Health Minister Sussan Ley apologises for Gold Coast trip, agrees to repay expenses

Health Minister Sussan Ley is facing calls to provide a full explanation of her trip to the Gold Coast or resign Photo: Paul Jeffers
Health Minister Sussan Ley is facing calls to provide a full explanation of her trip to the Gold Coast or resign Photo: Paul Jeffers

Embattled Health Minister Sussan Ley has admitted she made an "error of judgment" by charging taxpayers for a trip to the Gold Coast in which she bought a $795,000 apartment and will repay the cost of four taxpayer-funded trips.

Ms Ley's decision followed a conversation with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in which he said she had not met the standards he expects of ministers.

Ms Ley had come under intense pressure to provide a full explanation of the May 2015 trip or resign from the ministry since it was revealed on Friday. Government records show Ms Ley has frequently visited the Gold Coast on taxpayer-funded trips over recent years.

Ms Ley originally said the apartment purchase, made after a health announcement in Brisbane, was "not planned nor anticipated" and that she had ministerial duties to fulfil on the Gold Coast. That claim was questioned after subsequent revelations that her partner owns a business near the unit and that it was purchased from a Liberal donor.

In a statement released on Sunday afternoon Ms Ley said the apartment auction was not the reason for her trip to the Gold Coast but she understood the purchase had "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," she said.

"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 judgment."

The apology failed to satisfy Labor, with the party's health spokeswoman Catherine King calling on Mr Turnbull to sack Ms Ley immediately following her admission that she had breached the standard expected of ministers.

The apartment block on Main Beach Parade in the Gold Coast suburb of Main Beach where Health Minister Sussan Ley bought a $795,000 unit. Photo: Supplied/De Ville Apartments

The apartment block on Main Beach Parade in the Gold Coast suburb of Main Beach where Health Minister Sussan Ley bought a $795,000 unit. Photo: Supplied/De Ville Apartments

Ms Ley said she would ask the Department of Finance on Monday to invoice her for all the costs of car and travel allowance claimed for the May 2015 trip and to apply any penalties for erroneous claims. She has also asked the department to review all her taxpayer-funded travel to the Gold Coast.

Ms Ley and her partner charged taxpayers $3949 for flights during the two-day trip.

Ms Ley said an examination of her travel records had revealed two other claims for accommodation in the Gold Coast where she should have in fact stayed in Brisbane. She will repay the cost of these claims as well as a flight from Coolangatta to Canberra in June 2015.

Ms Ley billed taxpayers for accommodation on the Gold Coast for four nights in July 2014 while travelling on "official business". She subsequently claimed travel allowance for two nights' accommodation on the Gold Coast in September 2014.

In August 2015 she made two trips to the Gold Coast for "official business", charging taxpayers for five nights accommodation in total.

Ms Ley said her travel to the Gold Coast was "within the rules" but that she had decided to repay the travel claims because she holds herself to high standards.

She said she had travelled to Brisbane on 9 May 2015 to make an announcement about the availability of new medicines at a specialist breast cancer clinic before going to the Gold Coast to meet with patients. While there she purchased the apartment.

She said she stayed in the Gold Coast that night because she was due in Canberra the following day.

This story Health Minister Sussan Ley apologises for Gold Coast trip, agrees to repay expenses first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.