OPINION: 'As a Muslim woman in Australia, Fatima Payman's "exile" from the Labor Party feels personal.'

Ever since I can remember, my family has supported the Australian Labor Party. My dad, a working-class immigrant who refuses to retire at 64, felt the party and its leaders represented who he is and what he stands for.

The party was far from perfect, but in the late '90s and early 2000s, a Pakistani-Muslim man was willing to accept the bare minimum — a political party that wouldn't paint him as a villain. His brown skin, faint accent and name that was too hard to pronounce were considered "un-Australian" at the time.

Watch: Anthony Albanese Delivers Victory Speech. Post continues below.

Video via ABC.

But he never complained. Because living in Australia meant he could build a better future for my sister and I. One that allowed us to get a world-class education, and work in whatever field we wanted to.

"Things will look different in 20 years' time," he told himself. "My daughters will be accepted, no matter where they go."

He wasn't entirely off the mark. Sure, my name is ethnic and my brown skin isn't from a bottle, but my Australian accent makes me easier to digest. I'm working at Australia's largest independent women's media company, and my teenage dream of becoming a writer came true.

To him, Australia has come a long way from what it used to be.


But Senator Fatima Payman's suspension from the Labor Party this week makes me feel very differently.

Last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese indefinitely suspended Labor senator Fatima Payman from the party's caucus for crossing the floor to support a motion by the Greens to recognise Palestine as a state.

Payman, an Afghan-born Australian politician, was accused by the Prime Minister of undermining the government, and labelled her defiance as a "stunt".

"No individual is bigger than the team. And Fatima Payman is welcome to return to participating in the team if she accepts [that] she’s a member of it," he told ABC Radio.

The move felt to people of colour and the wider Muslim community what we already believed to be true: we need to assimilate or get out.


Let's set aside the act of suspending a senator over a difference of opinion and instead reflect on how just a few years ago, the Labor Party used Payman's Muslim faith for representation brownie points.

The 29-year-old was celebrated for being the first hijab-wearing woman in Parliament and the Labor Party saw her as an "in" with the Muslim community. By all accounts, they were proud to have her on the team — until, it seems, she used her Muslim values to speak up for what she believes in.


The punishment was quick and brutal.

On Monday, Payman issued a statement saying she had been removed from all caucus meetings, committees and internal group chats.

"I have been told to avoid all chamber duties that require a vote including divisions, motions and matters of public interest. I have been exiled," she said.

"These actions lead me to believe that some members are attempting to intimidate me into resigning from the Senate. As a result, I will abstain from voting on Senate matters 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.

"I will use this time to reflect on my future and the best way to represent the people of Western Australia."


This young politician, who is the embodiment of some of Australia's most marginalised people, was being ostracised publicly for the entire nation to witness.

It's a situation many women in minority groups are all too familiar with. When we're hired, we're considered an asset because of our diverse backgrounds. It makes businesses look good when they have people like us on their team.

We stand out on the company website, and thanks to us, they can say, "See! We are diverse!" That is until we start to disrupt the status quo and demand change.

Over the weekend, Payman sat down with ABC's Insiders program and said she wants to remain in the Labor Party, but that the party needs to support diversity in ideas and opinions.

"We're talking about 40,000 Palestinians being massacred here. These Palestinians do not have 10 years and that is why I will use what is within my power as a backbench senator to continue advocating for a just and lasting solution," she said.

Payman has since received plenty of support from the Muslim community and her fellow politicians, with Greens member Max Chandler-Mather tweeting, "Utterly disgraceful and extraordinary that Labor has suspended a first term, young Muslim woman for standing up for Palestine. This Labor gov has done more to sanction Fatima Payman than Israel for committing a genocide. Over 40K Palestinians murdered and this is what Labor does."


Speaking to Mamamia's The Quicky, Mark Kenny, professor at the Australian Natural University's College of Arts and Social Sciences, addressed Payman's interview with Insiders, saying: "Diversity has to mean more than simply an interesting brochure that you can put out with a picture on it of people from a lot of different identity groups. Representation means a lot more than that."

"We now have a much more complicated society, a much richer and diverse society where identities, sexual, cultural, racial and others, political and economic are all mixed in together.

"For the Labor Party to have that kaleidoscope of representations is a very strong asset. But to then take someone like Senator Payman and say, 'you can't [speak] on this matter of profound centrality to your identity', I can understand why she finds that extremely hard to deal with."


As a Muslim woman, who is the same age as Senator Payman and voted for Albanese in the last federal election, one thing has become quite clear: not much has changed since my dad moved here in the '80s, it's just far better concealed.

When Senator Payman was sworn into Parliament in 2022, I felt seen. Something I hadn't experienced growing up in "multicultural" Australia. She embodied the qualities I knew Muslim women to possess: resilience, determination, and intelligence, contrasting with the often stereotypical portrayal of us in the media as submissive and oppressed.

Her affiliation with a party I've supported since turning 18 reaffirmed my belief that I had made the right choice. It instilled in me a sense of confidence that the party I voted for genuinely valued me and embraced my diversity.

Until last week.

Senator Payman exceeded my expectations, and her advocacy for what she and the broader Muslim community believe in has deepened my admiration for her. However, Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party have lost my support at the next federal election.

To the Muslim community, the party has shown that it shares the same colonial mindset as other political parties in the country, swiftly dismissing anyone who dares to challenge it.

Feature Image: Getty.

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