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Former Prime Minister promotes new volume of memoirs, 'Abiding Interests', and is critical of some members of the Labor Party

MARIUS BENSON: The man viewed by his many admirers as Australia's greatest living statesman and the snow-capped peak of our political landscape, Gough Whitlam was back where he's most comfortable today, at centre stage. Mr Whitlam appeared at the National Press Club in Canberra to give his views on Aboriginal affairs, our voting system, and Pauline Hanson. He also found time to promote his new volume of memoirs, Abiding Interests. His speech featured Whitlam wit and style and the former leader showed he was still maintaining the rage on some issues, including Aboriginal affairs, as well as tariffs. Ross Solley reports.

GOUGH WHITLAM: Mr President, mon cher confrere, as we say in the Order of Australia - excellencies, subjects and citizens.

ROSS SOLLEY: The unmistakable voice of Gough Whitlam, former Prime Minister, visiting professor, ambassador and now, 81-year-old prolific author. Abiding Interests is Mr Whitlam's third book and is a look at his life post-politics.

But not entirely post-politics. Mr Whitlam also takes the opportunity to correct the record, as far as he's concerned, regarding Sir Garfield Barwick's view of the constitutional advice he provided to Governor-General, John Kerr, leading up to the 1975 sacking of Whitlam's government. But most of the book concentrates on his passions of the past two decades: human rights, indigenous affairs, international policy, Australia's voting system and the push to become a republic, to name but a few.

He says, in writing this latest book, it stuck him how Australia seems very adept at postponing problems, not the least how to deal with native title. Mr Whitlam says the Keating Government showed a refreshing approach. He's fearful of what's around the corner.

GOUGH WHITLAM: Now, another chapter in this story is being attempted, potentially the most disastrous and shameful of all. For what purpose can the so-called 10-point legislation serve other than infinite delay, the indefinite postponement of justice - not the kind of justice which the Prime Minister claims to want for all parties, but justice under the law of the Constitution established and re-affirmed by the High Court of Australia. Justice will ultimately prevail, but in the meantime, unless there are negotiations now on the basis of acceptance of the law, we shall have submitted ourselves to endless litigation before our courts and shame before the world.

ROSS SOLLEY: But in his address today, his own party didn't escape criticism. Mr Whitlam says the Labor Party's recent cave-in on tariff reforms is a disgrace.

GOUGH WHITLAM: I'm appalled that some quite senior people in my party have gone back on policies which were pursued, somewhat belatedly, by Hawke and then by Keating. They were senior Ministers in those governments, they supported those policies, and they've run to water about them. But the objectionable thing that I have is that, not only that some people who were vying to become or remain Deputy Leader of the party should be rowing over this and relying on the good nature of the leader, but also that they're trying to put down people that can give a reasonable account of themselves in the electorate and in the Parliament.

ROSS SOLLEY: The crowd at today's launch was stacked with Whitlam devotees hanging off every word, breaking into applause when the former leader covered issues like fixed four-year terms for all parliaments and laughing at all the appropriate times, even at some inappropriate times. And Mr Whitlam didn't let them down. He was asked for a comment on the current Prime Minister's latest trip overseas.

GOUGH WHITLAM: Needless to say, I've been most gratified that, during my presentation today, nobody seemed to close their eyes. I admit that there are so few successes, that this answer could be very brief.

ROSS SOLLEY: And a question on parliamentary ethics.

UNIDENTIFIED: Mr Whitlam, I wanted to ask you about sin, going back to your opening. Based on your experience, do you ever consider it forgivable, or perhaps even proper, for a prime minister or premier to lie to Parliament?

GOUGH WHITLAM: Well, I thought you were raising a regional matter because, as you all know, the only Sin I know is the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila.

MARIUS BENSON: Former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam.