In its 1903 form, which was based on South Australian House of Assembly SO 364 and which remained untouched until the 1989 revision, SO 35 was highly prescriptive. Examination of all witnesses was to occur in accordance with the following procedures:
…the Chairman shall first put to the Witness, in an uninterrupted series, all such Questions as he may deem essential, with reference either to the subject referred to therein, or to any branch of that subject, according to the mode of procedure agreed on by the Committee. The Chairman shall then call on the other Senators severally by name to put any other Questions which may have occurred to them during his conduct of the examination; and the name of every Senator so interrogating a Witness shall be noted and prefixed to Questions asked. All replies to Questions put shall be in writing; but if the committee be attended by a shorthand writer, the notes of such shorthand writer shall be sufficient.
Extensive revision of the standing order in 1989 can be attributed to the passage of the Privilege Resolutions on 28 February 1988 which included Privilege Resolution 1, “Procedures to be observed by Senate committees for the protection of witnesses”. These detailed procedures incorporated principles of procedural fairness and were therefore much more comprehensive than the process approach contained in the original standing order. The revised standing order left it to individual committees to determine how they would conduct hearings, subject to the rules of the Senate. For example, committees could decide to examine a particular witness by teleconference or video link (see SO 30), or allocate time limits to each senator for asking questions, or for particular subjects, when the time available was limited.
A transcript is required of all evidence taken by a committee, whether in public session or in camera.
See SOs 176–83 on witnesses.