Two South Australian ministers have quit over an allowances scandal and a third has stepped down, forcing Premier Steven Marshall into a major cabinet reshuffle amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Transport Minister Stephan Knoll and Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone tendered their resignations on Sunday after wrongly claiming accommodation allowances available to country-based MPs.
Premier Steven Marshall says Trade Minister David Ridgway will also leave the ministry after previously indicating he did not wish to serve in a reshuffled cabinet.
On Saturday, Mr Ridgway admitted to signing blank time sheets for his chauffeur before going overseas.
Mr Marshall says he has accepted the resignations, describing the allowances issue as “extraordinarily disappointing” and an “unacceptable distraction” for the government.
“These ministers have recognised this. They have been accountable,” the premier said.
“We’ve got to be focused 100 per cent on the health and the economic issues associated with this coronavirus.”
Mr Marshall remains confident there was no deliberate dishonesty by the former ministers.
Mr Knoll said he had offered his resignation in the best interests of South Australians.
“So the government can focus on our response to the global coronavirus pandemic and improving the lives of the people of South Australia,” he said.
Mr Whetstone said while he had repaid money linked to inaccurate claims, he had not received “one cent more” than he was eligible to claim.
The two ministers were the highest-profile MPs caught up in the row.
Under current rules, country MPs can be paid $234 a night for when they leave their electorates and visit Adelaide on parliamentary or other work-related business.
Claims for the past decade were tabled in parliament last week revealing errors among tens of thousands of transactions.
Mr Whetsone paid back about $7000 wrongly claimed while Mr Knoll admitted to finding three errors but opted to return everything he claimed since 2018, more than $29,000.
Both said they made some “administrative errors”, with Mr Knoll remaining confident his only related to a few hundred dollars.
The remainder, he said, was repaid due to “ambiguity” in the rules.
Also caught up in the row was upper house president Terry Stephens who Mr Marshall said had indicated he would quit that role at the next sitting of the parliament in September.
Last week, Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander said he would investigate all the allowance claims over the past 10 years.
The premier travelled to Government House on Sunday afternoon to assume caretaker roles for himself, Deputy Premier Vickie Chapman and Treasurer Rob Lucas.
Mr Marshall will take over the trade and investment portfolios, Ms Chapman primary industries and Mr Lucas transport and local government.
Mr Marshall said those arrangements would remain in place until a cabinet reshuffle was finalised in the coming days.