VICTORIAN rural independent MP Cathy McGowan has expressed support for her electoral neighbour and embattled Liberal MP for Farrer Sussan Ley.
Ms Ley announced today she was resigning as the federal Minister for Health Aged Care and Sport in the Turnbull government following ongoing media pressure over her travel rorts saga.
Ms McGowan praised Ms Ley’s contribution in her role as the Minister for Health.
“I’m sad and disappointed for Ms Ley,” she said.
“This must have been a very difficult time for her and her family.”
Ms McGowan said Ms Ley had been “a good political neighbour”.
“We have worked together effectively on a number of different issues including health, mental health including Headspace, infrastructure and cross border issues, and with the Murray Darling Basin Authority over water management,” she said.
“I acknowledge and appreciate Ms Ley’s leadership and public service.
“I look forward to continuing to work with her as the Member for Farrer and as a strong voice for rural and regional Australia.”
NSW Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos has been Acting Health Minister while Ms Ley stood aside pending an investigation into her travel entitlements linked to the purchase of a property on the Gold Coast.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to announce a replacement for Ms Ley next week - but Liberal insiders remain anxious it may not be a rural representative, leaving the metro-centric party vulnerable to the Nationals in cabinet.
Speculation has started about various potential outcomes from the ministerial reshuffle, including the elevation of NSW Liberal MP Angus Taylor into cabinet and promotion of WA rural MP Melissa Price into the ministry.
Mr Taylor is currently the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation and comes to parliament with a strong agricultural and business background.
Ms Price was elected in 2013 and has been an active member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources which held an inquiry into agricultural innovation in the previous parliament.
She worked in the legal profession prior to entering parliament and also in business development role at the giant WA owned farmer grains cooperative CBH.
Today, Mr Turnbull said “Australians are entitled to expect that politicians spend taxpayers' money carefully, ensuring at all times that their work expenditure represents an efficient, effective and ethical use of public resources”.
“We should be, as politicians, backbenchers and ministers, we should be as careful and as accountable with taxpayers' money as we possibly can be,” he said.
In a statement, Ms Ley said she’d made a personal decision to resign and also submitted the final part of her report into Dr Parkinson’s inquiry into her travel and its compliance with ministerial standards.
She said she he her office were complying with the Department of Finance’s review into the travel rules.
“I am confident that I have followed the rules, not just regarding entitlements but most importantly the ministerial code of conduct and I do not object to the material that I have provided being made public,” she said.
“The ongoing intense media speculation has made this an incredibly difficult week.
“However I am conscious that it has also been a difficult week for the government.
“The ongoing media coverage of politician’s entitlements has been a diversion from the important agenda we all wish to advance at the start of this vital year for our nation and our region.”
Ms Ley said she’d attempted at all times to be “meticulous with rules and standards” but accept community “annoyance, even anger”, with politicians’ entitlements demanded a response.
“I wholeheartedly support the reforms announced by the Special Minister of State earlier this week,” she said.
“The team is always more important than the individual and I look forward to serving both the Liberal party and the government well into the future.
“I am determined to represent my constituents vigorously, effectively and passionately in the current Parliament and beyond.”
Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said Ms Ley had “finally done the right thing and resigned, after an entire week of inaction and hiding from a weak Prime Minister”.
“Malcolm Turnbull has treated Australians with contempt and disrespect in his handling of this scandal - he acted too late, took the easy way out and hasn’t had the guts to show his face once,” she said.
“As well as reinforcing how weak the Prime Minister is, this scandal has exposed how out-of-touch the Liberals are with the lives of everyday Australians.”
Ms Ley told media earlier this week her decision to repay some of her Gold Coast travel costs wasn’t an admission that she’d broken the rules.
“I'm very confident that the investigations will demonstrate that no rules were broken whatsoever,” she said.
But she also said she recognised “the pub test” but disagreed she lacked empathy with people who live in her electorate and work hard, “and have experienced a life I've experienced in the past”.
She also dismissed a suggestion she’d lost the respect of her electorate due to the issue.
“I stand ready to explain what has happened, and I have been very encouraged by the conversations that I've had with so many of my constituents,” she said.
“And I want to make the point that I think my constituents understand the life I live as a minister.
“It is an incredible privilege, but it does keep me away from home - I think my staff have calculated an average of 20 out of 30 nights.
“I have one of the biggest electorates in Australia and I have one of the biggest portfolios, and I love the rural and regional perspective that I bring to the Government and the Cabinet, and to me it's very important.
“But I also love the fact that country people do understand who I am, where I've come from, and, you know, the hard work that I do, because they work similarly hard in their own businesses and farms.”
Greens leader Richard Di Natale welcomed Ms Ley’s resignation over misuse of taxpayer funds and urged the government to adopt his party’s proposal for a national Independent Commission Against Corruption and independent workplace umpire to help regain the public’s trust.
“If we want Sussan Ley to be the last minister to resign over expense rorts, then the Government needs to adopt The Greens’ legislation,” he said.
‘If Sussan Ley thinks the community is ‘annoyed’ now, just wait and see what happens if they don’t sort themselves out before the next scandal drops.”
In flagging changes to the system, Mr Turnbull said ultimately, decisions about travel entitlements should were judgements by individual MPs or Ministers.
“That has got to be their judgement - is this money, is this trip, is this airfare, is this taxi fare, is this incurred for the purpose of doing my job as an elected representative or as a Minister?” he said.
“That's the fundamental question.
“It is pretty straightforward.
“And clearly there will be areas where people's judgement will differ, and, therefore, MPs and Senators and Ministers have to be responsible for their judgement.
“That's why, I believe, the combination of an independent authority and timely, monthly reporting will make a very big change - it certainly has done in the United Kingdom.”