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Albanese bans WA senator Fatima Payman from caucus over support for Palestine

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has given Western Australian Labor senator Fatima Payman an indefinite ban from the party’s caucus after she voiced her continued support for Palestinian independence and criticised the party’s process of caucus solidarity.

Earlier this week the first term senator broke ranks, crossing the floor, and voting in favour of a motion put up by The Greens that called for recognition of a Palestinian state.

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It was the first time since 1986 that a Labor member had crossed the floor to vote against the government. The move immediately led to calls for Payman to be kicked out of the party, as the Labor system requires members to vote along party lines unless a conscience vote has been granted.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese opted to suspend Payman from the Labor caucus for the remainer of the current session, which would have meant she was kept outside for just a single meeting.

Labor Senator Fatima Payman.

Senator Payman’s action was publicly criticised by high profile members of the party, including Senator Penny Wong and Western Australian senator Louise Pratt, who highlighted that they’d been required to tow to party line when Labor were opposed to marriage equality.

Wong said she understood why Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had showed “great restraint” in dealing with Senator Payman but highlighted that she’d had to promote the party’s view against marriage equality when it was their official policy.

“We understand the importance of caucus solidarity. It is very rare for a Labor person not to respect that. It’s a principle which has served us well.” Senator Wong told Sky News.

Labor Senator Louise Pratt.

Speaking to The Australian Senator Pratt said Senator Payman’s action “is not going to create peace in the Middle East”.  

Pratt said that it had been hard for her to be bound by the Labor party’s rules on voting, but she believed it was better to be working “within the tent” to create change.

“In the context of marriage equality, while it was hard to be bound at the time, we knew that we needed to change the whole of the government position and it was and it was the long game to be able to use the party’s numbers to get to that outcome,” Senator Pratt said.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles says caucus solidarity is fundamentally important

On Sunday morning Deputy Prime Minister appeared on the ABC political program Insiders and was asked about Senator Payman’s future in the party.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.

“We’ve tried to act with restraint here.” Marles said. “We have seen social cohesion in this country put under enormous pressure since October 7th last year, and we wanted to have that guide our actions in this case, and we didn’t think that it served to go around expelling people for having a particular view on this issue.”

Marles said it was fundamentally important that Labor members respected caucus solidarity.

Payman notes that it took over a decade to change Labor policy on marriage equality

Later in the program Senator Payman appeared on the program and hit back at the comparison to marriage equality, and said she would cross the floor again if similar motion was presented.

“If the same motion on recognising the state of Palestine was to be brought forward tomorrow – I would cross the floor.” Senator Payman said.

“I respect the Prime Minister and my senior colleagues, and obviously the Prime Minister had a firm but fair conversation with me a few days ago, and I understand he’s got very important decisions to make as the leader of our nation.”

The senator said she understood her decision could lead her being kicked out of the Labor party, but she felt her views were in line with Labor values held by rank-and-file members.

“I do not intend on leaving the party.” she said, arguing that the party needs to find a way to represent a diversity of views.

When it came to the comparison to Senators Wong and Pratt’s long campaign for marriage equality, Senator Payman had a blunt response.

“Their advocacy from within, it took 10 years to legislate same-sex marriage. We’re talking about 40,000 Palestinians being massacred here. These Palestinians do not have 10 years.” Senator Payman said.

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

Prime Minister calls Senator Payman in, hands down indefinite ban

Within hours Senator Payman was ‘on the carpet’ in front of the Prime Minister who immediately suspended her indefinitely from the party’s caucus.

“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.

The spokesperson said Senator Payman would be let back in if “decides she will respect the caucus and her Labor colleagues”.

Who is Fatima Payman?

Fatima Payman was first elected as a Labor senator at the 2022 election. She is the first hijab wearing Muslim woman to be elected to the Australian parliament.

Senator Payman was born in Afghanistan. Her family fled to Pakistan when she was five years old. Her late father arrived in Australia in 1999 via a boat and he spent time in immigration detention. He was able to bring his family to Australia in 2003 when Senator Payman was eight years old.

At University she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and sociology and a Graduate Diploma of Pharmaceutical Sciences. She also became involved in politics after she saw the working conditions and exploitation her father experienced as he worked a range of jobs.

Senator Payman worked for the United Workers Union as an organiser, and also worked in the office on state politician Pierre Yang.

She was given the third spot on the Labor ticket at the 2022 election, and was not expected to be elected, but a swell of support for the party in WA saw her at 27 become the third ever youngest member of the parliament.

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