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Australia

Australian travel scandal prompts minister Sussan Ley to resign

Australia's Health Minister Sussan Ley has quit denying that she misused an official trip to buy a luxury apartment. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he'll set up an agency to oversee ministers' expenses.

Turnbull vowed on Friday that his scandal-embroiled cabinet would be more careful with "other people's money" after mounting public anger over perceived abuse of taxpayer-funded official trips.

Ley, who was also minister for aged care and sport,  quit her post in Turnbull's cabinet on Friday, having agreed to step aside pending an investigation earlier in the week. However, Ley also said that while she accepted "community annoyance" at her behavior, she was "still confident that I have followed the rules, not just regarding entitlements but most importantly the ministerial code of conduct."

In May 2015, she bought an apartment worth 795,000 Australian dollars (560,000 euros, $595,000) at auction in the Gold Coast region of Australia's eastern state of Queensland during an official trip.

Her resignation Friday was described by Turnbull as being "in the best interests of the government."

Ley agreed to pay back some of the travel costs while insisting that the apartment purchase had been "neither planned nor anticipated" during that trip.

British-styled vetting agency

Turnbull also unveiled a plan to create an independent parliamentary expenses authority mimicking Britain's model, established after similar scandals on a much wider scale laid parliament bare in 2009.

Ley (pictured above with Turnbull) had stepped aside earlier this week pending investigations, but public patience was exhausted by fresh revelations that she had charged taxpayers 13,000 Australian dollars to fly private planes even though commercial flights were available.

She had done so to keep up her flying hours for her pilot's license.

Further ministers under scrutiny

Turnbull, who toppled previous leader Tony Abbott in 2015, and his conservative Liberal-National coalition has previously faced pressure over other scandals involving other ministers accused of mixing official duties with personal activities.

Australian public broadcaster ABC reported that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had claimed expenses for 11,000 dollars to attend five polo events and a rugby game on "official ministerial business."

Similarly, Trade Minister Steven Ciobo and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann had attended an Australian rules football match, reported local media.

Last year, a regional minister in Australia's southern state of Victoria had to apologize for using a taxpayer-funded chauffeur to transport his dogs to his country house.

In August 2015, House of Representatives speaker Bronwyn Bishop resigned after it was revealed that she had spend 5,200 dollars to charter a helicopter to fly to and from a political fundraiser; the 80-kilometer (roughly 50-mile) journey would typically have taken around an hour each way by car.

Penny Wong, acting leader of the opposition Labor party while its leader Bill Shorten remains on holiday, said her party supported Turnbull's intended expenses reforms in principle.

ipj/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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