Australian minister Sussan Ley stands aside over expenses scandal

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Australia’s health minister has temporarily stood aside after using a taxpayer-funded trip to purchase an apartment worth A$795,000 (£473,300; $585,200) on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Sussan Ley said she made an “error of judgement” in billing taxpayers for three Gold Coast visits since 2014.

PM Malcolm Turnbull said Ms Ley agreed to step aside without ministerial pay pending an investigation.

Entitlements scandals have engulfed Australian politics in recent years.

Ms Ley’s ministerial travel to the Gold Coast will be investigated by both the Department of Finance and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Ms Ley said she did not expect to be stood down permanently.

“I’m very confident that the investigations will demonstrate that no rules were broken whatsoever,” she told reporters.

“I have nothing to hide – I have not broken any of the rules.”

•MPs can claim the cost of carrying out their parliamentary duties and working in their electorates

•The allowances are paid on top of their salaries and some are uncapped

•Allowances have grown over time, and include things such as daily expenses, family travel and accommodation

•Receipts are required and the system is administered by the Department of Finance

•There is no clear definition of what constitutes “parliamentary business”. MPs make their own assessment of the rules

Mr Turnbull said: “I expect the highest standards from my ministers in all aspects of their conduct, and especially the expenditure of public money.”

Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said Ms Ley did not have a credible explanation for charging taxpayers for the trips.

“These revelations make it crystal clear that Malcolm Turnbull must sack Sussan Ley,” Ms King said.

“Either she must walk or Mr Turnbull must push her.”

Ms Ley said the decision to purchase an investment property during a ministerial trip in May 2015 was “neither planned nor anticipated”.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce defended Ms Ley, saying she also had “legitimate business” on the visit.

“Even though I admit it’s a substantial purchase, that is not the reason she went to the Gold Coast,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“She went to the Gold Coast for work … people are saying she concocted a reason to do a policy announcement on the Gold Coast. I think that is a bit rich.”

•Former speaker of parliament Peter Slipper was convicted in 2014 of dishonestly using taxi allowances to visit Canberra wineries. The conviction was later overturned, with a court ruling the evidence did not show “beyond reasonable doubt” that the trips were not job-related.

•Another speaker, veteran MP Bronwyn Bishop, was forced to resign in 2015 after using A$5,000 in public funds to charter a helicopter to attend a political fundraiser, in a scandal dubbed “Choppergate”.

•Also in 2015, local media reported then-Treasurer Joe Hockey claimed a A$270-a-night allowance to stay in a Canberra house majority-owned by his wife. Though it was revealed as a legitimate claim, the case renewed debate over politicians’ entitlements.

•In October, senior Victorian politician Steve Herbert apologised for using his taxpayer-funded chauffeur to transport his dogs 120km (80 miles) to his country house.

Source: BBC