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Anger over ‘terrorist’ comment

Written by on May 16, 2024

Worsening divisions between leaders over Australia’s response to the war in Gaza have flared after a Liberal senator was heard accusing a Muslim MP of supporting terrorism.

Labor Senator Fatima Payman broke ranks with her party on Wednesday after she used the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” to criticise Israel’s conduct in Gaza.

The Senate later overwhelmingly voted to condemn the phrase, which Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called “inappropriate” because it did not support a two-state solution.

Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes was heard yelling across the floor to Senator Payman during a heated question time session on Thursday after the matter was raised by the opposition.

“How dare you support terrorism,” Senator Hughes said, in a comment that she later withdrew.

The comments prompted Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to accuse the opposition of “intimidation, bullying and harassment” and called for the Senator to be thrown out of the chamber.

“There was an accusation and subsequent comments were made pointing across the chamber at Senator Payman by Senator Hughes, and she should withdraw it,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

Both Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Hughes has been contacted for comment.

The leader of the Nationals in the Senate Bridget McKenzie later denied hearing the comment when asked about it by reporters in Canberra.

Senator McKenzie said there were “fervently” strongly held views on both sides of the debate.

“I have never heard another senator call another senator supporting terrorism,” she said.

“But if you do support Hamas, if you are chanting ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine be free’, then you are effectively supporting Hamas, and you are effectively supporting terrorists.”

Coalition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham moved a motion in the Senate on Thursday, calling a vote on whether or not the controversial slogan “is violent”, “opposes Israel’s right to exist”, and if Mr Albanese is correct to call it a statement “in opposition to a two-state solution”.

Labor senators backed the motion, which passed with 56 votes in favour and 12 against.

Those voting against the motion including Greens senators and independent Senator Lidia Thorpe.

The invasion of Gaza began after Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7 last year, killing 1200 people and taking more than 250 hostages.

Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza.