Chapter 30 - Witnesses

177  Senators as witnesses

  1. When the attendance of a senator is ordered by the Senate, the senator shall be summoned by the President to attend in the senator’s place.
  2. If a committee requires the attendance of a senator as a witness, the chairman shall, in writing, request the senator to attend, and if the senator declines to attend or to give evidence, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.
  3. The Senate may order a senator to attend a Senate committee and to give evidence to the committee.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SOs 374 and 375 (corresponding to paragraphs (1) and (2)) but renumbered as SOs 370 and 371 for the first printed edition

1989 revision: Old SOs 384 and 385 combined into one, structured as two paragraphs and renumbered as SO 177; language modernised, including by replacing gender-specific pronouns with gender-neutral terms; expression streamlined; paragraph (3) added to make explicit a rule implicit in the old standing orders


Paragraph (1) addresses the process to be followed when the Senate orders a senator to attend the Senate for examination as a witness. As was the case with SO 176, the 1989 revision removed superfluous references to examination of senators before a committee of the whole which had never been used.

The 1989 revision also had as one of its stated aims the modernisation and clarification of language. This involved the avoidance of archaisms, masculine pronouns and excessive capitalisation.[1] Times and society had changed: by 1989, 20 per cent of the Senate’s seats were occupied by women.

The second paragraph provides for the attendance of a senator before a committee. Again the language has been modernised and made gender-neutral. The 1989 revision also included the omission of the words, “and not again summon such a Senator to attend the Committee”.

The reason for this omission can be seen, in part, in the clarification made in paragraph (3). A committee has no power to summon senators as witnesses, a power that resides with the Senate.

The standing order is not used frequently. Senators generally give evidence to committees on a voluntary basis or press their views on a matter by participating in the inquiry. For an example of a committee reporting on a refusal by a senator to appear, see the report of the Environment, Communications and the Arts References Committee, Energy Efficient Homes Package (ceiling insulation), July 2004, p.4.