Australian senator resigns from ruling Labor party over stand on Palestinian statehood

An Australian senator has resigned from prime minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party over its stand on Palestinian statehood.

Fatima Payman, 29, resigned on Thursday, the last day of the parliament session before winter break, and said she was “deeply torn” over the decision.

Ms Payman, the first Afghan-Australian Muslim woman in the parliament, said she continued to believe in the principles of the Labor Party but felt she could see “no middle ground” that would allow her to remain in it.

Fatima Payman in the senate during the opening of the 47th parliament on 26 July 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)
Fatima Payman in the senate during the opening of the 47th parliament on 26 July 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

“On one hand, I have the immense support of the rank and file members, the unionists, the lifelong members, the party volunteers who are calling on me to hang in there and to make change happen internally,” she said during an emotional press conference. “On the other hand, I am pressured to conform to caucus solidarity and toe the party line. My conscience leaves me no choice.”

Ms Payman will now sit on the crossbench as an independent senator.

She was “indefinitely suspended” from the Labor caucus last week after she defied the party and sided with the Greens to call for recognising Palestinian statehood and voted to do so again, according to the ABC.

“Unlike my colleagues, I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of injustice,” she said at the press conference. “My family did not flee a war-torn country to come here as refugees for me to remain silent when I see atrocities inflicted on innocent people.”

Mr Albanese had said Ms Payman was pursuing a “strategy” related to her departure dating back at least a month. She responded that the ruling party was trying to spread that perception because it was upset with her stand.

“This topic on Palestinian recognition, Palestinian liberation is a matter that has impacted everyone with a conscience. It is not just a Jewish versus Muslim issue,” she said.

Ms Payman has alleged “intimidation on many fronts” from her Labor colleagues and an ultimatum from the prime minister, who she claims told her “you either stay and you toe the party line, or you give up the position because you don’t believe in caucus solidarity”.

Mr Albanese has denied the allegation.

Israel launched a brutal ground and air war on Gaza after Hamas attacked southern Israel and killed nearly 1,200 people on 7 October last year.

The Israeli war has killed around 38,000 Palestinians so far, according to Gaza’s health ministry. It has also displaced 90 per cent of the territory’s 2.3 million population, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency, and left them facing starvation.

Earlier on Thursday, pro-Palestinian protesters climbed on the roof of Australia’s parliament in Canberra and unfurled banners with slogans as police locked down the building in the wake of the security breach.