Why Fatima Payman crossing the floor caused a debate in the Labor Party

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun29,2024
For the first time since 2005, an Australian Labor Party (ALP) senator has crossed the floor in an act of defiance against the party’s rules.
Western Australian senator Fatima Payman broke ranks earlier this week to express her support for a motion calling on Australia to formally recognise Palestinian statehood.
Now, at the request of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Payman has been told to sit out of the Labor caucus meetings for the rest of the parliamentary session, which ends on 4 July.
Payman said she crossed the floor “for humanity” and pointed to what she said is an inconsistency in Labor’s position on the matter.

“We cannot believe in two-state solutions and only recognise one.”

Why has Payman crossing the floor caused such a stir?

It is very rare for Labor members to vote against their party.
The last time a Labor MP crossed the floor was in 2005 when Tasmanian MP Harry Quick asked that his name be recorded in the Hansard as dissenting to anti-terrorism legislation.
And the last time a Labor MP crossed the floor while Labor was in power was in 1988, and before that in 1986. Both times, the MP was suspended from the party.

Internal ALP rules state that members must not dissent from the party position, and members in the past have been expelled, not just suspended, from the party over dissenting votes.

The ALP has a formal pledge binding parliamentarians to vote on party lines, which intends to ensure a united front is presented when voting in parliament.
In contrast, members of the Liberal and National parties are formally permitted to vote against their parties’ positions — but dissent is still relatively rare.
However, following Payman’s floor-crossing, Labor has indicated that she will not face immediate suspension or expulsion from the party.

“The senator says she maintains strong Labor values and intends to continue representing the Western Australians who elected her as a Labor senator,” a government spokesperson said.

“There is no mandated sanction in these circumstances and previous caucus members have crossed the floor without facing expulsion.
“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.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his position was “very clear”.

“We expect that people will participate in our caucus processes and comply,” Albanese told reporters.

What has Payman said since?

Speaking to 6 News, Payman said she had had “many welfare checks” from her colleagues since Tuesday.
“Many have shown support to my mental health, making sure I don’t feel alone,” she said.

Payman said she could face “extra penalties” within the party, but that this had not yet been determined.

What have other parliamentarians said?

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said she understands why members of the Labor caucus are upset with Payman’s decision.
“I can understand why caucus members feel upset because, you know, we are a party of the collective and our expectation is senator Payman will abide by caucus decisions,” Wong told Nine’s Today Show.

Other Labor members echoed Wong’s sentiment, referring to previous situations where they had stuck to the party line.

Wong, who is gay and married her partner this year, acknowledged she “had” to vote against Greens motions supporting same-sex marriage in 2008 and 2010 as Labor was opposed.
Western Australian senator Louise Pratt told The Australian, in reference to 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.”
“It was the long game to be able to use the party’s numbers to get to that outcome.”

Speaking on Payman’s decision to cross the floor, Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi said she was proud of her action.

A woman wearing a keffiyeh places her arm on the shoulders of a younger woman wearing a headscarf. Both are sitting on red senate benches.

Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi (left) has been a fierce critic of the government over the war in Gaza and has welcomed the recent actions of Labor senator Fatima Payman (right). Source: AAP / Mick Tsikas

“I’m so proud and pleased of my friend senator Payman who had the courage, the conviction and the principle to support this motion and cross the floor — that showed real moral courage,” Faruqi said in a statement.

Less impressed by the decision was Liberal senator James Paterson, who says that Payman’s actions were “a direct challenge” to Albanese’s authority as Labor leader.
“If there are no consequences for senator Payman, then not just in your eyes and my eyes will he be a weak prime minister, but in the eyes of his own caucus members,” Paterson said.
It’s not the first time Payman has publicly differed from Labor policy.
In mid-May, and made a veiled criticism of the prime minister, accusing Australian leaders of making “performative gestures”.
Speaking after crossing the floor, Payman said she would continue to advocate for what she believes is right.
“I was not elected as a token representative of diversity. I was elected to serve the people of Western Australia and uphold the values instilled in me by my late father.

“Today, I have made a decision that would make him proud, and make everyone proud who are on the side of humanity.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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