Australian Health Minister Sussan Ley bowed to days of pressure on Monday and stepped down without ministerial pay while her taxpayer-funded travel expenses are investigated.
Ley’s action came a day after admitting she made “an error of judgment” billing taxpayers for trips to Queensland’s Gold Coast during which she purchased a luxury apartment.
Government documents released under Freedom of Information reveal that Ley has taken 27 taxpayer-funded flights in and out of the Gold Coast over recent years, including over two consecutive years.
The trips include some during the New Year’s Eve period, when she attended events hosted by a prominent Queensland businesswoman, Sarina Russo, who previously donated AU$20,000 ($14,600) to the Liberal Party — the party in government.
In May 2015, Ley spent thousands of dollars on a taxpayer-funded a trip to Queensland with her husband during which she purchased a AU$795,000 investment property.
The documents show that between 2013 and 2016 Ley took at least 18 trips to the Gold Coast, where she owns property and her partner runs a bin cleaning business, News Corp reports.
In a statement released Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet would “thoroughly investigate the travel claims”.
“The Minister has assured me that she will promptly provide all information and assistance sought by the Secretary [of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet] for the purpose of this investigation,” Turnbull’s statement read.
Arthur Sinodinos will act as Minister for Health and Aged Care, and Minister for Sport during the investigation.
Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong has called for Ley to be sacked from the ministerial cabinet.
“Today we’ve seen another weak response from a weak Prime Minister,” Wong asserted at a press conference Monday in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.
“Today was a test of Malcolm Turnbull’s judgment, and yet again in that test, he has shown Australians just how weak he is.”
On Monday, speaking at a press conference in New South Wales regional city Albury — where she is based — Ley stated, “purchase of this particular property was neither planned nor anticipated.”
Ley told reporters in Albury that the decision to stand aside was a mutual one between herself and Turnbull, insisting that she had not broken any rules and expressing confidence in the outcome of the investigation.