanimously backed the Prime Minister’s move to suspend Senator Payman amid the fallout from her crossing the floor last week.

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On Monday, the 29-year-old said she had been “exiled” from Labor and felt that some were trying to intimidate her into leaving Parliament altogether.

It is understood her staff are in the process of leaving as the relationship with the senator became strained in both directions.

Senator Payman has previously said she told no one of her decisions to cross the floor last week in support of a Greens motion on Palestine, or give a speech the day after the Budget in which she accused Israel of genocide and said the Australian government was not doing enough to help.

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
Fatima Payman is embraced by Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek during the swearing in ceremony of Governor-General of Australia Sam Mostyn on Monday. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAPImage

Anthony Albanese spoke in caucus on Tuesday morning about the importance of unity and cohesion.

He said he had only become Prime Minister because of the word “Labor” next to his name and “that is true for every one of us”.

Senator Payman was elected in 2022 when Labor won a rare third Senate seat in WA.

Mr Albanese said she hadn’t been elected “because a quarter of a million West Australians put a number one next to her name … they put a number one in a box that said Australian Labor Party”.

The WA Labor pledge that all federal parliamentary candidates must sign includes a commitment to vote in Parliament in line with majority decisions of caucus and to remain a financial member of the party.

“I understand and accept that if I act in a manner contrary to this pledge I will be personally liable for a proportion of the costs incurred by the party at the general election in which I was last elected,” the pledge states.

The party’s administrative committee decides how much someone would have to pay if they break the undertaking.

Senator Payman had been a member of that committee for the WA branch but no longer serves on it.

The motion endorsed unanimously by Labor MPs on Tuesday stated: “If Senator Payman decides she will respect the caucus and her Labor colleagues, she can return. But until then, Senator Payman is suspended from the right to participate in Federal Parliamentary Labor Party caucus meetings and processes.”

Multiple sources within Labor say the party is genuinely open to her returning to its fold, but there is anger at her behaviour.

Mr Albanese moved at the weekend to make her suspension indefinite after she declared on national television she would continue to cross the floor on votes relating to Palestinian statehood.

The Greens are keeping their options open as to whether they move such motions this week.

But the minor party denies it is courting Senator Payman to join its ranks.

Leader Adam Bandt said he had not asked Senator Payman to join the Greens, nor had she raised the idea with him.

WA senator Dorinda Cox also denied having discussions about shifting parties, while others in the Greens were of the view that Senator Payman was Labor through and through despite the current tension.

Mr Druery confirmed he had had informal discussions with Senator Payman, which may indicate she is contemplating abandoning Labor.

“She is a person of great strength and Western Australia is lucky to have her,” he told The West.

Labor MPs and party figures have been reaching out to Senator Payman as she considers her future in the party — rejecting her perception she has been frozen out.

Cabinet minister Katy Gallagher said Senator Payman’s future was in her hands now.

“I know from my own dealings with Senator Payman and others that a lot of people have reached out and tried to wrap around support for her and talk with her, so I certainly don’t agree with some of the language she had in her statement yesterday,” she said.

“Senator Payman was elected as a member of the Labor government, as a Labor senator for WA. That is how she got into the Senate.”

Bill Shorten said all he had seen were “empathetic committed colleagues” and he didn’t believe Senator Payman had been intimidated or exiled.

The Greens will launch a doorknocking campaign in five Labor-held electorates – including Patrick Gorman’s seat of Perth – to put pressure on local MPs to follow Senator Payman’s lead and break ranks on Palestine.

A motion on Palestinian recognition will be put to the lower house when parliament returns in mid-August to test the targeted MPs.

The electorates of Wills and Cooper in Victoria, Richmond in NSW and Moreton in Queensland are also in the Greens’ sights.

The campaign has prompted fresh accusations the minor party is using the Gaza war to “harvest” votes.

“We want them (MPs) to shift their position and we want Labor to shift its position,” Mr Bandt said.

Mr Albanese earlier laid out for colleagues how the Government had shifted to now call for ceasefire, including backing a UN vote, and oppose Israel’s ground invasion of Rafah.

Mr Gorman said the Greens were “obsessed with turning this horrific conflict into domestic political opportunism”.

Opposition frontbencher James Paterson said the Greens “should be much more careful about stoking” division amid concerns about social cohesion with attacks on electorate offices and war memorials.

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