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‘Not Labor they elected’ as people reel from Gaza war

Payman arrives at Perth Airport

Source X/Crystal Wu

The devastation being wrought in Gaza affects more than Australia’s Muslim and Palestinian communities, Fatima Payman says, as she defends quitting Labor.

People who had voted for a Labor government were telling her it wasn’t “serving their best interests”, the now-independent senator for Western Australia said when asked why she wasn’t relinquishing her seat.

“They voted for a change in government. They wanted to see values of justice, equality and freedom upheld and they’re just not seeing that,” she told ABC TV on Monday.

Payman quit the Labor Party last week after crossing the floor on the issue of Palestinian statehood, saying the government hadn’t moved fast enough and wasn’t strong enough in its rhetoric and action on the war in Gaza.

“It’s no longer just the Muslim community or the pro-Palestinian community that’s hurting. It’s been impacting each and every person with a conscience and a heart out there,” she said.

“The amount of overall sentiments that I’ve received, in terms of the heartache, the pain, the loss of hope … the devastation, the destruction.

“It’s impacting so many Australians who are a people of a fair go, who are people that want to see freedom, want to see Palestinians have the right to self-determination and Palestinian statehood.”

Payman arrived back in Perth on Saturday to be met by a crowd of clapping and cheering supporters.

On Monday, she said she’d continue to speak out “because these are universal principles of justice, equality and freedom that we all should share and advocate for”.

Each piece of legislation would be taken on its merit after consultation with her community, Payman said, as she expressed a determination to “try going to every single town” in WA.

“A lot of Western Australians have been reaching out to me wanting to share their experience, but also their thoughts and sentiments on the ground that the Australian Labor Party that they elected were not serving their best interests,” she said.

“For me, it’s important to prove myself, which I will, and in that I will be consulting with people on the ground to hear [what] their concerns are and how I can best represent them.”

Despite defecting from Labor, she said she maintained friendships with caucus members but she was now free to act “without any boundaries or restrictions of party rules and confinements”.

Labor senator Deb O’Neill said the party had a diverse range of voices, including Muslim and Jewish MPs.

“It’s important that those communities, all communities who care about the benefit to humanity of living a life in peace, I think all of those communities have a voice and an ear in the Parliament and certainly in the Labor Party,” she said.

She expressed horror at the images from both Hamas’ October 7 attack against Israel and the devastation stemming from the counteroffensive in Gaza.

Australia’s voice on the international stage would be able to help push for peace, she said.

“People of peace and goodwill will need to prevail before we see the end of the horrors that we’ve witnessed in the last nine months,” she added.

Cabinet minister Amanda Rishworth said it was important for politicians not to inflame tensions or stoke division with already distressing circumstances unfolding in the Middle East.

-with AAP

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