Defiant senator faces Labor blowback over Palestine

Aaron Sheldrick |

Labor senator Fatima Payman says she has received overwhelming voter support for her defiance over Palestine despite being given the cold shoulder by some colleagues.

Senator Payman has been barred from a Labor caucus meeting after crossing the floor to support a Greens motion supporting Palestinian statehood.

The first-term senator says she will not quit the party but is refusing to back down regardless of the consequences.

Fatima Payman
Senator Fatima Payman has been barred from a Labor caucus meeting after crossing the floor. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“If the same motion on recognising the state of Palestine was to be brought forward tomorrow, I would (cross the floor again),” Senator Payman said on ABC Insiders on Sunday.

“Obviously, the prime minister had a stern but fair conversation with me a few days ago. And I understand that he’s got very important decisions to make as the leader of our nation.

“When I made the decision on the Senate floor to cross, I did it with the understanding that this could lead to expulsion and costing my Labor membership.”

Tensions have been stoked by the images of war in the Gaza Strip following the Hamas attack on Israel, and the senator’s rhetoric has been seen by some as inflaming the debate.

“This is about 40,000 Palestinians that have been massacred and slaughtered since (October 7),” Senator Payman said.

“I know that Australians are fair people. And knowing the Labor party, we are a party with a conscience and champions of human rights … so I believe that I’ve been abiding by those principles of the party.”

Labor Party members are expected to vote as a bloc and crossing the floor is a no-go under internal rules, but there are no mandated sanctions for defiant MPs.

Although convention dictates a person is expelled from the party room, the decision is supposed to be made by caucus rather than a leader’s directive.

Senator Payman said some of her parliamentary colleagues had given her the “cold shoulder” but most were supportive.

She urged the party to embrace a diversity of views and said rank-and-file members had backed her position.

“To receive the support that I have, it’s quite overwhelming, whether it be from my West Australian constituents or from around the nation,” she said.

Richard Marles
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles says caucus solidarity is fundamental to Labor MPs. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Deputy prime minister Richard Marles declined to say how the party would respond if Senator Payman crossed the floor again but warned that caucus solidarity would be “foremost in the minds” of her colleagues.

“We are all members of a team … when we stand for election, the word ‘Labor’ is next to our name and that is the same for Fatima Payman as well,” he told ABC’s Insiders.

Senator Payman said she understood the frustrations of colleagues such as Penny Wong who had voted with the party against their conscience on social issues.

But she noted it had taken a decade to legislate same-sex marriage despite the private advocacy of Senator Wong and others.

“These Palestinians do not have 10 years,” she said.

“And so that’s why I will use what is within my power as a backbench senator to continue advocating for a just and lasting solution.”

The death toll in Gaza is approaching 38,000, according to the Hamas-run local health ministry.

Tel Aviv launched a campaign in Gaza after designated terrorist organisation Hamas killed 1200 Israelis and took about 250 people hostage – according to its tallies – in an attack on October 7, 2023.