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Clive Palmer's comments on mental health unbecoming of the new MP

Fairfax MP Clive Palmer

Fairfax MP Clive Palmer Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Clive Palmer's attempt to disparage a political enemy by publicly diagnosing him with bipolar disorder is inexcusable, and unbecoming of anyone wishing to play a constructive role in public life.

The disgraceful tactic in making unsubstantiated mental health claims about Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is all the more galling in light of Palmer's attempt last year to portray himself as the compassionate defender of the well-being of public servants sacked by the state government.

The newly elected federal member for Fairfax, who likes to talk about uniting the country and judging people on the content of their character, last week derided Newman as ''a nice little fellow with a bipolar condition [who] sometimes doesn't take his medication''.

Newman branded the comments as ''insensitive'' and reflective of ''a total lack of empathy towards people who are actually dealing with the condition''.

Mental health groups who are trying to help people overcome the stigma of conditions such as bipolar disorder – which can involve severe mood swings – were similarly unimpressed. They say with the right treatment the majority of people can lead normal and productive lives.

But on Tuesday, Palmer was unrepentant and claimed to have been misreported.

''When I said Campbell Newman was bipolar I wasn't being derogatory about him having a bipolar condition, I was being derogrative [sic] about the fact that he wasn't taking his medication, right?''

Again, this claim was made at a media conference without a shred of evidence – and hardly absolves him of responsibility for trying to turn mental health into a political plaything.

Palmer went on to acknowledge that people with bipolar ''can perform quite well in society provided they maintain their medication". He then, absurdly, tried to claim the moral high ground.

''I think you'd have to say it's a serious matter when you see the suicides that took place in Queensland last year when so many public servants were sacked and for people in public office they should exercise their authority with some prudence to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen.''

Note the reference to prudence.

Palmer has cultivated a reputation as a maverick who shakes things up, with his new Palmer United Party finding strong favour with voters disillusioned with the major parties.

And since last year the former Liberal National Party donor has developed a long list of grievances with Newman, including the Queensland government's rejection of his Galilee Basin rail proposal, claims about improper influence of lobbyists and a view the state government was exaggerating the state's debt and deficit.

In many cases Newman's opponents have cheered Palmer on, and by all means he is entitled to be a vigorous advocate for the policies on which he was elected. But all decent people should recognise Palmer's mental health slurs go too far.

Palmer's conduct in this matter invites a broader self-reflection on the part of the media.

When Palmer says something completely ridiculous, should we report his comments, on the basis that the public has a right to know what their suddenly powerful MP is saying? Or should we be more discerning about which of Palmer's statements trigger a news article?

With press conferences often broadcast live to air on Sky News and ABC News 24, it is arguably difficult to ignore Palmer's statements, even if they are as offensive as the bipolar comments.

Palmer has previously admitted that he is not perfect, urged everyone to treat others with compassion and said people should be prepared to apologise when they made mistakes.

In this case he should unreservedly withdraw his comments about Newman – against whom he has plenty of other political arguments he is perfectly entitled to prosecute.

The many Australians who face stigma and prejudice as they deal with mental health conditions deserve much better.

If you need immediate assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about mental illness, contact SANE Australia 1800 187 263 or www.sane.org or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or www.beyondblue.org.au.

21 comments

  • And where are SANE or Beyond Blue's comments on what Mr Palmer had to say? As someone with Bipolar Disorder, I've been waiting eagerly to hear their rebuttal.

    Commenter
    CM
    Location
    Regional QLD
    Date and time
    November 20, 2013, 12:07PM
    • Not that it makes it right; but arguing with or rebutting Palmer only gives him even more air time. To quote Wilde, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about". I'm not sure how to effectively deal with such gigantic egos except to ignore them.

      Hang tight brother.

      Commenter
      Mark
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 12:58PM
  • I guess the article fell over on that assumption that Clive Palmer is there to play a constructive role in public life. Nothing he has done to date would indicate that he has any desire to do anything other than inflate an already oversized ego.

    Commenter
    Jollyjumbuck
    Date and time
    November 20, 2013, 12:24PM
    • Perhaps the snide remarks are only to make HIMSELF feel better. Kind of like 'selfies' - and the 'Hey, look at me' cry for attention? In the end, Palmer has too many commercial/vested interests to be an effective politician, and the people in the electorate of Fairfax will no doubt be asking themselves why they bothered.

      Commenter
      K and I
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 1:44PM
  • This ill-informed, tasteless outburst from Clive Palmer provides a disturbing insight into his oppressive character, along with his 'attack the man not the policy' approach to dialogue.
    Presently, the standards of discussion and debate in parliament are deplorable and Palmer's thoughtless remarks will do nothing to lift the tone. It's highly unlikely that Palmer will make a worthwhile contribution to Australia as a politician and more than possible that he'll be ousted at the next election, thankfully.

    Commenter
    Emoggs
    Date and time
    November 20, 2013, 12:46PM
    • His comments just prove that money doesn't buy you class.

      Commenter
      Peter A
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 12:47PM
      • Very well said. In the last few weeks MP's have used mental health in an abominable way. A mental health condition is not something to be used as an insult (Palmer) or an excuse (Driscoll). To do so perpetuates the stigma and belittles those who live with mental illness.

        Commenter
        Noodlebat
        Date and time
        November 20, 2013, 12:51PM
        • So true, Peter, so true. His money doesn't seem to have bought him too much in terms of education either.

          Commenter
          Emoggs
          Date and time
          November 20, 2013, 1:01PM
          • He's obviously smarter than a lot of people commenting here - he is worth billions

            Commenter
            Scotty_16
            Date and time
            November 20, 2013, 1:40PM
          • iq is not directly related to earnings strangely

            not sure where u got the impression that earnings represent intelligence

            Commenter
            toby
            Date and time
            November 20, 2013, 2:57PM

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