Sussan Ley resigns from frontbench
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accepted Sussan Ley’s resignation from his frontbench and announced major changes to the political entitlements system.
The decision follows almost two weeks of public anger of the former health minister’s travel to the Gold Coast and use of expensive charter flights.
Sussan Ley breaks her silence over charter flights
Turnbull government minister Sussan Ley claims she had no choice but to take expensive charter planes along two busy capital city routes, saying last-minute diary conflicts made commercial flights impossible.
Despite previously refusing to comment on the two flights – between Canberra and Melbourne in July 2014, and Canberra and Adelaide in May 2015 – Ms Ley’s office now says she had legitimate reasons for the charters.
With her ministerial future expected to be decided as early as Friday, the commercial pilot has also now denied flying the charter planes herself despite posting pictures of herself in the cockpit.
The Melbourne flight cost taxpayers $6300 and the Adelaide flight almost $7000 – significantly more expensive than business-class tickets.
But Ms Ley’s spokesman says that on both occasions she had commercial flights booked but could not use them because of last-minute scheduling conflicts.
In the July 2014 case she says she had to stay back in Canberra because of the Productivity Commission’s last-minute decision to launch a report into childcare, for which she was then responsible.
However she still wanted to make the opening of the National Association of Mobile Child Care Services conference in Melbourne, and claims the hourly commercial services were not appropriate.
“In order to ensure both important ministerial commitments were met, the most time-efficient and cost-effective direct form of transport available between the two cities at that time of day was organised within official rules,” the spokesman said.
It’s understood Ms Ley still turned up late for the second event because fog prevented her landing in Melbourne on time.
The minister – who stood aside on Monday pending an investigation into her expense claims – said the May 2015 flight too was justified.
“The minister had previously booked a commercial flight between Canberra and Adelaide the morning of 1 May however later received a request from the Prime Minister asking her to attend a meeting to discuss government business at 11:00am in Canberra,” the spokesman told Fairfax Media.
“In order for the Minister to meet her long-standing commitments in Kadina and Peterborough a charter flight was necessary.”
Kadina and Peterborough are towns in regional South Australia where Ms Ley had meetings with GPs, pharmacists and other stakeholders.
Ms Ley’s social media accounts indicate she was in the cockpit of the planes, however she denies she piloted them.
Ms Ley is a prodigious user of charter flights around her own electorate, racking up 120 charter flights at a cost of about $210,000 since 2014. She often flies herself and has previously justified these expenses on the basis she has a big electorate and it’s the only way to efficiently serve her constituents.
She also regularly charters planes between Canberra and her home base of Albury, with costs ranging from $1500 to $4000 per flight – even though it’s only a three and a half hour drive. Other MPs from the area regularly make the drive.