The Turnbull government has been rocked after two senior ministers stood down within 30 minutes of each other, sparking Opposition claims that the PM was “taking out the trash” while voters were on holidays.
At 1.30pm on Tuesday, Jamie Briggs resigned as Minister for Cities and the Built Environment over an “error of professional judgment” after a female public servant raised concerns about his behaviour following dinner and drinks during an overseas trip to Hong Kong last month.
Then, just before 2pm, embattled Special Minister for State Mal Brough announced he would stand aside until police completed their investigations into his role in the scandal which brought down former Speaker Peter Slipper.
Adding to the drama, the government also came under fire for deciding not to proceed with the final two years of the Gonski schools funding.
— ABC News (@abcnews) December 29, 2015
But the Opposition denounced the timing of the resignations and the release of the schools funding news.
Acting Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said both men should have resigned when their respective incidents first took place instead of waiting “until this quiet period between Christmas and New Year”.
“The government has saved all this bad news up until a day when they hoped no one was watching,” she said.
“It shows a degree of cynicism that is quite shocking.”
She accused the government of accepting the resignations on Tuesday to cover up for unpopular announcements this week about cuts to Medicare and Gonski education funding.
Mr Briggs, a father of three, told a press conference that “it was not my intention to act inappropriately and I’m obliged to note for the record that nothing illegal has been alleged or in fact did occur”.
“However, in the days following the evening, the public servant … raised concerns about the appropriateness of my behaviour towards her at the venue.
“I’ve apologised directly to her but after careful reflection about the concerns she raised and the fact that I was at a bar late at night while on an overseas visit I have concluded this behaviour has not met the particularly high standards for ministers.”
He recently made headlines for hurting his leg during a party hosted by the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott following the Liberal party leadership spill.
He first claimed the injury was sustained while running, but later admitted he had attempted to crash-tackle Mr Abbott.
Just minutes after the South Australian MP’s press conference, it was announced Mr Brough would stand aside.
The Special Minister of State and Minister for Defence Materiel and Science has been under investigation by the Australian Federal Police over the alleged copying of the former Speaker’s diary.
In a statement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Mr Brough would step down from his ministerial role pending the completion of inquiries by police.
“In offering to stand aside Mr Brough has done the right thing, recognising the importance of the Government maintaining an unwavering focus on jobs, economic growth and national security,” Mr Turnbull said.
Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann will act as the Special Minister of State, while Defence Minister Marise Payne will also act as Minister for Defence Materiel and Science.
Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt will replace Mr Briggs as Minister for Cities and the Built Environment.
-with AAP, ABC