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Does Clive Palmer have a women problem?

Clive Palmer calls female journalists "my dear" and "madam" when questions get tough.

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If the Prime Minister did it, feminists would howl with outrage. If the Opposition Leader did it, he would be seriously reproved by the so-called Handbag Hit Squad.

Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer has many politically incorrect quirks, but his habit of referring to female journalists as "madam" and "my dear" and his alleged bullying of female Senate staff has observers asking: Does everyone’s favourite jolly billionaire have a women problem?

Strong suspicions were raised when the fast-talking Queensland MP said in June that Tony Abbott's chief of staff, Peta Credlin, would receive a "massive benefit when she gets pregnant" from Mr Abbott's paid parental leave scheme. 

Holding court: Clive Palmer addresses the media.

Holding court: Clive Palmer addresses the media. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

When questioned last week by the polite but penetrating Sarah Ferguson, host of the ABC’s 7.30, Palmer forgot his manners and swore as she inquired into the provenance of his campaign funds, which are the subject of a legal dispute with his former Chinese business partner.

"Don't talk to me about allegations and bulls---," the cuddly mogul snapped.

"Talk about judgments from the court ... I'm not discussing it with you any further, madam, it's subject to court proceedings where we’re suing them for $600 million ... I'm not answering any more for you so, goodbye, we'll see you later."

And out he stomped.

During a press conference at the press gallery on Monday, Palmer re-offended.

His press conferences are odd affairs - he takes little encouragement to call them and is never in any hurry to end them, but once he is in situ, he conducts himself like a Renaissance king forced to hold court with a tedious peasantry.

When Palmer was asked about his behaviour towards Senate staff during last week’s tortured negotiations over the government’s carbon tax repeal bill, he refused to admit any wrongdoing, preferring to deride the abilities of Senate staff who, one might venture, know a tad more about the technical processes of the upper house than he does.

Had he yelled at a female senate worker as she desperately tried to draft an amendment that was both acceptable to Palmer and constitutionally valid?

"The truth about the matter is, I told her she was wrong and had no right to do it," he said.

"No, I didn’t do that in a raised voice ... I made it very clear to her that if she didn’t do it, we would be going to the High Court to get the appropriate injunction."

For many, the threat of legal action in the High Court is a last resort. Not for Palmer. He throws litigious threats before him like nasty confetti.

"You prefer to put up sloppy amendments than have legal experts advise you?" asked a female journalist (a leaked copy of the PUP amendment had a spelling mistake).

"No, they weren’t sloppy amendments, my dear."

And there he went again.

Veterans of the gender wars of the last parliament will recall, of course, that women caught up in a political fracas have been called far worse.

But there is something particularly galling about being addressed with what is supposed to be an affectionate epithet - dear, love, pet or darling - when in the middle of a testy exchange.

It is always imprudent to feel sympathy for politicians, let alone express it. But when government MPs and senators express their own frustration at how easy Palmer has it with the media, it’s getting harder to disagree.

Yes, he is colourful - a brilliant and very Australian antidote to the practised lines and robotic delivery of so many politicians.

Yes, he is disrupting the status quo, and for a nation which is, to its marrow, cynical of politicians, that is refreshing.

He is never boring. But it seems, increasingly, he is something of a boor.

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