Fatima Payman
Anthony Albanese has flagged Senator Fatima Payman's possible defection from Labor. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

PM flags possibility Payman will quit Labor in ‘days’

Dominic Giannini July 3, 2024

Anthony Albanese has flagged suspended senator Fatima Payman could defect from the Labor Party within “days” as rumours swirl about her future.

The West Australian was suspended from the Labor caucus after she crossed the floor to support a Greens motion on Palestinian statehood and vowed to do so again in the same circumstance.

Senator Payman said she had been considering her future after being raked over the coals by Mr Albanese and described feeling isolated by her colleagues.

But the prime minister used Question Time on Wednesday to make a pointed comment about his senator, amid rumours she is preparing to confirm she will leave the party as soon as Thursday.

“I expect further announcements in the coming days which will explain exactly what the strategy has been over now more than a month,” Mr Albanese told parliament when asked about the senator.

Fatima Payman
 Rumours are swirling that Senator Fatima Payman will defect from Labor. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Senior ministers have stood by the decision not to expel Senator Payman – against party convention – as they work to calm community and internal unrest about the war in Gaza.

Labor MPs privately said there was a conscious effort to not isolate Senator Payman but voiced anger at how she approached the issue, rather than pushing for change internally.

Diversity was welcomed within the partyroom but Senator Payman had not used the opportunity to push for or raise policy options about recognising Palestine, Mr Albanese said.

Labor MP Peter Khalil said he would welcome Senator Payman back as people needed to be more forgiving in politics. 

“I would love to see Fatima back in our caucus. People make mistakes all the time and it’s important to forgive people,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

All parties wanted the same thing, “which is to end human suffering and to end a conflict overseas”, Mr Khalil said.

Peter Khalil in the House of Representatives.
 Labor MP Peter Khalil has said he wants to see more forgiveness in politics. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

But the Greens have seized on the saga to call for stronger action against Israel, including sanctioning its prime minister and expelling the ambassador.

The party is planning a doorknocking campaign targeting several Labor MPs who have higher proportions of Muslim voters in their electorates, including Mr Khalil.

Former Labor strategist-turned-pollster Kos Samaras warned that Australian Muslims were “not a homogeneous bloc”.

“That said, in some of these seats, losing 5000 primary votes to an Independent could place Labor MPs or candidates in a very precarious position,” he said in a social media post on X.

The Greens are mulling whether to move another pro-Palestine motion to try and wedge Labor MPs and taunt them into crossing the floor or face a targeted campaign about them not being able to follow Senator Payman’s conviction.

“It’s extraordinary that the Labor Party is sanctioning one of their own, Senator Payman, more strongly than they’re prepared to sanction a genocide or the Israeli government,” Greens senator Nick McKim said.

People drive cars piled with their belongings.
 Palestinians leave with their belongings after an Israeli evacuation order in southern Gaza. Image by EPA PHOTO 

Mr Khalil said a continuous stream of motions had “weaponised” the issue of statehood which Labor supported as part of a two-state solution where Israel and Palestine securely co-exist.

“Actually helping Palestinians get out of Rafah, which we’ve done, to back into my electorate – family members to be reunited – makes a difference to people’s lives,” he said.

“Increasing humanitarian aid to over $100 million makes a difference to those lives.”

Mr Samaras also warned the Greens about losing Jewish supporters who were feeling “abandoned” by the party too closely aligning itself with anti-Semitic rhetoric.