Ministers back benching senator for pro-Palestine vote

The most effective way to stand against the "awful situation" in the Middle East is in unison, cabinet minister Katy Gallagher says as she defends Labor's policy of not allowing members to cross the floor.

Labor is in damage control after Senator Fatima Payman defied the party's position and crossed the Senate floor to support a Greens motion about recognising Palestine as a state.

The move usually would have had her expelled under party conventions but the sensitivity of the war in Gaza and the public optics of kicking out a young Muslim woman has led leaders to issue her a caution.

Labor Senator Fatima Payman (file image)
Fatima Payman says she crossed the floor as a matter of conscience. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Senator Payman has been barred from a Labor caucus meeting at the behest of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

The prime minister "dealt with this matter with great restraint on this occasion", Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.

Asked about the ordeal during numerous media interviews, Senator Wong said she was conscious of the difficulty Senator Payman felt but she also understood anger from colleagues who had been forced to toe the party line.

"Our expectation is that the senator abide by decisions of the caucus," she said.

"We understand the importance of caucus solidarity.

"It is very rare for a Labor person not to respect that."

Senator Gallagher also defended the party's policy of having members vote as a block.

Labor members had "tried to be supportive and understanding" of Senator Payman, she said.

"For Senator Payman, as a caucus we have tried to be mature, sympathetic and supportive but we are also a collective of politicians that stand together," she told ABC Radio.

Katy Gallagher
Katy Gallagher says Labor members have tried to be sympathetic and supportive of Fatima Payman. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

"There are also consequences for decisions individuals make and in this instance, I think the response from the prime minister has been absolutely appropriate."

Senator Payman said she believed voting in support of the motion, which urged the issue of recognising Palestine as a state be taken as an urgent matter, was in line with Labor's principles.

The party's policy platform is to recognise Palestine but with no timeline attached and some caveats.

Minister Anne Aly, who has been outspoken in her support for Palestine, reiterated that regardless of what happened in the Senate, "the world woke on Wednesday morning and children were still being starved, the conflict was still happening".

She said members were "given latitude" within the party to express diverging views, adding people needed to focus on contributions "that make a material difference on the ground".

Using politics for political gain had undermined the social fabric in Australia, Labor senator Deborah O'Neill said.

Senator Deborah O'Neill
"I mourn every death in conflict, whether Palestinian or Israeli," Labor's Deborah O'Neill says. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The crisis in the Middle East would not be solved through inflammatory rhetoric in the Senate or on the streets, she said.

"Sadly, we have seen too much hate already in this country, fanning the flames of division in an unnecessary and unedifying way," she said.

Australians were able to equally express horror at Israelis being murdered by Hamas and call for hostages to be released as well as mourn the thousands of Palestinians killed as a result of the ensuing conflict, Senator O'Neill said.

"We need to attend to our own housekeeping here, and to be clear that we will not stomach any violence towards any Australian of any faith or of no faith at any time," she said.

The death toll in Gaza is approaching 38,000, according to the Hamas-run local health ministry.

Tel Aviv launched a campaign in Gaza after designated terrorist organisation Hamas killed 1200 Israelis and took some 250 people hostage - according to its tallies - in an attack on October 7.