Labor votes to suspend outspoken pro-Palestine senator

Dominic Giannini and Aaron Sheldrick |

Labor parliamentarians have endorsed the prime minister’s suspension of a senator for crossing the floor as senior ministers call for unity.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese indefinitely suspended Fatima Payman on Sunday when she said in a TV interview she would do the same in a similar vote.

The row over Senator Payman has overshadowed the government’s cost-of-living measures in the final parliamentary sitting week before the winter break.

Mr Albanese told Labor’s caucus meeting on Tuesday he had received some criticism for showing restraint but “some compassion is a strength not a weakness”.

Anthony Albanese addresses a Labor caucus meeting
Fatima Payman can return if she pledges to respect party processes, Anthony Albanese told caucus. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

He also pointed out Senator Payman was only elected because she ran as a Labor candidate.

The senator has placed herself “by her own actions and statements outside the privilege that comes from participating in the federal parliamentary Labor Party caucus”.

“This is the most united caucus I’ve have been a part of,” Mr Albanese told the party room.

She could return if she pledged to respect party processes, he said.

There was no debate and the motion was agreed to unanimously, a party spokesman said.

Senior ministers have lined up behind Mr Albanese’s move to suspend the West Australian after she crossed the Senate floor to support a Greens motion calling for urgency in recognising Palestine as a state.

Labor Party convention has been to expel members for crossing the floor, but there is no mandated sanction under internal rules.

Senator Payman has since described being isolated and said she was being pressured to quit after her punishment was handed down.

Health Minister Mark Butler rejected “entirely” the senator was being intimidated, saying Mr Albanese had followed established party policy.

“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 on the ABC TV program she would cross the floor again on a similar vote on Palestine.

Voting as a bloc was not a new position, he said.

“This is a very longstanding 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,” he said.

Senator Fatima Payman (centre) after crossing the floor.
Senator Fatima Payman claims she had lost contact with colleagues since crossing the floor. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Senator Payman was also told to avoid all 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.”

Colleagues had tried to reach out to Senator Payman, Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said.

“These are decisions that she has made for herself,” she said.

“I know a lot of her colleagues who have worked with her are desperately trying to reach out and provide support where they can.”

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

“Our diversity is our strength, going right back in history the Labor Party has always supported diversity,” she said.

“Our election to government in 2022 delivered the most diverse caucus ever and that’s something we are really proud of.”