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Byron Shire
July 16, 2024

What price conscience?

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Senator Fatima Payman. Parliamentary photo.

Senator Fatima Payman’s abrupt departure from the Labor Party after crossing the floor over the issue of Palestinian statehood was a very public demonstration of the tensions between party cohesion and individual conscience in the Australian political system.

Was this an act of courage, naivety, or faith? Whatever it was, Senator Payman has since faced attacks from all political quarters but the Greens, who advanced the motion in question, described by Senator Mehreen Faruqi as ‘a fundamental act of justice to recognise Palestine’.

Born in Afghanistan, Senator Payman was elected to represent the people of Western Australia in 2022. In her maiden speech she said, ‘As the daughter of a refugee who came to this land with dreams of a safe and better future, I gave myself that audacity to challenge the system and to see how far I would go, to see how much ground I could break, to see how much change I could initiate.’

Back then she spoke glowingly of Labor as the party of the downtrodden, admired by her late father, but Senator Payman has since come full circle over the government’s response to the ongoing war in Gaza, saying a few days ago, ‘Unlike my colleagues, I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of injustice. My family did not flee a war-torn country… for me to remain silent when I see atrocities inflicted on innocent people.

‘Witnessing our government’s indifference to the greatest injustice of our times makes me question the direction the Party is taking.’

Crossing the floor
Cloudcatcher Media.

Crossing the floor

When Fatima Payman voted together with the Greens, David Pocock and Lidia Thorpe to recognise the state of Palestine, she made history by becoming the first Labor representative to cross the floor since Harry Quick, back in 2004, when he dissented from draconian new anti-terrorism laws.

Two others who crossed the floor during the Hawke era were promptly suspended from the party.

For the other side of politics, crossing the floor is generally much less of a big deal. In the case of several prominent Nationals, it’s actually helped their careers. The Liberal Tasmanian senator Reg Wright crossed the floor 150 times before he retired in 1978. Former Liberal senator Fred Chaney once said, ‘Crossing the floor is the stuff of which parliamentary heroes are made.’

For the ALP though, a history of loose cannons and inadequate party discipline leading to electoral disaster means that it tends to take a very hard line in these situations. Collective solidarity is cherished, especially in public. For Senator Payman this meant expulsion from the caucus, other doors slamming shut, and resignation a few days later.

For Labor, she is now officially a ‘rat’, with insiders saying she planned the defection for months, and it was not a spur of the moment thing, as Senator Payman has claimed. Although some senior Labor figures left the door open for her to return, at least initially, there’s no doubt she put Anthony Albanese in a very difficult situation when she went on television and refused to rule out crossing the floor again.

Senator Fatima Payman. FB.

Community support

Senator Payman claims to have received ‘overwhelming community support’ since taking her stand, which she’s described as the most difficult decision of her life.

The role of ‘preference whisperer’ Glenn Druery (Payman admits consulting him) and independent political organisation The Muslim Vote (Payman says she’s not involved with them) have further complicated the situation.

As far as the ongoing war and human rights crisis in Gaza is concerned, Anthony Albanese says the problem with the Greens’ latest motion is that it didn’t mention Israel. Foreign Minister Penny Wong noted in parliament that the Greens failed to support a recent government motion that the senate ‘recognise the state of Palestine as part of a peace process in support of a two-state solution and a just and enduring peace’.

For Greens leader Adam Bandt however, ‘Senator Payman’s courageous actions show up every Labor MP who has refused to cross the floor and to vote to do the right thing.’

Fatima Payman will now take up a lonely seat for the next four years as an independent, having been elected under another party’s mantle and with another party’s money.

Jacqui Lambie managed to turn a similar situation to great personal advantage after Clive Palmer put her into parliament a few years ago, and is now a dominant force in Tasmanian politics. As to whether the people of Western Australia (or Palestine for that matter) benefit from Senator Payman’s recent actions – that’s another question.

David Lowe
David Lowe. Photo Tree Faerie.

Originally from Canberra, David Lowe is an award-winning film-maker, writer and photographer with particular interests in the environment and politics. He’s known for his campaigning work with Cloudcatcher Media.

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  1. The hapless ALP, all at sea again.
    If it isn’t the Libs / Dutton or the the Greens working over the ALP – and the latest Newspoll results, just more unfortunate news for ALP – it is the ALP scoring own goals.
    When the ALP political party takes a line that rubs up against the ALP’s national platform, then trouble is bound to eventuate.
    It is astounding that the ALP backgrounds, via the Murdoch Media of all, against Senator Fatima Payman, calling into question her citizenship eligibility. Well done Albo, another own goal, shows again that is doesn’t matter whether it Lab or LibNat with the hand on the tiller, they each take turns in delivering their own brand of rubbish.

    • Enjoy Peter Dutton when he’s your PM Joachim- that’s fine, it’s what the Greens have been after since May ‘22.

      What I can’t understand is the determination of Muslim political forces to target Labor seats. Do they really want the totally pro Israel Coalition? The ones who have screamed antisemitism for every pro Palestinian statement from the Government. Who voted against both the Greens and Labor motions to recognise Palestine.

      What, from the Greens viewpoint, is wrong with a two-state solution? Peter Hartcher in the Age/SMH July 6 writing of identity politics – left and right wing – : “The Greens are giving left-wing identity politics a red-hot go, excusing antisemitic vandalism and fomenting hate speech. The war in Gaza is providing the fuel and the Greens are gleefully lighting the fire. (Will Fatima Payman become the Pauline Hanson of the left? That’s up to her)

      What evidence do you have of Labor backgrounding on citizenship issues? I didn’t know you were so ready to trust the Murdoch media!

      • You are implying that Ms Payman is not a Duel citizen..because i may or may not have heard this from a Murdoch media outlet
        Lizardbreath ? The fact is she is a duel citizen
        And this was confirmed on 9 …no Religious
        Political parties never ever !

        • Barrow, I didn’t say she wasn’t a dual citizen – how would I know? I’m happy with the explanation that it’s rather hard to get cooperation from the Taliban in such matters. This is the least of my concerns about her.

          What I suggested was that I wanted more evidence of Labor backgrounding than reading about it in the Murdoch press. What does “senior figures” mean? Someone on the executive of the Upotipotpon Branch?

      • Lizardbreath, I am shocked.
        You seem to be across the media reports and news, frequently like to pump sources / information that is out in public domain.
        Murdoch / The Australian newspaper has been running hard the last week, the Payman citizenship eligibility story, off the back of ‘senior Labor figures who don’t wan t to be named’ dumping the smearing into the lap of The Australian newspaper, with this ripper a standout – ‘Citizenship revenge: Labor targets rebel senator’s status.’, The Weekend Australian, 6/7/24.
        It beggars belief that the WA ALP were totally satisfied in Payman’s citizenship eligibility over 2 years ago when she was nominated for Senator to now see the ALP stoop so low with this grubby ALP rubbish trying to smear Payman on citizenship. A sure fire vote winner, keep it going ALP, you are Dutton / LibNat best advertisement. Lol.
        But the ALP do like to score own goals.
        Young, intelligent, articulate party members – such as the Max and the Fatima – who should be able to find a political home within the ALP have left.
        The latest Newspoll is more ugly reality for the ALP and the ALP’s antics won’t help.

        • Maybe the Greens should stop playing a dead hand on the nuclear BS – like they played a dead hand on the Voice campaign. Maybe they should concentrate more on passing housing initiatives and NDIS savings than playing divisive games and gloating over the LNP’s rise in the polls.

          • Mr Lizardbreath, the opportunistic Greens will never stop playing a dead hand on the nuclear issue, or in fact any important issue, they are wishing and hoping that the Labor Govt is defeated at the next election so that there fanatical messages will be heard louder and they will become more relevant if that’s possible.

      • For the record / WA – ALP’s Senator candidates and their first preference vote at Elecetion’22 –
        Sue Lines, 11,913 votes
        Glenn Sterle, 1285 votes
        Fatima Payman, 1685 votes
        Vicki Helps, 1214 votes

        Lines, Sterle, Payman elected, Helps unelected

  2. Iam quitting if my Party dos not support a two state
    Solution Ms Payman insists ! This conflict has Zero to do with Australia or it’s political parties..this country gave your family a chance to come here
    For a better life..as my Dad was given a chance
    lifetime opportunity to come to the best country in the world… a duel citizen i believe ..your choice !
    Now a two state Solution would consist of what ?
    Zero Israelis thats what …from the river to the sea
    Palestine will be free from Israelis ..Now may i suggest to the impartial Ms Payman NOT ! That Palestine is
    Being run by a recognised terrorist organisation
    The UN admitted…rules with a iron fist..it’s good
    People’s are scared of ..why should the worlds
    Countries support a two state Solution ? Look what’s happening all over the world with these
    Protests ..the Countries that allow this of course..
    Holding political parties to ranson ..Universities
    Etc.. and here in Australia..the most resent at Parliament house ..and our war Memorial
    Defaced.. seriously man they need a good hiding..
    Disrespectful ..now Palestine stand up for yourselves ..from the river to the sea Palestine will be free from Hamas …truth hurts..also Israel
    Should stop immediately and leave Palestine
    Enough is enough…!

    • You’re a little confused here Barrow. Fatima Payman’s former party DOES support a two-state solution and has moved motions in both the Senate and HoR to that effect. These motions were unacceptable to the Greens and, it appears FP.

      What I object to is the notion that just believing you have lots of support justifies departing from the party, under whose endorsement you stood. The traditional way of testing if you have this right is at an election where you put yourself before your constituency. The number of emails or other messages, social media followers or other such indications, are not traditionally how it’s decided. FP could resign, give her seat back to the party and stand for a senate seat at the next election – less that a year away.

    • I could actually really get behind a, “From the river to the sea, let every woman living in an Islamic theocracy be niqab free”!

  3. The self aggrandising Bandt is such an asset to the LNP with his undermining rhetoric and unrealistic, inflammatory motions.
    Sadly in this case it’s a young and possibly politically naive senator who’s stuck her neck out to support yet another of his pointless campaigns. Not pointless because it’s not a good cause, but questionable when he and the Greens recently refused to support the Labor government’s motion that aimed to achieve the same outcome. Payman’s grasp of history and politics seems limited of she considers this is the ‘greatest injustice of our times’. Whilst there are terrible injustices happening, this is, sadly, one amongst many. But certainly one that has attracted media focus due to the religious/political situation. It is likely to be, however, a way for her to gain the attention and approval of some areas of the community, which may provide her with a future power base.
    The fact that Australia has little or no power to influence any outcomes in this conflict makes it even sadder that Payman has sacrificed her influence and future in the Labor government.
    Or is there more to it, was it part of a more long term plan? If so, she’s likely to find she’s burned her bridges and done a great deal of damage to no avail.
    Diplomacy is a difficult and delicate balance. Our government is trying to maintain a safe environment in our own country as well, to which rhetoric and grandstanding do enormous damage.

  4. “As to whether the people of WA (or Palestine for that matter) benefit from Senator Payman’s recent actions – that’s another question.”
    Well, yes. Indeed! Most unfortunately though, her recent actions have inflamed the division within Australia.
    How blessed we’d be if our politicians could operate out of a bigger, & longer lasting, picture, aiming to ensure there remains Unity in Diversity in Australian society.

  5. Payment has been elected by Labour, never won a seat. She knew the party policy, know ALP supports a Palestinian state next to Israel with peace and stop to the war . She was groomed to do exactly what she has done. Answering to God? Did she forgot October 7th or she is one who thinks the killings and rapes never happened? Does she ignores Hamas hidding in between civilians, latest in a Christian school ? Yes there are Christians in Gaza not only Muslim.
    The war would never stop until Iran stopped meddling. Hanas& Hesbollah terrorists gone !

  6. Penny Wong was not mentioned in your list of ALP members who have crossed the floor. Like Fatima she had deeply personal reasons for doing so. She did not go on to give an interview but survived. For political reasons ?

    • When did Penny Wong cross the floor? She subverted her own beliefs to vote with the government on a matter that was against her personal interest, but ultimately there was a positive outcome.

      Payman knew she was breaking her signed contract with the ALP, and said she would do it again, therefore losing the confidence of her colleagues.

  7. A principled stand? The only diference between Labors and the Greens position of both’s support for a two state solution, was that Labor wants it on the basis of a peace treaty and the Greens dont. A principled stand would be such as for stopping death threats against Salmon Rushdie so he could release his latest book on Muslims trying to kill him at say the Byron Writers Festival, or for the rights of Australian Gay and Lesbians to come out of the closet, and out from under fundamentalist social pressure, and access Australias same sex marriage laws.

  8. While this is an absolute betrayal of all those that donated, volunteered and voted for the party, that allowed her the great honour of representing the party in the Senate.
    Her betrayal is no different to that of Lidia Thorpe for the Greens. Bob Katter, Andrew Gee etc to the Nationals. The treacherous Bernadi who deserted just 6 months after being elected to the Liberals. Jacqui Lambie and all the rest of those deserting Palmer United opportunists. Mark Latham and all the dozens of others over decades to One Nation. Every party has had these undesirable types of people that think only of whats in it for themselves and forget the party and the thousands of people who so unselfishly volunteered their own limited money, time, hard work that actually made them the Members and Senators whom they now are? There really should be consequences and severe penalties against this kind of behaviour, but it is what it is. Party’s need to be far more discerning in whom they are able to trust?

    • Tweed, that’s quite the list of individuals.
      You ‘forget’ to mention Senator Cheryl Kernot, who defected in 1997 from Australian Democrats to the ALP?
      Or doesn’t it count when ‘defectors’ go over to the ALP?

      • The Democrat’s, unlike the Morrison LNP Titanic, hit an iceberg and just sink, the Democrat’s blew to shreds!
        The Democrat’s left Kernot!
        Kernot simply swam to the nearest and safest lifeboat just before the treacherous Meg Lees blew the party to shreds unbelievable supporting Howards otherwise lost, never ever GST in the Senate in exchange for Liberal preference crumbs at the following election! What was that I said, about party’s needing to be far more discerning of whom they can trust, especially their leaders?
        Speaking of which, whom will be replacing this absolutely hopeless Dutton as leader, when the inevitable election catastrophe happens to these poor dire Liberal leftovers?

  9. Query whether it is or should be illegal for any Party or person to direct any elected representative with regard to their vote. In Administrative Law a person exercising their discretion under direction can be subject to judicial review. Once elected Senator Payman’s duty appears to be to the wide electorate of WA and to Australia, not just to the Labor supporters who elected her.

    Perhaps also she was elected on preference votes of people whose first preference was for a Greens or other candidate. I used to vote below the line for Senate and Upper House candidates when I had a good knowledge about several candidates in various parties.

    • She was elected as a member of the Labor party, which explicitly includes supporting their policies and platforms.
      If whe wanted to be an independent, she should have run on her own as an independent.

  10. Albanese is reported as saying, “Fatima Payman received around about 1600 votes (from WA voters). The ALP box above the line received 511,000 votes.”

  11. I always concerns me when a person who is elected to a particular party later resigns from that party to stand as an independent or join another party, those who voted for that person/party are disenfranchised. The seat should be declared vacant & an election held to fill that seat.

  12. Good article. Interesting that the more conservative Liberal and National parties allow their MPs a conscience vote while the ALP does not. I always found that perplexing. Surely in a democracy MPs should be allowed a conscience vote (on any matter), and not be forced to follow the party leaders’ policies and agendas.

  13. Sara how often do the Coalition allow a conscience vote? And do you think there are no consequences for crossing the floor or not towing the part line. Why has Bridget Archer been overlooked for promotion and Julian Leeser not taken in from the cold? All parties expect a large degree of compliance with party policy. Why else have party platforms and how else do they maintain credibility with their constituencies?

    Labor is the oldest party with its origins in the trade union movement and collective strategy. The main tool of the proletariat against the rich and powerful is the strength of numbers. They have also, over more than a century, seen how their effectiveness on vital issues has been destroyed by schism on sectarian or other differences.

    There are clearly points for and against party discipline, indeed for and against political parties. People though, tend to judge the issue on whether or not they agree with a particular stance in isolation.

    Some people relish the thought of a parliament of independents (all of whom hopefully are intelligent, informed, objective, ethical and principled 🤞) judging each question supposedly on its merits. Personally I would hate to feel my voting capacity was entirely limited to a stab in the dark about one voice amongst 151 in the reps and one of 76 in the senate.


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