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January, 25, 2017

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Aus. minister steps down over expenses

CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia's heath minister temporarily stepped down Monday while her travel expense claims are investigated. The scandal surrounding Minister Sussan Ley's expense claims could trigger the first reshuffle of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Cabinet since his government was reelected six months ago.

Ley has been under scrutiny since last week over allegations that she made taxpayers pay for personal travel in recent years, including to the tourist city of Gold Coast where she bought a luxury apartment in 2015.

Turnbull said Ley had agreed to stand aside without ministerial pay while the prime minister's department investigated whether her expense claims met guidelines.

"I expect the highest standards from my ministers in all aspects of their conduct and especially the expenditure of public money," Turnbull said in a statement.

Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos will temporarily fulfill Ley's portfolio responsibilities during the investigation.

Ley has admitted to making an error of judgment in claiming travel to the Gold Coast to buy the apartment at an auction and offered to repay some costs incurred in travel to the Gold Coast.

While she said she never broke any rules, she said some claims failed what is known in Australian politics as the pub test: meaning a conversation among ordinary Australians in a bar would conclude that the claims were not justified.

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