Payman shatters the shackles of political amorality

Jul 6, 2024
Labor Senator Fatima Payman arrives for a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, July 4, 2024. Image: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

The essential difference between Senator Fatima Payman and the rest of the federal Labor caucus – and the Coalition caucus as well – is that she opposes genocide and wants the federal parliament to take effective action against it. She is a minority of one in the federal Labor-Coalition political class.

Everything that has occurred in relation to her treatment by Labor-Coalition politicians and mass media hacks is a direct result of her daring to speak the truth about what is happening in Gaza, by stating on 14 May, in part:

“This is a genocide, and we need to stop pretending otherwise…. Instead of advocating for justice, I see our leaders performatively gesture defending the oppressor’s right to oppress, while gas-lighting the global community about the rights of self-defence, of the armed jailers against their prisoners, of the dominators against the subjugated, of the well-fed against the starving… I ask our Prime Minister and our fellow parliamentarians, how many international rights laws must Israel break for us to say enough? What is the magic number? How many lives need to be lost before we say enough? What is the magic number? How many mass graves need to be uncovered before we say enough? How many images of bloodied limbs of murdered children must we see?”

Payman also suggested that Australia stand for “what is right” and used the term “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” in calling for “freedom from the occupation, freedom from the violence and freedom from the inequality”.

Her speech, made on the 75th anniversary to commemorate the Nakba, pushed her morally-based position beyond profound dissonance with her peers and superiors, into absolute collision, for it publicly exposed their abject lack of moral fibre. Her stance provoked Labor-Coalition retaliation, the senate passing a resolution condemning her use of the term “from the river to the sea” as anti-Semitic, a resolution which deliberately avoided the issues which Payman raised.

From this point of time the exclusion of Payman from her place on parliamentary committees began the process of her ostracism. After 25 June, when Payman crossed the floor in the senate to support a Greens motion that the senate debate recognising Palestinian statehood, a motion opposed by all other Labor-Coalition senators, Payman was suspended from the Labor caucus.

On 30 June, Payman informed the media that she would maintain her position, based on conscience, and would support a future motion to recognise Palestine. Two days later the Labor caucus unanimously agreed to Albanese’s decision to indefinitely suspend Payman from caucus, Albanese pontificating that he showed “strength in compassion” in not expelling Payman from the ALP.

But the problem remained for Labor that Payman hadn’t contradicted Labor’s policy platform, written in 2023, which “Supports the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognised borders; Calls on the Australian Government to recognise Palestine as a state; and expects that this issue will be an important priority for the Australian Government”. She had done the opposite. She had tried to get the government to implement its own policy platform, recognition of the state of Palestine as an important priority.

In no way did she contradict the other aspect of the policy, the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognised borders. What she did do, however, was attempt to expedite Australian recognition of Palestine, which the Albanese government refuses to do. Payman thereby posed a direct threat to the government by putting them in the embarrassing position of having to explain somehow why they refused to recognise Palestine at a time when its territory and people were being systematically destroyed.

Therefore, on 3 July Labor rammed a motion through the House of Reps for “recognition of the state of Palestine as part of a peace process in support of a two-state solution and a just and enduring peace”, a motion designed to fit plausibly within the party platform but which in fact flatly rejected recognising Palestine until well into the future, if at all, given the obvious reality that Israel completely rejects a two-state solution, in both its rhetoric, and all its actions for the last nine months in both Gaza and the West Bank, and given that the US continues its military supplies to Israel to use in its determination to finally annihilate any hope of a two-state solution.

To quote George Browning in his recent open letter to Albanese, “tell me why your commitment to a two-state solution with absolutely no condemnation of Israeli policy and action which makes that outcome impossible, is a position worthy of anything other than contempt?”

While the mass murder of Palestinians continues, attended by the remorseless barbarity and savagery of destroying a whole society by all means available, the Australian government has sought to distract attention from its refusal to condemn it as well as other multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity by hideous casuistry, elevating their “rules” of caucus solidarity in defence of their amoral political vacuity.

Labor has corrupted the meaning and use of “caucus solidarity” from its original conception as a principled commitment to policies which redressed socio-economic disadvantage, poverty, intergenerational deprivation, and exploitation of labour and vulnerable sectors of society. For Albanese and the whole federal Labor party – and the whole Dutton-led Coalition –when their “strength” in “caucus solidarity” is expressed in blatant conflict and disregard with all principles of fundamental human rights, “caucus solidarity” is rotten.

Payman’s treatment by the Labor-Coalition political class, exemplified in the hatred and vitriol exhibited towards her, especially in federal parliament on 4 July, and in the right wing media, should drive home to Australians that none of them are interested in distinguishing between “right from wrong” on any policy issue, for it has failed ignominiously on the most important issue it could ever be required to address with resolve and commitment – opposition to genocide.

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