Politics with Michelle Grattan: Fatima Payman on the challenges and opportunities of being a crossbencher

Western Australian Senator Fatima Payman quit Labor after defying the party’s “solidarity” rule. Her action, spurred by the Gaza issue, has intensified Labor fears about the possible impact of the Muslim vote in some of its safe seats at the election.

The now-independent senator joined the podcast to discuss her decision, the challenges of regrouping as a crossbencher, and the impact of the Muslim vote.

Payman is bluntly against Muslims forming their own party:

I don’t think it would be wise to have a Muslim party. And so if I was to advise them, I’d say, don’t establish a Muslim party because you need to look at your broader base.“

In her position on Palestine, Payman insists she was following Labor’s platform:

I understood our platform to be very clear […] The advocates from Gough Whitlam to Bob Hawke to Paul Keating, all those big Labor giants who have been so outspoken on Palestinians’ right to self-determination and statehood. And knowing that the Prime minister himself has advocated for longer than I’ve been around. For me, I felt like this is the best time. Like, we’ve come from opposition, into government, we’re progressive. We’ve got our party platform in order. We know what our constituents and rank-and-file members want from us. So, I did not see it as a recipe for disaster.

On how she’ll vote on other issues, Payman styles herself as an independent voice for West Australians:

It’s going to be quite challenging and an interesting new chapter in my life because, obviously, I’ll have to go through each piece of legislation, understand how it’s going to impact West Australians. Make sure that I know what West Australians need from me as their independent voice in Canberra and then moving forward, make those big decisions. It’s no longer just following what the whip or the caucus decide as a whole.

On her identity, personal and public, she says:

I am a devout Muslim. That’s personal and private to me. I try praying five times a day. And I do rely on spiritual guidance. But that’s for me. That’s personal. When I’m serving the best interests of West Australians, I’ll be talking to people. I’ll be on the ground. I will listen to their concerns and be their voice in Canberra. And whether that’s through a party or me as an independent, [it’s] paramount for me to make it clear to everyone that, no, I will not be forming a Muslim party because I represent voices from all backgrounds, people from all walks of life, here in WA.

Asked what message she would give the local Jewish community, Payman says:

I’m very hopeful that in the time to come that there [will be] a ceasefire, to be able to see Israelis and Palestinians be able to live side by side within their own recognised borders, their own states, their own freedoms and liberties. And hopefully that will ease the tensions here in Australia because I believe that we can live in a harmonious society with our differences but focusing more on what brings us together and what the common denominator is here in Australia, and that’s that we’re all proud Australians.

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