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WA Senator Fatima Payman suspended from Labor Caucus indefinitely after vow to cross floor again on Gaza

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
Labor senator Fatima Payman during Question Time in the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra. NewsWire / Martin Ollman
Labor senator Fatima Payman during Question Time in the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra. NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

Senator Fatima Payman has been suspended indefinitely from Labor caucus after she threatened to break ranks again to support Palestinian recognition.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese summoned the first-term senator to the Lodge in Canberra on Sunday afternoon to discuss the sanction, which was agreed to by Labor’s senior leadership team.

Senator Payman’s position in Labor caucus became untenable after she used an appearance on national television on Sunday morning to confirm she would defy the Prime Minister and cross the floor again if the Greens put a forward a motion to recognise Palestine.

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The Greens were preparing to immediately test her resolve with more votes on Palestine and the Gaza conflict expected this week in the Senate.

“By her own actions and statements, Senator Payman has placed herself outside the privilege that comes with participating in the federal parliamentary Labor Party caucus,” a Government spokesperson said.

“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.”

Senator Payman has been contacted for comment.

The Afghan-born senator on Sunday morning said she wanted to remain inside Labor caucus, insisting her act of defiance to champion human rights was consistent with party values.

But Mr Albanese and his senior leadership team have taken that decision out of her hands, turning a one-week caucus ban into an indefinite suspension.

The initial sanction was considered soft given Labor rules prevent MPs from crossing the floor except on rare matters of conscious.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Mr Albanese showed “restraint” in issuing Senator Payman with such a light punishment, amid deep internal unrest about her conduct.

Despite the public rebuke from the Labor leadership, Senator Payman on Sunday refused to toe the line.

“If the same motion on recognising the state of Palestine was to be brought forward tomorrow, I would cross the floor,” she told ABC Insiders.

Senator Payman accepted such a move could imperil her future with the Labor caucus.

“What I know is that this is about 40,000 Palestinians that have been massacred and slaughtered since the 7th of October,” she said in the interview.

“I know that Australians are a fair people and knowing about the Labor Party, we are a party with a conscience and champions of human rights, whether that be justice, fighting for freedom or equality.

“So I believe ... I’ve been abiding by those principles of the party.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt confirmed the minor party would use this coming sitting week to again pressure Labor over its position on Palestinian recognition and Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

Mr Bandt said there were various options on the table, including parliamentary motions – such as the one moved last week – legislation and questions in parliament.

“Labor should not take further action against Senator Payman but instead should work out what action they can take to put pressure on (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu to stop this invasion (of Gaza),” he said.

Senator Payman said she had not spoken to the Greens about their intentions.

One Labor MP said Senator Payman’s position in caucus would be “untenable” if she followed through – if it wasn’t already after Sunday’s interview on ABC’s Insiders program.

Senator Payman’s future was expected to be debated at Labor’s caucus meeting, which she was already barred from attending as a consequence of last week’s act of party disloyalty.

Labor sources were expecting further sanctions, including the possibility of expelling Senator Payman from caucus, to be discussed at the meeting.

There were concerns internally that Mr Albanese could look weak if he didn’t come down harder on Senator Payman if there was a second breach of party convention.

Mr Albanese had been trying to tread carefully to avoid inflaming domestic tensions surrounding the Middle East conflict.

The decision to suspend a young, Muslim woman from caucus will trigger a backlash against Labor in parts of the community - in particular younger voters.

Senator Payman’s suspension will also overshadow the Federal Government’s efforts to spruik its new tax cuts, which start on Monday.

A major source of anger inside Labor ranks was Senator Payman’s insistence on pushing her position publicly, rather than through internal channels.

Senior Labor sources said Senator Payman had never spoken up in caucus about her views, including last week when it agreed to amend the wording of the Greens’ motion to call for the Palestinian recognition “as part of a peace process in support of a two-state solution.”

Many colleagues have compared Senator Payman’s approach with Senator Wong and WA Labor Senator Louise Pratt’s decade-long internal fight to shift the party’s position on same-sex marriage.

Referencing those comparisons, Senator Payman said Palestinians “do not have 10 years”.

“That’s why I will use what is within my power as a backbench senator to continue advocating for a just and lasting solution - and I think that’s what fair Australians want,” she said on Insiders.

Mr Marles, speaking on Insiders just moments before Senator Payman’s interview, hinted there could be further punishment if she again decided to break ranks.

In a blunt message to his colleague, Mr Marles said Senator Payman was only elected to parliament because she was on the Labor ticket.

“I cannot overemphasise enough how important all of us who are members of the team, regard the obligations of being a member of the team in terms of the way in which we behave.”

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