Albo’s update on rogue Labor senator

The Prime Minister's Office has said West Australian senator Fatima Payman won't be removed from caucus after she crossed the floor, and voted with the Greens, denouncing the government's stance on Palestine.
West Australian senator Fatima Payman won't be removed from caucus after she crossed the floor, and voted with the Greens, denouncing the government's stance on Palestine.

First-term Labor senator Fatima Payman will not attend caucus for the rest of the parliament sitting fortnight, after she crossed the floor to vote for a Greens motion recognising the statehood of Palestine.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told question time he had discussed the issue with the WA senator on Wednesday.

“I met with Senator Payman earlier today. She will not be attending the Labor caucus for the rest of this session,” he said.

It’s not clear if her had suspended her from the party room or if she had agreed not to attend.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese provided an update on Fatima Payman during Question Time. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman
Labor senator Fatima Payman won’t be attending caucus for the rest of Question Time after crossing the floor. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

On Tuesday evening, the 29-year-old defied her colleagues and became the first Labor member to cross the floor in 18 years.

While her move risked expulsion or suspension from the ALP, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said early on Wednesday that neither of these sanctions would be applied to Senator Payman.

“This is a difficult issue. Fatima has made clear that she continues to maintain her Labor values, that she wants to represent the people of WA in the Senate as a Labor senator, as she was elected at the last election … There won’t be any expulsions or any activity of that kind,” he told the ABC on Wednesday morning.

Senator Fatima Payman crosses the floor to support senator Mehreen Faruqi’s motion to have the Senate recognise Palestine as a state at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: NewsWire/ Martin Ollman

He said it was the government’s priority to maintain social cohesion amid the “complexity and tragedy in the Middle East” and Labor would not be “going around expelling people … for having particular views here”.

“That wouldn’t be living what we are seeking to do in trying to promote social cohesion in this country,” he said.

Following the controversial vote, the Prime Minister’s office was also quick to nip speculation, citing there were no formal penalties for members who voted against the party.

“There is no mandated sanction in these circumstances and previous caucus members have crossed the floor without facing expulsion,” a government spokesperson said.

“As reflected in our amendment, the government supports the recognition of a Palestinian state as part of a peace process towards a two-state solution.”

Senator Payman defied the ALP and voted with the Greens on a motion recognising Palestinian statehood. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Strict rules governing how members of the Labor caucus vote prevent MPs and senators from crossing the floor except under exceptional circumstances on matters of conscience.

It will now be up to the Labor caucus to determine what and if penalties will be placed on Senator Payman; however, a decision to expel or suspend a member is ultimately a decision for the party’s national executive.

Appearing on Sunrise on Wednesday morning, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said Senator Payman “expressed a view” and the government was still focused on trying to bring about a ceasefire and a two-state solution in the Middle East.

“We are not going to solve peace in the Middle East through Greens motions in the Senate,” she said.

“Our government is working through the proper channels to get to where we all want to be here, and that is peace and for innocent people to stop dying in a conflict in which they have no particular part.”

Asked what would happen to Senator Payman, Ms O’Neil said the party would “go through a process”.

“We’ve got lots of people watching right now who are seeing the news every night where innocent children are dying in a conflict which they have no particular role in for no good reason, and it would be impossible I think not to be moved by that,” she said.

“I think Fatima Payman feels really strongly about these issues, for very understandable reasons, and she’s expressed a view in the Senate.”

Senator Payman’s fate will now be decided by the Labor caucus. Picture: NewsWire/ Martin Ollman

Deputy Liberal Party leader Sussan Ley said the Prime Minister’s apparent decision not to expel opened the way for other members of the Labor Caucus to vote against Labor policy.

“Anthony Albanese has just shown such weak leadership since the attacks on October the seventh. Has Labor unilaterally changed the position which was bipartisan on a two-state solution?” she told Sky News on Wednesday.

“And what on earth is going on here on the floor of the Senate? We’ve got Labor senators on both sides of the debate.

“It’s effectively a green light to Labor senators that if you feel strongly about an issue, you can cross the floor.

“So the shield of caucus solidarity is gone, and no one has crossed the floor in Labor since 1986. It’s clearly not Labor Party policy.”

Speaking after the vote, Senator Payman said she still had the “core values of the Labor Party” and she hoped to continue serving in the party.

“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 told reporters in Canberra.

Senator Fatima Payman was in caucus on Tuesday morning, hours before crossing the floor in the Senate. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Greens leader Adam Bandt praised Senator Payman and called on other Labor MPs and senators to follow suit.

“It’s disgraceful that Liberal and Labor voted together to deny recognition of Palestine,” Mr Bandt told ABC News Breakfast.

“Senator Payman bravely and courageously did the right thing. I think Senator Payman has now set the bar for other Labor MPs.

“If a first-term young senator can cross the floor to do the right thing, then other Labor MPs have run out of excuses.”

However, the move was lashed by Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin, who demanded she be held accountable for her actions.

“The fact that Senator Payman could no longer accept the government’s position of supporting a Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution is astonishing,” he said.