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Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 17 - Witnesses

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Procedures for the examination of witnesses

The standing orders allow the Senate and its committees to formulate procedures for the giving of evidence before them.[74] This allows maximum flexibility in the conduct of hearings of evidence. Any procedures adopted by committees, however, must be consistent with the rules laid down by the Senate.

Standing order 35 requires that the examination of witnesses before a committee be conducted by members of the committee. It is therefore not open to a committee to provide procedures whereby other persons put questions to witnesses. Such a procedure would require the authorisation of the Senate. The committee appointed in 1984 to inquire into allegations concerning a justice of the High Court was so authorised: see Chapter 20, Relations with the Judiciary. The Privileges Committee, under Privilege Resolution 2, is also excepted from this rule because of the character of its proceedings, and witnesses before that committee may be examined by counsel for the committee and counsel for other witnesses.

Committees are able to overcome any disadvantage arising from this restriction on the procedures for formal hearings of evidence by adopting information-gathering techniques other than formal hearings. Committees often arrange seminars, symposia or round table discussions to be heard in their presence, whereby witnesses can more freely discuss issues and put questions to each other.[75]


74. SO 35, 182; for rules adopted by the Senate for the examination of certain witnesses in 1975, see 16/7/1975, J.832-3.
75. See also Chapter 16, Committees, under Evidence gathering.