Labor struggles to focus on economy amid Payman fracas

Dominic Giannini and Alex Mitchell |

Labor senator Fatima Payman is refusing to back down on recognising Palestinian statehood.
Labor senator Fatima Payman is refusing to back down on recognising Palestinian statehood.

Labor Party leaders have lined up to back the prime minister’s suspension of Fatima Payman for doubling down and saying she would cross the floor again on Palestine.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese upped Senator Payman’s one-caucus suspension to an indefinite benching on Sunday as the government sought keep the focus on its cost-of-living measures as the new financial year kicks in.

Mr Albanese used sporting analogies while talking about the need for Senator Payman to be a team player and support party unity.

“It’s a day where we want to talk about tax cuts, we want to talk about our economic support,” Mr Albanese said on ABC radio on Monday.

“I watched the Hawks win their fifth game in a row yesterday. The way that they won was that they’re not the best team on paper, but they act as a team.They pass the ball to each other. They don’t just kick at random.”

Labor’s policy platform includes recognition of a Palestinian state but with no timeline and some caveats attached.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Anthony Albanese’s plan to spend the day talking about tax cuts has been thwarted. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

Senator Payman’s defiant move to vote with the Greens last week and threaten to do so again had derailed the government’s plan to talk about tax cuts and cost-of-living relief, Mr Albanese said.

“Let’s be very clear, it’s not because of her support for a policy position that she’s advocated,” he said.

Senator Payman was welcome back inside the tent if she could be a team player, he said.

Labor Senator Fatima Payman with Independent Senator David Pocock
Fatima Payman crossed the floor, defying a long-held Labor Party protocol. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Albanese criticised the Greens motion to recognise a Palestinian state, saying it did nothing to advance peace, but then chastised the minor party for not voting for a Labor proposal.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong attempted to amend the Greens motion.

The amendment would have added the suffix “as a part of a peace process in support of a two state solution and a just and enduring peace” to the push to recognise Palestine but was voted down.

The Greens motion couldn’t be supported as it didn’t affirm a two state solution, Mr Albanese said.

“And that’s a collective position that Labor has had,” he said.

Senator Payman maintained she voted in line with her “Labor values”.

Australian Early Childhood Education Minister Anne Aly
Anne Aly says the Greens motion on recognising Palestine statehood was “tokenistic”. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

But the same values were embedded in Senator Wong’s amendment, minister Anne Aly said.

“She could have voted for it if she, as she says, holds Labor values,” she said.

“Had things been different, we may well have seen, we may well have seen the recognition of Palestine in the Senate.”

Without adding the context of a two state solution made the Greens push “tokenistic”, Dr Aly said.

“I don’t want this to be tokenistic. I want this to be a very clear message to the Palestinian people that Australia supports their aspirations for statehood.”

Senator Payman said earlier she wouldn’t resign from the party.

A free palestine rally
The war in Gaza has prompted weekly protests around the nation. (Morgan Hancock/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Albanese said the senator was elected as part of the Labor Party, not an individual.

“She wasn’t elected to the Senate 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,” he said.

The death toll in Gaza continues to mount, with some 38,000 dead, according to the local Hamas-run health ministry, following Israel’s counteroffensive after the designated terrorist group killed 1200 people and took 250 hostages on October 7.