Australian Health Minister Sussan Ley resigns over expenses scandal

Sussan Ley, Australia's Minister for Sport, speaks during a media conference in Sydney, Australia on July 25, 2016.
Sussan Ley, Australia's Minister for Sport, speaks during a media conference in Sydney, Australia on July 25, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australian Health Minister Sussan Ley said on Friday (Jan 13) that she had resigned from her Cabinet position amid an expenses scandal that had proven to be an embarrassing start to the year for embattled Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Ms Ley’s resignation from Cabinet will force a reshuffle on Mr Turnbull, the first since he took power in 2015. A Newspoll on Monday found Mr Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten to be the most unpopular pair of political leaders in 20 years.

Keen to temper the political fall-out from Ms Ley’s resignation, Mr Turnbull said his government would implement an independent body to monitor and adjudicate on expense claims by members of Australia’s parliament.

“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,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

He already faces a tough year ahead, with a fractious upper house Senate stymying his legislative agenda, mainly focused on spending cuts and tax reforms meant to balance the national budget, after an unconvincing election win last year.

He is also facing growing discontent within his own party, with resentment still simmering after he toppled previous leader Tony Abbott in a party-room coup in 2015.

Ms Ley is a high-profile casualty of a scandal that is engulfing Mr Turnbull’s conservative government amid growing revelations that several Cabinet ministers had claimed expenses for trips that had coincided with personal activities.

Ms Ley, who is also the minister for aged care and sport, had been fighting calls for her to resign after it was revealed she had made expense claims for several visits to the Gold Coast, a holiday destination in Queensland state, including one when she said she purchased an investment property on impulse.

She said in an emailed statement that she believed she did not break any rules by claiming expenses for the trips but had decided to resign after embarrassing the government.

“I accept community annoyance, even anger, with politicians’entitlements and it demands a response,” she said.