Sussan Ley stands aside, will earn $199,000+ per year
SUSSAN Ley has agreed to stand aside from her role as Federal Health Minister while an investigation is conducted into her use of travel entitlements, which included two trips to the Gold Coast for New Year's Eve.
Ms Ley had been under intense pressure to either step down or be forced out of Cabinet.
She said the decision was ultimately made "in a mutual conversation" with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Ms Ley will sacrifice her ministerial salary -- $144,304 a year out of her $343,344 salary -- while the investigation is conducted.
The base rate for all Federal MPs is $199,040 per year,
Prime Minister Turnbull released a statement about Ms Ley's use of entitlements moments before her press conference began.
In it, he wrote that the government would "deal with these serious matters very thoroughly".
"I expect the highest standards from my Ministers in all aspects of their conduct, and especially the expenditure of public money," he said."
"The Minister has agreed to stand aside without ministerial pay until this investigation is completed by the Secretary."
Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos will take on the role for now.
Sydney's Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that Ms Ley travelled to the Gold Coast 17 times between 2013 and 2016, costing the public purse more than $40,000. The Telegraph could find no press releases, speeches or other information to suggest nine of those trips had been for government business.
That amounts to $20,000 in unaccounted for travel.
The travel dates include visiting the Gold Coast on New Year's Eve in 2013 and again in 2014.
Fronting journalists in Albury, New South Wales just before 10.30am local time, Ms Ley defended the New Year's trips.
Ms Ley said she travelled for events held by a Queensland businesswoman, but did not name the person.
She described the coverage of her travel claims as "a distraction".
"On New Year's Eve 2013 and 2014, I travelled to the Gold Coast at the invitation of a prominent Queensland businesswoman," she said.
"In 2013, it was for a business lunch and in 2014 it was for her annual New Year's Eve event.
"In 2013, I claimed flights and taxis to get to the lunch, but as I was on annual leave from the next day, I didn't claim accommodation.
"Similarly, in 2014, I did not claim accommodation as I stayed privately. On 1 January 2015, I travelled to a sporting function in Sydney as the Minister for Sport."
It comes after Ms Ley apologised for travel claims she made for a 2015 trip to the Queensland tourist mecca when she bought a beachside apartment for $795,000 from a political donor.
She said on Monday that she had inspected the property for the first time "maybe 10 minutes before the auction".
Her trip to the Gold Coast was to meet with patients in relation to new medicines for a specific form of cancer.
She admitted that travelling to the auction by COMCAR "changed the character of the occasion to one of a more personal nature" and she ought to have changed her claim.
On Sunday she said the trip was an "error of judgment" and confirmed she would pay back the costs.
But now the Minister faces new allegations of misusing government travel entitlements.
Ms Ley is the Liberal MP for Farrer, taking in the inland regional centre of Albury, south west of Canberra.
SUNDAY: Sussan Ley to pay back some expenses of Gold Coast trip
FEDERAL Health Minister Sussan Ley has agreed to pay back some of the expenses she billed the taxpayer for on a trip to Queensland during which she purchased a Gold Coast unit for $795,000.
Ms Ley made national headlines throughout the week when she told the media she had purchased the unit on an impulse.
Today she said she had consulted with PM Malcolm Turnbull and had agreed to pay back some of the expenses incurred on the trip.
"I have spent the past 48 hours examining my travel records," Ms Ley posted on Facebook.
"I travelled to Brisbane on May 9, 2015 to make a major announcement about the availability of new medicines at a specialist breast cancer clinic and to meet with patients in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.
"As I had to be in Canberra on Sunday 10 May I decided to stay the night of 9 May on the Gold Coast rather than incur considerable extra expense by flying back to Albury and then to Canberra the following day.
"This travel is within the rules provided.
"However, I have always sought to apply higher standards for myself in using valuable taxpayers' funds.
"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.
"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. I apologise for the error of judgement.
"Tomorrow I will ask the Department of Finance to invoice me for the costs for the car and travel allowance claimed on Saturday 9 May 2015, including the relevant penalty applied to erroneous claims.
"My examination of my travel records has also brought to my attention two other claims for accommodation on the Gold Coast in 2014 and 2015 where I should have stayed and claimed in Brisbane, as well as a single one-way flight from Coolangatta to Canberra in June 2015.
"I will also ask the Department of Finance to invoice me the costs of these claims, as well as the relevant penalty.
"In the interests of total transparency, I will ask the department to review all my ministerial travel to the Gold Coast."