Australian minister Sussan Ley resigns over expenses scandal

Sussan Ley has resigned as Australia's health minister Image copyright ABC
Image caption Sussan Ley has resigned as Australia's health minister

Australian Health Minister Sussan Ley has resigned after using a taxpayer-funded trip to purchase an apartment on Queensland's Gold Coast.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had accepted Ms Ley's resignation on Friday.

Entitlements scandals have engulfed Australian politics in recent years.

Mr Turnbull has now pledged to set up an independent watchdog, based on the UK system, to oversee parliamentary expenses.

"Australians are entitled to expect that politicians spend taxpayers' money carefully, ensuring at all times that their work expenditure represents an efficient, effective and ethical use of public resources," he said.

"We should be as careful and as accountable with taxpayer money as we possibly can be."

In her resignation statement, Ms Ley maintained she had not broken any rules, "not just regarding entitlements but most importantly the ministerial code of conduct".

However, she said the saga had become a distraction for the government.

"Whilst I have attempted at all times to be meticulous with rules and standards, I accept community annoyance, even anger, with politicians' entitlements demands a response," she said on Friday.

How the system will work now

  • A new independent authority will oversee parliamentary expenses, replacing a government department
  • MPs will have to update their spending monthly, rather than twice a year
  • The system will be based on the UK model, with a searchable database
  • There will be no "material cost" to the budget, according to Mr Turnbull

Ms Ley faced pressure over separate trips to the Gold Coast, where she purchased the A$795,000 (£473,300; $585,200) investment property in 2015 and attended New Year's Eve parties in 2013 and 2014.

She described the apartment purchase as an "error of judgement" that was "neither planned nor anticipated".

Mr Turnbull said he believed Ms Ley's resignation was the "right judgement" and thanked her for her service.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Malcolm Turnbull accepted Ms Ley's resignation on Friday

He said the new expenses watchdog would ensure that politicians' claims were transparent to the public.

"I have to say I hate the term entitlements. These are work expenses," he said.

"The circumstances require us to be seen to be putting these matters plainly… so that people can be assured there is independent oversight."

Recent entitlements sagas

  • 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.

The opposition Labor Party offered "in-principle" support for Mr Turnbull's reform.

"We're happy to work with him on work expenses for politicians," said acting Labor leader Penny Wong.

"I think the country and the people expect it."

The UK set up the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in 2010 in the wake of the MP expenses scandal.

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