Health Minister Sussan Ley has said her controversial purchase of an apartment from a Liberal National Party donor during a taxpayer-funded trip to the Gold Coast in 2015 was “not planned nor anticipated”.
Ms Ley is under pressure from the Opposition to explain a property she purchased in May 2015, while travelling to Queensland on ministerial business, or else resign.
Her claims of an impulse purchase are being further questioned after it emerged that her partner Graham Johnston owns a Gold Coast business near the Main Beach apartment.
The Herald Sun has reported that Mr Johnston is the sole director and shareholder of Albury-based Highmark Pty Limited, which holds the central Gold Coast franchise for the bin-cleaning business, It’s Bin Cleaned.
A spokesman for Ms Ley said Highmark Pty Ltd had always been declared on Ms Ley’s register of interest and Mr Johnston had not undertaken any business relating to the company while on visits to the Gold Coast.
“Any business that is transacted by Ms Ley’s partner is done so by telephone, from Albury,” the spokesman said.
Opposition Health spokeswoman Catherine King said the latest revelation further undermined Ms Ley’s claim the purchase was spontaneous.
“Sussan Ley is trying to play the Australian people like fools and say this was not a planned purchase — but this new information makes a complete mockery of that,” Ms King told the Herald Sun.
“It couldn’t be clearer. Sussan Ley needs to stand up and explain this or Malcolm Turnbull must enforce his own ministerial standards and sack her from the front bench.
“These are serious allegations and her failure to address them treats the public with nothing but contempt.
“The longer this goes on the longer Malcolm Turnbull is unacceptably turning a blind eye to his own ministerial standards.”
On the It’s Bin Cleaned website, Mr Johnston offers a franchise owner testimonial in which he says: “I have since moved away from the Gold Coast so I have a full-time contractor running the vehicle which is working very well.”
Ms Ley claimed the standard $370 politicians’ travel allowance for the trip.
In a statement, Ms Ley’s office said the minister travelled to the Gold Coast for meetings with health stakeholders and her purchase of the $795,000 Main Beach property was an impulse buy.
The spokesperson said, “The property purchase was not planned nor anticipated”.
A representative from Ms Ley’s office told The New Daily Ms Ley could not disclose the identities of the health stakeholders due to “the private nature of these personal health discussions”.
Mr Johnston also accompanied her on the trip – his expenses were also covered by the taxpayer.
“Minister Ley’s partner was invited to accompany her to a function in Sydney on the Friday evening,” the statement read.
He then travelled with the minister to Queensland under family travel arrangements.
“The EMB [Entitlements Management Branch] was consulted at the time to confirm Ms Ley’s partner’s travel was within the rules.
“All travel undertaken was in accordance with the rules.”
The property is described as an investment in Ms Ley’s Register of Interests, where she also declares a mortgage for the property.
Previous owner Martin Corkery confirmed the sale, but said he did not know that Ms Ley was among the potential buyers.
Mr Corkery — who donated $50,000 to the Queensland LNP in 2011 — told ABC News he was overseas during the auction and only discovered the Minister had bought the unit once he received the contract.
He said he had only met Ms Ley once, while the Coalition was in opposition.
‘Explain yourself or resign’
But Ms King has called on Ms Ley to explain how the purchase was part of her ministerial duties or resign.
“If Sussan Ley cannot explain how buying an apartment is ‘official business’, she must resign,” she said in a statement.
“Sussan Ley needs to front up today and explain to Australians how purchasing a luxury apartment is considered to be ‘official business’,” Ms King said.
She also called for Ms Ley to reveal which stakeholders she met on the Gold Coast, if an official Comcar was used at any point during the purchase of the property and how the spontaneous purchase of the property came about.
Bronwyn Bishop, Barnaby Joyce defend Ley
Former speaker Bronwyn Bishop, who was forced to resign over a chartered helicopter trip to a Liberal fundraiser that cost taxpayers $5000, spoke out in support of Ms Ley on Friday.
“When you’re a minister or a parliamentary office holder, as I was, your staff arranges your travel arrangements,” Mrs Bishop told Sky News.
“You’re a busy person, you can’t check on that, that’s what they’re employed to do.”
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce also defended Ms Ley, saying she had “legitimate business” on the Gold Coast.
“If they [Ms Ley and her husband] made a purchase – even though I admit it’s a substantial purchase – that is not the reason she went to the Gold Coast,” Mr Joyce told ABC.
“She went to the Gold Coast to work … people are saying she concocted a reason to do a policy announcement on the Gold Coast. I think that is a bit rich.”
Ms Ley had the fourth highest expenditure during the period of the purchase — from January 1 to June 30, 2015 — including more than $105,000 on charter flights and $11,800 on family travel costs.
In total, she claimed almost $650,000 over the six-month period and $490,637 in the following six months.
News Corp reported Ms Ley and her husband claimed a total of $3949 in flight costs for the two-day trip.
– with ABC