Lawmakers clash over push for Muslim “bloc” in federal politics

Lawmakers clash over push for Muslim “bloc” in federal politics

Lawmakers clash over push for Muslim “bloc” in federal politics

Senator Bridget McKenzie and independent MP Zali Steggall have clashed in a heated debate over the growing push for greater Muslim representation in Canberra and speculation that Labor senator Fatima Payman will become an independent MP.

Senator Fatima Payman is expected to leave the Labour Party today. This comes after Payman refused to change her view on the war in Gaza, which does not match the position of the Labour Party. Payman broke more than a hundred years of protocol by defying that after crossing the Senate floor to support the creation of a Palestinian state and then vowed to do so again.

Speaking to Sky News host Peter Stefanovic on Thursday morning, Senator McKenzie blamed Premier Anthony Albanese for the Western Australian Labor senator’s decision to become a “sectarian MP”, putting Australia in the “difficult position” of having religiously motivated political parties in parliament.

Ms Payman was suspended indefinitely from the Labour bloc following a meeting with Mr Albanese on Sunday afternoon after she vowed to cross the floor again after doing so to vote against the government on a Greens motion to recognise a Palestinian state.

Speculation has grown that Ms Payman will quit Labor on Thursday, but will not be leaving politics altogether as Muslim leaders have backed the Perth-based senator, including the imam of Perth’s prominent Nasir mosque.

This week there have been growing rumours that Payman may leave the Labour Party on Thursday. Photo: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Loading embed…

This comes after a spokesperson for the group The Muslim Vote told the ABC on Monday that there was an effort to “mobilise the Muslim community to vote en masse in the upcoming federal election”.

The Muslim Vote campaign website said it was “empowering” Muslims in the electoral process and started its movement after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

However, prominent Muslim community leader Dr Jamal Rifi told Sky News he “definitely” did not support the movement and that Muslims should remain part of existing political parties.

Dr Rifi said he did not believe in the Muslim, Christian or white vote in Australia and that “we should be part of the mainstream, and Ms Payman’s grief should be “where it ends”.

Lebanese Muslim community leader Dr Jamal Rifi discusses the transition from Labor ministers to the Senate and the rise of a new religious political party on The Muslim Vote with Sky News presenter Andrew Bolt. “We are Australians, we benefit from the different parties that exist and we need to work through the systems and principles. I don’t believe in the Muslim vote, the Christian vote, the White Australia vote or any other vote,” he said. “I believe… in being part of the mainstream, in interacting and also if you have any ideas or something, that’s exactly what Fatima Payman has done, who joined the Labor Party.”

On the issue, Ms Steggall said it was “dangerous” to have religiously motivated politicians and that there should be a separation between religion and politics in a liberal democracy.

“I don’t know that Senator Payman’s decision on how she voted, or her decisions about her future, are in fact related to religion and not her views on the Palestinian people and their plight,” Steggall said.

Senator McKenzie said Australia was one of the world’s “great multicultural success stories” but if an “Islamic movement” continued to grow in western Sydney, the country would become further divided.

Nationalist Senator Bridget McKenzie said if the “Teal Islamic movement” continues to grow in Sydney’s west, the country will become even more divided. Photo: Sky News Australia

Ms McKenzie said it was Mr Albanese’s leadership that led to the “expansive” Islamically motivated political movement.

“Last year we were trying to divide people on whether you are indigenous or not, now we are looking at whether you are Christian, atheist or Muslim, we are dividing people on the basis of religion, and I think that is a big concern,” McKenzie said.

“These are common values ​​and that is what our country was built on, and what worries me, after the behaviour of the prime minister that has led to this, is that we are going to have a movement that is based purely on Islam.”

Ms Steggall said Senator McKenzie’s comments were “quite outrageous” and that people were voting based on their community values ​​and “on merit”.

Independent MP Zali Steggall said Senator McKenzie’s comments were “quite outrageous” and that people were voting based on their community values ​​and “on merit”. Photo: Sky News Australia

“We know there is huge frustration on the part of communities when they see that political parties often fail to reflect the views of their constituents and communities,” said the independent MP.

Senator McKenzie pressed Ms Steggall on the “Palestine issue” and how the “majority of voters” in some western Sydney constituencies had a “very different view” on the Gaza War, which was not in Australia’s national interest.

“I was at the Galilee border two months ago and Hezbollah was firing rockets,” McKenzie said.

—This is not an imaginary war that you can explain in your everyday language, Zali.

“These are real things and governments need to make real decisions and I think this is an absolutely existential threat to the Labour Party because they have ignored it for too long.”

Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber ​​Security James Paterson says rumours that Senator Fatima Payman could leave the Labor Party are a “symptom of a weak Prime Minister” and a “divided” party. “Particularly on issues like Israel and Palestine, the Labor Party is deeply divided,” Paterson told Sky News Australia. “The truth is it has been in an internal struggle for almost nine months since October 7.”

Ms Steggall criticised her counterpart and “career politicians” for “capitalising” on community anguish around Israel’s war in Gaza and the fallout from the 7 October Hamas attacks, and called for the country to focus more on social cohesion.

“What we’re seeing in parliament is political parties from both ends of the spectrum trying to lobby the government on this issue to try to rally votes from communities,” Steggall said.

Sheikh Wesam Charkawi spoke to ABC on Thursday about The Muslim Vote campaign and said its candidates would likely be announced next week.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the seat of Blaxland has a Muslim voting population of almost 32 per cent, while in the adjacent district of Watson it is more than 25 per cent.

Sheikh Charkawi said there had been a “significant” shift away from the Labour Party in Blaxland and Watson because of “weak” support for the Palestinians since the war.

“Thirty per cent of voters in the Blaxland district wanted representation on an issue they didn’t get from Jason Clare. So why should they put him there?” he said.