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Ley to stand aside over expenses scandal

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UPDATED: Sussan Ley will stand aside as health minister amid a string of scandals surrounding her use of taxpayer-funded trips to the Gold Coast.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he’s asked the secretary of his department to investigate Ley’s travel claims.

Ley 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 today.

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

She caved into mounting pressure to step aside this morning, 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 today 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.

She 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 and 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.”

Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong said Turnbull should have sacked Ley from cabinet, but instead he went for the “weak” option.

“What we see is the prime minister squibbing it,” she told reporters in Adelaide.

“It’s quite clear that the ministerial standards are an optional extra when it comes to Malcolm Turnbull.”

She called on Ley to release sufficient details to demonstrate that the trips taken were for public purposes.

Wong labelled it ironic that her temporary replacement is Sinodinos, who stepped aside from the frontbench during a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into a company he chaired.

AAP

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