Health minister Sussan Ley will stand aside without ministerial pay while her travel claims are investigated, following controversy over several taxpayer-funded trips to the Gold Coast.
Ley has been under fire in recent days over expenses claimed for trips to the Gold Coast over the past three years.
In May 2015, Ley bought a $795,000 apartment on the Gold Coast while on a trip to Brisbane for a major announcement at a breast cancer clinic.
Speaking to the media on Monday morning, Ley said she had stayed overnight at the Gold Coast as it was more cost-effective than travelling back home to Albury and then back to Canberra the next day.
She reiterated the apartment purchase was not planned as part of the work trip, saying the decision to attend the auction was only made after her decision to travel to the Gold Coast from Brisbane to stay the night.
"The purchase of this particular property was neither planned nor anticipated," she said.
"Such was the last-minute nature of my attendance. I didn't contact the agent about this property, I didn't make enquiries about it, I didn't make any phone calls, I sent no emails. 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."
Ley said she does not expect to be stood down permanently.
She said the decision to step aside while a review into her expenses took place was the result of a "mutual conversation" with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Ley said she would ask the Department of Finance to invoice her for the car and travel allowance claimed for the trip in May, 2015, plus the relevant penalty.
She also said she would ask to be invoiced for two more claims for accommodation on the Gold Coast, and a one-way flight in June, 2015.
However, she argued on Monday that offering to pay back the money was not an admission that she had broken the rules.
In a statement on Sunday, Ley apologised for an "error in judgement" and identified three other claims that she would pay back.
"While attending an auction was not the reason for my visit to Queensland or the Gold Coast, I completely understand this changed the context of the travel undertaken," Ley said.
"The distinction between public and private business should be as clear as possible when dealing with taxpayers’ money. I have spoken to the prime minister and he agrees that this claim does not meet the high standards he expects of ministers."
On the weekend the shadow minister for health, Catherine King, called for Ley's resignation.
"Repaying the taxpayer does not erase the fact that Ley has breached the rules, and Turnbull must act," she said. "The Turnbull government cannot pick and choose which ministerial standards (it wishes) to follow... If Malcolm Turnbull does not remove Sussan Ley from his front bench immediately then his ministerial standards are nothing more than a complete joke."
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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