What in the world is going on with Sussan Ley’s travel expenses?

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Sussan Ley‘s name has been dominating domestic headlines for well over a week now.

With incessant news stories have come accusations of the misuse of taxpayers’ money, a few chartered airplanes and one now infamous $800,000 beach house on the Gold Coast.

So what in the world is going on with our Federal health minister and why is Canberra so obsessed with her expenses?

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Let’s start from the top

It all began at the very start of January (the third, to be precise), when the Herald Sun revealed Ms. Ley spent nearly $12,000 chartering a VIP jet to the Gold Coast for an afternoon meeting in March last year.

The paper calculated that if Ms. Ley had flown commercially for the meeting instead, flights for the trip would have cost taxpayers $400 return in economy and $1200 for business class.

However, when the news broke, a spokeswoman for Ms Ley said commercial flights were investigated but “not suitable” due to Ms Ley’s tight schedule.

Interestingly, the chartered flight came eight months after former fellow Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop was forced to resign amid what is now deemed “Choppergate”, whereby the former Speaker spent more than $5,000 to charter a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong.

So, was that all?

Unfortunately for Ms. Ley, this was just the beginning. The news of the chartered plane sent alarm bells ringing about her conduct while using taxpayers’ money, and no doubt led to further digging about the kinds of costs she has claimed in the past.

Days later, the Herald Sun revealed Ley and her partner bought a $795,000 investment property on the Gold Coast from a Liberal donor while on a tax-payer funded work trip in May 2015.

In total, Ley claimed $3,125 of taxpayer money for that trip, including $270 in chauffeur car expenses. It is unclear whether the chauffeur expenses were used to finalise the purchase of the apartment.

In response, Ley’s office released a statement saying the property purchase “was not planned nor anticipated” and all travel undertaken was “in accordance with the rules”.

Upon hearing the news, the Huffington Post reported Ballarat MP and opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said Ley’s job should be in question if she cannot provide more information.

“Sussan Ley needs to front up today and explain to Australians how purchasing a luxury apartment is considered to be ‘official business’,” she said in a statement.

“If she cannot do this, she has no choice but to resign, or Malcolm Turnbull must move her off his front bench. Sussan Ley’s explanation that the purchase ‘was not planned nor anticipated’ is woefully inadequate and an insult to Australians.”

To make matters worse, in the last day or so (and after Ms. Ley stood aside in her role), new allegations have arisen alleging Ms. Ley had been looking for properties on the Gold Coast Hinterland prior to the May 2015 purchase.

But wait, there’s more

When looking into the minister’s travel reports, ABC News found that in a three year period, Ley travelled to the Gold Coast – where she and her partner own two properties – 20 times. Two of these times included trips on New Year’s Eve in 2013 and 2014.

They further uncovered 18 of these trips cost the taxpayer $53,877.

Additionally, on January 10 (a day after Ms. Ley stood aside), The Age revealed Ms. Ley charged taxpayers more than $13,000 in 2014 and 2015 to pilot private charter planes along busy capital city routes, refusing to explain why she did not take commercial flights instead.

How has Ms. Ley responded?

Initially, on January 8, Ley apologised for her “error of judgement” in claiming travel entitlements. She promised to repay money for the May 2015 trip and the costs of several other journeys in 2014 and 2015.

A day later, on January 9, Ley stood aside as health minister pending an investigation into her travel expenses.

So what happens now?

Currently, Ms. Ley’s travel claims are being investigated by Malcolm Turnbull’s departmental secretary, Martin Parkinson. As such, Ms. Ley’s future in politics rests on the outcome of that investigation.

However, off the back of Bishop’s own 2015 expenses scandal, some senior ministers told The Australian they believe Ms Ley’s position is untenable.

“It is hard to see how you come back from this,” one said.

Featured image: Getty

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