UPDATE: In another blow for health minister Sussan Ley News Corp is reporting the embattled MP inspected a Gold Coast property on a taxpayer funded trip to Queensland in 2014.
The inspection, which resulted in an unsuccessful bid for the property, came nine months before Ms Ley purchased a Gold Coast apartment in 2015 during a taxpayer-funded trip to Queensland.
Under fire from the media over the past week, Ms Ley has maintained she purchased the apartment “on a whim” and with no planning.
Ms Ley said on Monday that she made the 2015 purchase after her husband alerted her to the potential sale a day before she was to travel to Queensland on ministerial business.
Earlier on Monday Ms Ley faced more controversy after it was revealed she charged taxpayers to attend two New Year’s Eve events hosted by prominent Queensland businesswoman Sarina Russo, who previously donated $20,000 to the Liberal Party.
The ABC has confirmed Ms Ley, who on Monday stood aside as Health Minister pending an investigation into her travel entitlements, attended the events in 2013 and 2014.
Ms Russo is one of Australia’s richest women and founder of job recruitment agency Sarina Russo.
In 2015, the BRW Rich List claimed she was worth an estimated $103 million and was the 13th-richest woman in Australia.
Ms Russo donated $20,000 to the Federal Liberal Party in 2010 and her companies also made donations to the Labor Party in 2014-15.
The ABC understands at least one of the New Year’s Eve events was held at the luxury Palazzo Versace hotel on the Gold Cioast.
When Ms Ley stepped aside, she said she had travelled to the Gold Coast on taxpayer-funded flights “at the invitation of a prominent Queensland businesswoman”.
In a statement, Ms Russo told the ABC she was happy to support the investigation into Ms Ley’s travel arrangements if required.
“Every time I met with her it related to her portfolio or the government at hand,” she said.
“I respect and admire the minister. She has worked diligently in every portfolio and has made a difference.”
On Twitter, Ms Russo said Ms Ley had always focused on jobs and called on the public to help make Australia “great”.
#NY Let's focus on jobs & make AUSTRALIA great: Minister Sussan Ley has always done:very happy to support investigation, if required
— Sarina Russo (@SarinaRusso) January 9, 2017
The pair posed in an Instagram photo in June 2015, which described Ms Ley as “a great believer that health equates to loving your job or at least having a job”.
Ms Russo’s company Job Access won government contracts under the Coalition for education and training services worth $41 million and $4.4 million in 2015, lasting for three years.
‘I have nothing to hide’
Ms Ley said she was confident investigations into her travel arrangements would prove she had not broken any rules, and was confident she would return to cabinet.
She maintained her decision to buy an apartment worth nearly $800,000 on a taxpayer-funded trip to the coast was not planned, which prompted the opposition to call for her resignation.
Ms Ley has agreed to partly pay back the cost of four trips to the Gold Coast where she and her partner own two properties.
In a statement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Ms Ley had agreed to “stand aside without ministerial pay” during an investigation by the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Mr Turnbull said the secretary would “thoroughly investigate the travel claims”.
“Australians expect the government to deal with these serious matters very thoroughly and in accordance with the Statement of Ministerial Standards,” he said.
Arthur Sinodinos will act as Minister for Health and Aged Care, and Minister for Sport.
When asked if she had the Prime Minister’s full support, she responded that they had held many “friendly” conversations.
Ms Ley said she did not expect to be forced to stand down permanently.
“I’m very confident that the investigations will demonstrate that no rules were broken whatsoever,” she said.
“I have nothing to hide – I have not broken any of the rules.”