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Tuesday, 9 August 1904

Mr WATSON (BLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Prime Minister) - The observations which I made were based upon no other foundation than the ordinary press cables. I was asked by the representative of one of the great English dailies to express an opinion on a. suggestion which had been made, and my reply was to the effect that a Conference is hardly necessary at the present time, and that we should await the declaration of the people of Great Britain of their own desires in thematter.

Mr Deakin - Even before apreliminary discussion?

Mr WATSON - I think that the preliminary discussion has already taken place.

Mr Deakin - Not a discussion between Great Britain and her Colonies.

Mr WATSON - The Australian Government was represented by Sir Edmund

Barton at an Imperial Conference which carried a resolution approving of preferential trade, and the matter was' afterwards put before the electors at the last general elections by the honorable and learned member himself, who was then at the head of the Government. Later on, it was referred to in the Governor-General's speech. I do not suppose that I should be justified in asking if the concurrence of the other leader of the Opposition has been arranged for in this matter; but the fact that no action in regard to it was taken on the AddressinReply practically amounted to an admission that, so far as Australia is concerned, a decision has been arrived at, and the electors generally favour preferential trade. Assuming that to be so, I do not think that any further step can be taken until some tangible proposal is made to us by the Imperial Government I do not see the value of . another Conference, because details cannot be arranged until the principle of preferential trade has been assented to in Great Britain.

Mr Deakin - A Conference would prepare the way.

Mr Glynn -This House has not yet spoken on the subject.

Mr WATSON - Australia has expressed her wishes.

Mr Glynn - The opinions of the peopleof Australia have never been tested in this Chamber.

Mr WATSON - The fact that the matter was allowed to go by default is equivalent to a test having been made. Our free-trade friends Hid not test the. opinions of members in reference to an alteration pf the Tariff ; but the feeling of the people was admitted when they allowed it to remain in its present condition.

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