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Travel expenses row forces Australian health minister to step aside

Australia's health minister has stood aside while her travel expense claims are investigated.

The scandal surrounding Sussan Ley's expense claims could trigger the first reshuffle of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Cabinet since his government was re-elected six months ago.

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

Mr Turnbull said she had agreed to stand aside on Monday 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," Mr Turnbull.

Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos will temporarily carry out Ms Ley's portfolio responsibilities during the investigation.

Ms Ley has admitted to making an error of judgment in claiming travel to the Gold Coast to buy the flat at an auction.

She has offered to repay some costs incurred in travelling to the Gold Coast.

She said she had never broken any rules, but admitted some claims failed what is known in Australian politics as the pub test.

Ms Ley meant that a conversation among ordinary Australians in a bar would conclude that the claims were not justified.

"I am making available my records and I'm very confident that they will be within the rules," Ms Ley said.

Speculation that Mr Turnbull could reshuffle his Cabinet soon heightened last month when defence minister Marise Payne was ill in hospital.

The focus on Ms Ley's travel expenses is politically difficult for the government as it attempts to control the national deficit.

The government has been recently criticised over attempts to claw back overpayments to welfare recipients and to cut pensions to the elderly.

An opinion poll published in The Australian newspaper found Mr Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten were the least popular competitors vying for the country's leadership in more than 20 years.

AP

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