News / World

Australian health minister resigns over expense scandal

SYDNEY, Australia — Australia's heath minister resigned on Friday over a scandal surrounding her travel expenses, a move that could lead to the first reshuffle of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Cabinet since his government was re-elected six months ago.

Sussan Ley has been under scrutiny since last week over allegations that she made taxpayers pay for personal travel in recent years, including to the tourist city of Gold Coast where she bought a luxury apartment in 2015. She temporarily stepped aside on Monday pending a government investigation.

Turnbull, who announced Ley's resignation, would not comment on the results of the probe. But he said the government would form an independent watchdog to monitor all future expenses lodged by members of 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," he told reporters.

Turnbull did not immediately reshuffle his Cabinet in the wake of Ley's departure, saying he would make an announcement on ministerial changes next week. Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos, who has been fulfilling Ley's portfolio responsibilities since the investigation began, will continue to act as health minister for now, Turnbull said.

In her resignation letter to Turnbull, Ley said she was confident she had followed the rules involving both her expenses and the ministerial code of conduct.

"The ongoing intense media speculation has made this an incredibly difficult week," she wrote in the letter, which she released to the public.

She said that the media coverage of politicians' entitlements "has been a diversion from the important agenda we all wish to advance at the start of this vital year for our nation and our region."

The drama over Ley's expenses comes at a particularly bad time for the government, which is attempting to reign in the national deficit and has been vilified over its recent attempts to claw back overpayments to welfare recipients and cut pensions to the elderly.