Islam Begins to Flex its Political Muscle in Australia

Labor senator Fatima Payman has been indefinitely suspended from the Labor caucus and there is now speculation she may quit the party altogether. In support of Payman a Muslim community group plans to run a political campaign supporting candidates in key Labor seats, seeking to mobilise anger over the government’s Gaza stance. Senior Labor sources believe Senator Payman may join the group or form a related party, but the group says it has not had discussions about that. The new political organisation plans to unseat Labor MPs in a ‘teal-style’ campaign capitalising on Muslim community anger over the government’s Gaza stance. A spokesperson for The Muslim Vote told the ABC the “grassroots” campaign group had been formed from a desire to “mobilise the Muslim community to vote as a bloc in the next federal election, predominantly on the issue of justice in Palestine.” ┬áSenator Payman has drawn heavy fire from her colleagues after she was banished from the federal party for her defiance over Palestine.

Labor figures say the Prime Minister’s Office believes the renegade senator may seek to join the group or else form a new related party targeting Muslim voters. The spokesperson for The Muslim Vote said that “no discussion” had been had with Senator Payman about her partnering with the organisation and that the group’s leaders did not know her personally. But he added “you can’t rule something out in the future” and praised the senator’s stance.”I’m aware of what she’s done… I think it’s a good solid stand, and obviously The Muslim Vote absolutely supports her, and the Muslim community absolutely supports her.” Senator Payman declined to comment directly on whether she planned to join or form a party, but said that she planned to “reflect on her future and the best way to represent the people of Western Australia.” She also re-affirmed her belief in “the true values and principles of the Labor Party.” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese indefinitely suspended Senator Payman from the federal Labor caucus on Sunday after she said she would continue to defy the party’s position on Palestinian recognition.

It comes after she crossed the floor last week to vote on a Greens motion which called on the Senate to recognise the state of Palestine. The senator said she believed her position was consistent with Labor’s support for a two-state solution but abstained when Labor tried to amend the motion to call for recognition as part of a “just and enduring peace.” On Monday, Senator Payman attended the swearing-in ceremony of new Governor-General Samantha Mostyn, where she hugged minister Tanya Plibersek and was seen chatting to some colleagues. She also attended Senate Question Time on Monday afternoon. But she has not attended Senate votes and has also been absent from her parliamentary office.┬áThe ABC understands the senator has had a falling out with some staff members over her stance. Several Labor MPs have told the ABC she has not responded to messages seeking check in, with one saying she appeared to be isolating herself. But in a statement provided to the ABC on Monday afternoon and subsequently posted on social media, Senator Payman said she had been “exiled.”

“I have lost all contact with my caucus colleagues. I have been removed from caucus meetings, committees, internal group chats, and party organisational bulletins. “I have been told to avoid all chamber duties that require a vote including divisions, motions and matter of public interest. “These actions led me to believe that some members are attempting to intimidate me into resigning from the Senate.” She said she would abstain from Senate votes for the remainder of the week, “unless a matter of conscience arises where I’ll uphold the true values and principles of the Labor Party.” The Muslim Vote runs a website and social media page and appears to be linked to Muslim Votes Matter; an entity registered with the Australian Tax Office since February. The spokesperson, who declined to give his name, said the collective had over 2,000 volunteers and was in the process of choosing candidates to endorse in several Labor-held seats in western Sydney. He said a candidate would soon be announced in minister Jason Clare’s seat of Blaxland, with candidates to follow in Tony Burke’s Watson, Chris Bowen’s McMahon and Anne Stanley’s Werriwa.

He also said the Sydney-based organisation wanted to campaign in other states and was working with “organisations, businesses, personalities, influencers, general grassroots leadership.” “People are getting behind the movement understanding that there needs to be a shift in the dynamic. It is the first time that the Muslim community has realised that their vote does matter. This has been a line in the sand.” Mahmud Hawila, a barrister and a support of the group, said it had formed “organically” but was now “in full-fledged election mode.” “They’ve done polling and surveys, door knocking, pamphlet drop-offs,” he said. Mr Hawila said many in the Muslim community had voted for Labor “generation after generation. This is the first time they’ve said this is enough, you guys no longer represent us.” The spokesperson for The Muslim Vote said Labor risked “driving a wedge” by suspending Senator Payman. “It enhances the sentiment that they’re already feeling, because this is a person you’ve sidelined because she stood up for Palestine and Labor further seeks to alienate her.”

He said the Muslim community had been “furious” at the government’s response to the war in Gaza. “They’re absolutely furious, they’re incensed. How can the Labor party not echo our voices so strongly like they’ve been on other issues. They feel that their voices have been ignored.” On Monday, 35 peak Muslim groups issued a statement supporting Senator Payman, accusing the PM of “a desperate attempt to save face.” Mr Hawila said Fatima Payman had “the unconditional and unwavering support of the Arab, Muslim and Palestinian community. “We absolutely condemn the prime minister for ostracising her, and for indefinitely suspending her. We consider it bullying, harassment and confirmation that the ALP is interested in diversity that is only skin deep.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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