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Australia toughens rules on politicians' expenses after scandal

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Australia toughened oversight of politicians' expenses on Friday after a senior minister quit over the purchase of a luxury flat during a taxpayer-funded trip.

[SYDNEY] Australia toughened oversight of politicians' expenses on Friday after a senior minister quit over the purchase of a luxury flat during a taxpayer-funded trip.

Public outrage has been building over revelations Health Minister Sussan Ley bought a A$795,000 (S$849,000) apartment on the glitzy Gold Coast during an official work trip - which she claimed was an impulse buy.

Ms Ley stepped aside earlier this week amid an investigation and resigned Friday.

This and further revelations of other ministers claiming expenses to attend sporting events sparked the move by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to set up an independent agency to administer and oversee all claims by parliamentarians.

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As part of the changes, expenses would be disclosed monthly and be accessible in an searchable database. Under the current system, expenses are disclosed twice a year.

"I am firmly of the view that transparency is the key. Sunlight is the best medicine," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

He said the new body would mimic Britain's model, which was established in 2009 following a parliamentary expenses scandal where several MPs were jailed.

"It will make a very important change to the way in which expenses are undertaken, and, indeed, the way in which they are recorded and the way in which they are reviewed," he added.

This is not the first time the ruling conservative Liberal-National coalition - which was narrowly returned to power after elections in July last year - has been rocked by an expenses scandal.

Parliamentary Speaker Bronwyn Bishop resigned in Aug 2015 after using taxpayers' money for trips, including spending A$5,000 on an 80-kilometre helicopter ride for a political fundraiser.

Then prime minister Tony Abbott's delay in removing Ms Bishop, who was seen as his political mentor, in part contributed to his eventual ouster by Mr Turnbull the following month.

Mr Turnbull said recommendations that stemmed from a review after Ms Bishop's scandal would continue to be implemented.

"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, adding that he would announce Ms Ley's replacement next week.

"We are dealing with other people's money."

Penny Wong, the opposition Labour's acting leader with Bill Shorten on holiday, said her party gave in-principle support to Mr Turnbull's reforms.

AFP

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