‘United’: Caucus backs Albo on rogue senator

Senator Fatima Payman last sat in caucus last week before voting against the government. . Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Labor MPs and senators have unanimously endorsed Anthony Albanese’s decision to indefinitely suspend first-term senator Fatima Payman for defying caucus rules.

Senator Payman was initially suspended from Labor’s caucus for the rest of the sitting fortnight after she broke Labor rules last week to vote against the government in favour of a Greens’ motion supporting the recognition of Palestine as a state.

The suspension was made indefinite on Sunday after she doubled down on national television and claimed she would do it again.

The regular Tuesday caucus meeting endorsed Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s suspension of the Western Australian senator.

He responded to criticism he had been too easy on Senator Payman, saying that “showing restraint and some compassion is a strength not a weakness”.

Mr Albanese said he was only the Prime Minister because he “had Labor next to his name”.

“That is true for every one of us,” he said, according to a party spokesman.

“This is the most united caucus I had been part of.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he showed ‘strength and restraint’ in his handling of Senator Payman’s actions. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman
Senator Fatima Payman last sat in caucus last week, just hours before crossing the floor to vote against government policy. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

His actions were endorsed on the voices, with no caucus member dissenting.

In a bombshell statement on Monday, Senator Payman said she felt intimidated by some members of the party and had been told not to vote in parliament.

“Yesterday, the Prime Minister suspended me indefinitely from the Australian Labor Party caucus,” she said.

“Since then I have lost all contact with my caucus colleagues. I have been removed from caucus meetings, committees, internal group chats and whips bulletins.

“I have been told to avoid all chamber duties that require a vote including divisions, motions and matters of public interest. I have been exiled.

“These actions led me to believe that some members are attempting to intimidate me into resigning from the Senate.”

Senator Fatima Payman claimed on Monday she had been ‘exiled’ from the Labor Party. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Senior Labor minister Bill Shorten has hit back at Senator Payman’s claim she had been exiled from the party, saying her colleagues were simply “giving her space” instead.

Speaking to ABC Radio on Tuesday, Mr Shorten said the senator’s Labor colleagues had been nothing but supportive and denied reports Mr Albanese had asked her to resign during an emergency meeting at The Lodge on Sunday.

“I do not for one second think the Labor Party has been anything other than reaching out to her. I don’t think she’s been intimidated or exiled,” he said.

“I can’t speak for how she’s feeling, that’s up to her, but I can speak towards what I see as the objective conduct of empathetic committed colleagues.

“The reality is in as far as I can see it, and I can see them at a distance, is that people are giving her space. The fact of the matter is, if you can’t agree to the team and the coach’s instructions, then, you know, she’s on the bench for the time being.”

Shorten/Keogh Presser
Former party leader Bill Shorten said there had been nothing but support from other members of the caucus who were ‘giving her space’. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Mr Shorten said while he empathised with Senator Payman, she had committed when becoming a Labor candidate to voting with the party.

“When you become a Labor candidate, you actually sign a contract. And the contract is that you will be bound by the decisions of the caucus,” he said.

Senator Payman declared on Monday she would abstain from voting on senate matters for the rest of the sitting week “unless a matter of conscience arises where I’ll uphold the true value and principles of the Labor Party”.

The Albanese government supports the recognition of a Palestinian state as part of a peace process towards a two-state solution.

It had tried to amend the Greens’ motion last week to include that recognition should happen “as a part of a peace process in support of a two-state solution and a just and enduring peace”.

Senator Payman told reporters after she crossed the floor that she voted for the Greens’ motion because “we cannot believe in two-state solutions and only recognise one”.

“It was the most difficult decision I have had to make, and although each step I took across the Senate floor felt like a mile, I know I did not walk alone,” she said.

The Greens, meanwhile, have left open the option of moving another motion on Palestine on Wednesday or Thursday.