An Australian Minister resigned on Friday following an internal investigation into a controversial private trip he made to China, and ahead of an expected government reshuffle.
The resignation of Human Services Minister, Stuart Robert, leaves at least four portfolios for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to fill in the pending reshuffle.
Mr. Robert took the 2014 trip to Beijing with a Liberal Party donor and attended the signing of a mining deal when he was assistant defence minister.
Chinese officials regarded that as acting in an official capacity, Mr. Robert later described as a “private trip.”
A statement by China MinMetals Corporation said that the assistant minister had extended his congratulations on behalf of the Australian Department of Defence, and presented “a medal bestowed to him by Australian prime minister in honour of remembrance and blessing.”
Martin Parkinson, the official who conducted the investigation, said Mr. Robert had acted “inconsistently with the statement of ministerial standards.”
“Dr Parkinson notes that Mr Robert appears not to have received any financial benefit” from the visit, Turnbull’s office said.
The resignation highlights a widening rift between Turnbull and other conservatives in his coalition government, and follows other ministerial resignations.
New deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, openly defended Mr. Robert, saying there was no wrongdoing.
In December, Cities Minister, Jamie Briggs, resigned following a late night scandal involving a female diplomat in Hong Kong.
A few days later, another minister, Mal Brough, resigned after Australian police launched an investigation over the alleged illegal procurement of a diary of an ex-speaker.
On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, and Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, announced that they would retire from the front bench.