Australian parliamentary speaker resigns over expenses scandal

Australian Speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop during the signing of the MH17 condolence book at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on July 24, 2014.
Australian Speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop during the signing of the MH17 condolence book at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on July 24, 2014. PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian parliamentary Speaker Bronwyn Bishop announced her resignation Sunday following public anger over her travel expenses, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a review would be launched into politicians' entitlements.

Bishop, a member of Abbott's Liberal Party, had been under fire for more than three weeks as media reports emerged of her use of taxpayers' money for trips including spending Aus$5,000 (S$5,012) on a 80km helicopter ride for a November political fundraiser.

"I have not taken this decision lightly, however it is because of my love and respect for the institution of parliament and the Australian people that I have resigned as Speaker," 72-year-old Bishop, who has served in the role since 2013, said in a statement.

Abbott said there would be a "fundamental review" of entitlements for members of parliament as "the public deserve to be absolutely confident that taxpayer money is not being abused".

"What has become apparent, particularly over the last few days, is that the problem is not any particular individual, the problem is the entitlements system more generally," the conservative leader told a press conference.

"There are still too many situations where members of parliament can do things which are inside entitlement but outside public expectations."

Abbott declined to criticise Bishop - a veteran Liberal who has been described as his political mentor - but said her resignation tendered to the Governor-General was the "right thing by the parliament, by the government and by the people of Australia".

Bishop had said she would repay the helicopter claim with a 25 per cent penalty and later described the expense as "ridiculous". She also vowed to refund travel expenses incurred for trips to colleagues' weddings.

Her travel claims are being reviewed by the government's finance department.

Calls for Bishop to step down had grown in recent days, including from the opposition Labor party.

Bishop is the second Speaker to resign in recent years after Peter Slipper - who previously defected from the Liberal party to become an independent MP - quit the post in October 2012 over allegations of sexual harassment, which were later thrown out by a court.