Human services minister Stuart Robert looks set to be dumped from his position as Malcolm Turnbull prepares to reshuffle his ministry for the second time in just six weeks.
Robert is under pressure to stand aside over a controversial trip to China when assistant defence minister in 2014. The AFR’s Philip Coorey reports that the PM decided Robert had to go as Turnbull looks to announce a new ministerial line up on the weekend after Nationals leader and deputy PM Warren Truss announced his retirement from parliament yesterday, along with trade minister Andrew Robb.
The secretary of the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, is investigating whether Robert breached the ministerial code of conduct during the trip, which was taken as “personal leave” with a Liberal Party donor, but included meetings with senior Chinese officials and businesspeople.
Coorey says the Parkinson report is believed to be inconclusive.
Last night the Nationals elected Barnaby Joyce as their new leader with Fiona Nash as deputy. Joyce is already said to be pushing Turnbull for an increased front bench presence for his party.
It also emerged this week that Robert received a $40,000 Rolex watch from a Chinese businessman, and kept it, along with former PM Tony Abbott, because he thought it was a fake. It was only returned when a colleague pointed out to the MPs that the watches were real.
The departure of Stuart Robert is the third time a minister has had to stand down in just five months since Turnbull became leader.
Over the Christmas break, cities minister Jamie Briggs resigned over an incident with a public servant in a Hong Kong bar, with special minister of state Mal Brough standing aside as police investigate his role in the downfall of former speaker Peter Slipper during Labor’s time in power.
With the retirement of Truss and Robb, the prime minister has now lost five ministers during his short tenure in the top job.
The Australian Financial Review has more on the breaking news here.