Turnbull: Health Minister to step aside over Gold Coast trips

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo / AP
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo / AP

Sussan Ley will stand aside as Australian Health Minister amid a string of scandals surrounding her use of taxpayer-funded trips to the Gold Coast, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says.

Turnbull says he's asked the secretary of his department to investigate Ley's travel claims.

She will stand aside without ministerial pay until the investigation is complete.

"I expect the highest standards from my ministers in all aspects of their conduct, and especially the expenditure of public money," he said in a statement.

It comes amid revelations that Ley bought a A$795,000 apartment during a taxpayer- funded trip to the Gold Coast in 2015.

She caved into mounting pressure to step aside today, after it was revealed she claimed travel costs to the Gold Coast for New Year's Eve celebrations two years in a row.

Ley told reporters she travelled to the Gold Coast for New Year's celebrations at the request of a prominent Queensland businesswoman.

In 2013, she claimed flights and taxis to attend a business lunch and the following year, attended the businesswoman's annual New Year's Eve event, she said. Ley insists she did not claim accommodation in either year.

Ley insisted she visited the Gold Coast the day she bought her apartment to have ongoing conversations with a patient.

She decided it would be cheaper to stay at the Gold Coast that night since she needed to be in Canberra the following day.

Her husband had accompanied her on the trip amd drew her attention to an auction for the apartment.

"My decision late Friday to attend this auction was made after I had planned to travel to the Gold Coast from Brisbane," she said.

A Comcar was used to take her from Brisbane to her hotel, then the auction "two minutes away".

"In hindsight, I should have just got out of the hotel," she said.

While she had pre-approved finance to buy an investment property, Ley insisted she did not plan or anticipate buying this particular apartment.

She only inspected for the first time about 10 minutes before the auction started and felt it "fit the bill".


"I realised that my purchase of the unit changed the character of the occasion to one of a more personal nature and I should have adjusted my claim accordingly."

The minister said she looked forward to working with the secretary of the Prime Minister's department to investigate the travel claims.

Ley insists the decision to stand aside was mutually agreed between her and Turnbull, apologising for the distraction it had caused for the government.

"I haven't been able to ignore the level of intense interest and speculation," she said.

She insists she hasn't broken any rules and while she's providing her diaries to two independent investigations by two government departments, she won't provide them to the public.

"I'm very confident that the investigations will demonstrate that no rules were broken whatsoever. "I recognise that for people who live in my electorate, who work hard, who understand about living on fixed incomes and have experienced a life I've experienced in the past, this has a look that, you know, that I don't understand those issues and I don't recognise them and in fact the opposite is the case."

- AAP


How Health Minister Sussan Ley's expenses scandal played out:

* In 2013 Ley charges taxpayers for flights and taxis to attend a prominent businesswoman's lunch on the Gold Coast on New Year's Eve.
* In 2014 Ley attends the same businesswoman's annual New Year's Eve event on the Gold Coast and charges taxpayers for travel costs.
* March 17, 2015 Ley charters a VIP jet to the Gold Coast to attend a Pharmacy Guild conference in the afternoon at a cost of A$12,000 to taxpayers.
* May 9, 2015 Ley buys an investment property from a Liberal National Party donor during taxpayer-funded trip to Queensland to make a A$1.3 billion drugs- funding announcement at Wesley's Hospital in Brisbane and meet Gold Coast patients.
* January 3, 2017 details of of Ley's A$12,000 charter flight are revealed.
* January 6, 2017 reports emerge of Ley's Gold Coast investment property purchase she describes as an impulse buy.
* January 8, 2017 Ley apologises for error of judgement for claiming travel entitlements and promises to repay money for the May 2015 trip and costs of several other journeys in 2014 and 2015.
*January 9, 2017 Ley stands aside as health minister pending an investigation into her taxpayer funded travel.

- AAP

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