SYDNEY - Flamboyant mining billionaire and politician Clive Palmer apologised Wednesday after coming under fire for suggesting Prime Minister Tony Abbott commit suicide.
The coal baron, who was elected to parliament in 2013 as head of the Palmer United Party, made the comment in response to the government's proposed cuts to university funding.
"So commit suicide Tony Abbott, you know," he told reporters.
The remark sparked criticism on social media from people appalled that he was being flippant about a serious issue.
"Clive Palmer did what? Flippant suicide references are NOT cool," said one Twitter user, while another raged: "If Clive Palmer told the PM to 'commit suicide', he is a disgrace."
Palmer later took to Twitter to clarify his remarks.
"Today I inadvertently used the term suicide in regard to @TonyAbbottMHR when I meant political suicide. I apologise for any offence caused," he said.
Palmer has previously made light of mental health issues, including referring to former Queensland state premier Campbell Newman as "a nice little fella with a bipolar condition that sometimes doesn't take his medication".
Assistant Social Services Minister Mitch Fifield said political figures should never use mental health issues to score political points.
"It is never OK, even mockingly, to call on someone to commit suicide," he told reporters.
"Many hundreds of thousands of Australians with mental health issues need to know that political figures take their circumstances seriously."
Palmer is no stranger to controversy and was last year forced to apologise for calling the Chinese government "mongrels" who "shoot their own people" after a fierce backlash from Beijing and Canberra.