Labor seeks unity as Payman suspension row rumbles on

Aaron Sheldrick |

Labor leaders have rebuffed suggestions that suspended Senator Fatima Payman has been frozen out by party colleagues as a row over the prime minister’s decision threatens to derail government business.

Senator Payman has described being isolated by the Labor Party and colleagues after being suspended from caucus for crossing the floor to support a pro-Palestine motion put by the Greens.

Asked on ABC whether Senator Payman is being intimidated, Health Minister Mark Butler rejected the assertion and said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had followed established party policy.

Senator Fatima Payman (centre).
Senior Labor figures rejected an assertion that Senator Fatima Payman (centre) has been intimidated. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“No, I reject that entirely,” he said.

“The prime minister’s position was put in a measured, proportionate way on Sunday, after the interview on Insiders,” he said referring to when Senator Payman said she would cross the floor again on a similar vote on Palestine.

“It’s not a new position. It’s a position that’s been being adopted by prime ministers going back through Hawke, Keating, Whitlam, back to Curtin and Chifley and even before that.”

“This is a very long standing principle of Labor that the party candidates sign onto, frankly, when they get the privilege of putting themselves forward for election to public office with the Labor party next to their name on the ballot paper.”

Senator Fatima Payman (centre) after crossing the floor.
Senator Fatima Payman (centre) sits with Senator David Pocock after crossing the floor. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The West Australian senator has also been told to avoid all Senate chamber duties, including attending votes, she said in a statement on Monday.

“I have lost all contact with my caucus colleagues. I have been removed from caucus meetings, committees, internal group chats, and whips bulletins,” Senator Payman said.

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

Senator Katy Gallagher said colleagues had tried to reach out Senator Payman. 

“These are decisions, you know, that she has made for herself,” the minister for women and finance said on ABC radio.

“She’s made the decisions that she can only make herself and I know a lot of her colleagues who have worked with her are desperately trying to reach out and provide support where they can,” she said. 

Senator Gallagher rejected suggestions it meant there were limits to the diversity that Labour leaders say they are proud of.

“Our diversity is our strength, you know, going right back in history the Labor party has always supported diversity. Our election to government in 2022 delivered the most diverse caucus ever and that’s something we are really proud of.”

“I’m very proud to be a member of this caucus and it brings perspective from right around the country from diverse cultures, from First Nations communities all the way to new arrivals and that’s a real strength for our government.”