Political strategist Glenn Druery having ‘informal conversations’ with Muslim groups and Fatima Payman

<span>Political strategist Glenn Druery says he was invited by members of the Muslim community and Fatima Payman to have ‘informal conversations’ about the next election.</span><span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
Political strategist Glenn Druery says he was invited by members of the Muslim community and Fatima Payman to have ‘informal conversations’ about the next election.Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Australian political strategist and so-called preference whisperer Glenn Druery has confirmed he’s talking to Muslim community groups and to suspended Labor senator Fatima Payman about the next election.

Prime minister Anthony Albanese told ABC’s 7.30 program it was “not acceptable” for the senator to be talking to groups working against Labor politicians and appeared to claim Payman had been in touch with those campaigners before she was indefinitely suspended from the partyroom.

Labor MPs are facing campaigns from the Greens and grassroots Muslim groups targeting the party’s refusal to immediately recognise Palestine as a state and take a stronger stand against Israel’s military action in Gaza.

As the Labor caucus met on Tuesday to endorse the indefinite suspension of Western Australian senator Payman for crossing the floor to vote for a Greens motion in the Australian Senate to recognise Palestine, the Greens declared the party would campaign in marginal Labor seats for MPs to join Payman when parliament resumes in August.

Related: Muslim Vote group says it will target Labor ministers and whip at next federal election

The leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, said Labor’s decision was “shameful” because the government had “put more sanctions on Senator Payman for speaking out about Gaza than they have on Benjamin Netanyahu for conducting an invasion of Gaza”.

The Greens have decided to target Peter Khalil and Ged Kearney’s respective seats of Wills and Cooper in north Melbourne, Patrick Gorman’s seat of Perth, Graham Perrett’s seat of Moreton in south Brisbane, and Justine Elliot’s northern New South Wales coastal seat of Richmond.

Labor is also facing a campaign from new community groups the Muslim Vote and Muslim Votes Matter.

Druery, known as a “preference whisperer” for his years of advice to aspiring minor party candidates, revealed on Tuesday that “very recently” he was approached by Muslim groups to discuss the election and was having “informal conversations” with Payman.

“I was invited to attend a meeting by members of the Muslim community to have informal conversations about the next election and to meet with Senator Payman. No contract exists between the Muslim community or the senator and me,” he told Guardian Australia.

Asked about the developments on Tuesday night, Albanese appeared to hint toward Payman leaving the Labor Party.

“I don’t take these issues personally. I’ve been around a while … and I’ve seen people at various times make decisions to change the direction upon which they were elected.”

Asked if it was acceptable for somebody to be talking to his opponents, Albanese responded: “clearly, it’s not acceptable, which is why Senator Payman has been suspended from participation in the Caucus.”

“The idea that this happened just in the last 24 hours is I think not what has occurred,” he added.

“Someone doesn’t just pop up on Insiders because they were walking past the studio on Sunday. Now, I asked for an explanation of why, what the motivation of that was. I haven’t received one.”

On Tuesday, a meeting of the federal Labor caucus endorsed the indefinite suspension of Payman after she warned she was prepared to cross the floor again to vote for Palestinian statehood.

Albanese spoke at the meeting, describing the caucus as “the most united” he’d been a part of, and noted that the previous meeting had unanimously endorsed the parliamentary party’s position that recognition of Palestinian statehood occur “as part of a peace process in support of a two-state solution”.

The Labor party platform expresses support for “the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognised borders” and “calls on the Australian government to recognise Palestine as a state”.

According to a carefully negotiated form of words that was reaffirmed at the ALP national conference last August, the party said it “expects that this issue will be an important priority for the Australian government” but it did not set a specific deadline to do so.

Related: Fatima Payman and the cost of voting with her conscience - podcast

Albanese said that although he had been criticised for at first suspending Payman for the current parliamentary fortnight, showing restraint and some compassion was “a strength and not a weakness”.

The prime minister told the meeting he held the leadership title only because he had Labor next to his name, echoing his observation on Monday that Western Australians had not voted directly for Payman on the Senate ballot paper.

Caucus agreed unanimously “on the voices” – not requiring a formal vote – with the leadership group’s decision that Payman would be suspended until she agreed to respect collective obligations.

In question time, the Liberals targeted Albanese about Payman’s claims she had been pressed to quit the Senate. Albanese said his discussions with Payman were “civil and constructive” and that she was “welcome back to participate in the team if she agrees that she is part of the team”.

The deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, said in a statement she was “deeply disappointed” by the response and said Labor should have dealt with the issue “without putting a 29-year-old woman in a position where she feels intimidated by her colleagues”.

Gorman, the assistant minister to the prime minister, responded to the Greens’ threat by telling Sky News that marginal seat campaigns and “stunts in the Senate” proved the Greens were “more concerned with politics” than with the people at the heart of the Gaza conflict.

Gorman said he never took the support of the public for granted “but the Greens have always talked a big game in Perth and always come up short”.

Similarly, several of the Labor MPs in the sights of the Greens seemed unmoved by the threat. “It’s a free country,” Perrett told Guardian Australia. “I might run into them as I’ll be door-knocking Moreton this weekend talking about our many cost-of-living initiatives.”

Khalil told Guardian Australia “elections are always contested” and said he was more focused on “cost-of-living relief” and other policies that “change lives of Australians for the better”, adding it was “only something a party of government can do”.

Last week, after Payman crossed the floor, Khalil said his support for Palestinian statehood and self-determination was on the public record.

“I support recognition of a Palestinian state as a critical part of a peace process, with a two-state solution and a just and enduring peace.”

Khalil said the Coalition and Greens voted against Labor amendments to the Senate motion “making it clear they are only interested in playing political games rather than the substantive work of our government in advancing peace”.

Bandt told reporters in Canberra that although Labor wanted to argue “this is all about party games” the fact is “this is about the people of Gaza”.

Labor MPs “talk up a big game” but “need to be held accountable”, he said.

On Monday night, Labor’s Hawkesbury branch in NSW passed a motion supporting Payman and encouraging the party leadership to listen to and take on board the perspectives of culturally and linguistically diverse members.

The motion encouraged Labor senators and MPs to “support their colleague” and also to encourage Payman not to resign her party membership because of her position on the conflict.

Insiders expect other Labor party branches to pass motions supporting Payman in coming days and weeks.