Labor senator Fatima Payman says each step ‘felt like a mile’ after crossing floor to back Palestine motion

The Labor senator Fatima Payman has crossed the floor, voting in support of a Greens motion on recognising Palestinian statehood in a move that imperils her party membership.

While Coalition backbenchers are allowed to cross the floor, the Labor party requires all of its parliamentarians to support collective decisions or face the possibility of expulsion. Some Labor members to have crossed the floor have been expelled from the party and others have been suspended.

An Albanese government spokesperson said there was “no mandated sanction in these circumstances” but did not confirm if there would be any consequences.

Related: Fatima Payman labels Israel’s strike on Rafah ‘deplorable’ and calls on government to cease trade

After crossing the floor, Payman, a first-term senator for Western Australia, described it as the “most difficult decision” she has had to make.

She told reporters what would happen next was the party’s “prerogative”, but she would like to continue serving as a Labor senator. Payman said she believed she had “upheld the party ethos and called for what the party’s platform has stipulated”.

“Each step I took across the Senate floor felt like a mile, [but] I know I did not walk these steps by myself, and I know I did not walk them alone,” Payman told reporters.

“I’ve walked with the West Australians who have stopped me in the streets and told me not to give up. I’ve walked with the rank-and-file Labor party members who told me we must do more. I’ve worked with the core values of the Labor party – equality, justice, fairness and advocacy for the voiceless and the oppressed.”

In advance of Tuesday’s vote, there had been intense speculation that Payman was considering crossing the floor. The government tried and failed to head off the internal division by amending the Greens motion, but it lacked the numbers to do so.

Payman said she crossed the floor “for humanity”, adding she was “bitterly disappointed” her colleagues did not feel the same.

“I am proud of what I did today,” she said, pointing to the party platform to support Israel and Palestine to live side by side. “We cannot believe in two-state solutions and only recognise one.”

Payman used her first speech to the Senate in 2022 to describe how her family fled Taliban-ruled Afghanistan shortly after her birth: “I stand before you tonight as a young woman, as a Western Australian, as a Muslim devout to her faith, proud of her heritage and grateful to this beautiful country.”

On Tuesday night she said: “I was not elected as a token representative of diversity, I was elected to serve the people of Western Australia and uphold the values instilled in me by my late father. Today I have made a decision that would make him proud and make everyone proud to err on the side of humanity.”

Payman, 29, said she did not inform the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, about her decision ahead of time.

The government spokesperson did not rule out sanctions against Payman, saying: “The senator says she maintains strong Labor values and intends to continue representing the Western Australians who elected her as a Labor senator. There is no mandated sanction in these circumstances and previous caucus members have crossed the floor without facing expulsion.”

The last Labor MP to cross the floor was former the Tasmanian MP Harry Quick in 2005.

Prior to that, two Labor MPs who had crossed the floor – Senator George Georges in 1986 and MP Graeme Campbell in 1988 – were both suspended from the party for their actions.

Related: Fatima Payman accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza in significant rupture with Labor party position

The Greens’ motion was to debate, as a matter of urgency, “the need for the Senate to recognise the state of Palestine”. Labor proposed to add the proviso “as part of a peace process in support of a two-state solution and a just and enduring peace”.

The Greens refused to support the government amendment, with the party leader, Adam Bandt, accusing Labor of “a cowardly delay tactic” to “water down this simple motion so it no longer immediately recognises Palestine”.

The deputy leader of the Greens, Mehreen Faruqi, moved the motion in the Senate and said it was a chance for Labor “to finally take this bare minimum first step”.

“You should feel embarrassed that it has come to this,” Faruqi said.

Wong wrote to other party leaders and crossbenchers earlier on Tuesday to appeal for them to support the government’s amendment.

“The Australian government is working with the international community to create momentum for a lasting peace in the form of a two-state solution – a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel,” she wrote.

“Australia and a number of other countries including Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada have shifted our position, so that recognition of a Palestinian state is no longer seen as being the end point of negotiations.”

The Coalition tried to amend the motion further by adding five “preconditions” for recognising Palestinian statehood, including “recognition by Palestinian representatives and the Palestinian Authority of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state”.

“Essential to this pathway is the removal of Hamas as a terrorist threat,” the Coalition’s Senate leader, Simon Birmingham, said.

However, the Coalition amendment failed to win adequate support in the chamber. After the Coalition amendment failed, the Coalition voted with the Greens to oppose the government’s amendment.

Payman abstained on the earlier procedural votes, sitting in the political advisers’ box. When the primary motion came to a vote, Payman stood up and moved to sit with the Greens and independent senators Lidia Thorpe and David Pocock.

Labor and the Coalition opposed the Greens motion in the final vote, meaning that the motion was defeated 52 against and 13 in favour.

In a statement on Tuesday, Alex Ryvchin, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s chief executive, said the move was “astonishing”.

“The Greens can’t be allowed to set the agenda on Israel and Australian foreign policy. They have brought antisemitism into the mainstream and have legitimised violent protests. This is what Senator Payman has now attached herself to, and she must be held accountable,” he said.

Payman has been increasingly outspoken in condemning Israel’s military operations in Gaza, saying last month: “My conscience has been uneasy for far too long and I must call this out for what it is. This is a genocide and we need to stop pretending otherwise.”

Payman has also previously rejected claims made by Ryvchin that using the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is antisemitic.

“The slogan of the dispossessed, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ is not a call for the annihilation of Jews. Rather, it asserts a desire for Palestinians to live in their homeland as free and equal citizens, neither dominating others nor being dominated over,” she told Guardian Australia in May.

Last week, Payman called on her own government to “recognise Palestine”.

Payman, writing for Al Jazeera, argued nations needed to take a “definitive stance” on Palestinian statehood because Israel “continues to disregard its obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and cease genocidal acts”.

Israel denies committing genocide in its military response to the 7 October attacks by Hamas.