Australian MP Clive Palmer apologises for telling PM to 'commit suicide'

Clive Palmer speaks at National Press Club on 7 July 2014 in Canberra, Australia. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tycoon Clive Palmer has courted controversy with his comments in the past

Clive Palmer, the leader of Australia's Palmer United Party (PUP), has apologised after telling Prime Minister Tony Abbott to "commit suicide".

The PUP leader's remark came during a press conference in Canberra on the coalition's controversial higher education proposals.

His party opposes government plans to cut funding and allow universities to charge more.

In later comments, Mr Palmer said he had used the term "inadvertently".

"We all agree we are going to vote against the retrospective education [bill]," Mr Palmer told the Canberra press conference.

"There's a million students going to tertiary education in this country, there's a million more that's about to go, and a million more that's just left. And they've all got parents.

"So commit suicide Tony Abbott, you know."

Asked whether he thought his remark was responsible, the MP said it was "political suicide to go against the will of the Australian people".

Mr Palmer's remark sparked a backlash on Twitter. "Suicide is no laughing matter," said one user, while several others called the comment "appalling".

The MP for Fairfax later used Twitter to apologise.

"Today I inadvertently used the term suicide in regard to @TonyAbbottMHR when I meant political suicide. I apologise for any offence caused," he wrote.

Image copyright Twitter

Jack Heath, chief executive of Sane, an Australian mental health charity, said the remark was "totally unacceptable".

"It's clear from the people around him that he overstepped the mark and he later sought to qualify what he said, but this sort of flippant remark is not appropriate, it's irresponsible and, from our perspective, totally unacceptable.

"We know that there are rigorous debates in politics but to talk in that fashion trivialises a very serious issue."

"We expect better of our our political leaders than this sort of language."

Mr Heath said Sane would write to Mr Palmer to request a "constructive" meeting to improve his understanding of the sensitivities around the term.

The prime minister's office declined to comment.

Mr Palmer drew widespread criticism in August last year for calling the Chinese government "mongrels" in a television interview. He later apologised for the remark.

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