Chapter 31 - Conduct of Senators and rules of debate

194  Relevance and anticipation

  1. A senator shall not digress from the subject matter of any question under discussion, or anticipate the discussion of any subject which appears on the Notice Paper.
  2. This standing order shall not prevent discussion on the address-in-reply of any matter, or of any matter on the Notice Paper and not discussed during the preceding 4 weeks.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SO 410 (corresponding to paragraph (1)) but renumbered as SO 405 for the first printed edition

Amended: 10 September 1909, J.125 (to take effect 1 October 1909) (addition of a proviso that became paragraph (2))

1989 revision: Old SO 419 renumbered as SO 194 and restructured as two paragraphs


It is a fundamental rule of Senate practice that debate must be relevant to the question, except in those circumstances otherwise provided for, such as debates on the adjournment of the Senate (SO 53(4)) and on a motion for the first reading of a bill which the Senate may not amend (SO 112 (2)). A proviso adopted in 1909 added discussion on the address-in-reply as a matter where the rule of relevance did not apply.

As well as requiring debate to be relevant to the question, this standing order also limits debate that may anticipate matters on the Notice Paper (see SO 85 for the rule about anticipatory motions or amendments, as opposed to debate). The 1909 proviso was also designed to preserve the ability of senators to discuss any matter on the address-in-reply by limiting the impact of matters already on the Notice Paper. Any matter on the Notice Paper not discussed during the preceding four weeks was able to be discussed on the address-in-reply. The Standing Orders Committee, in recommending the adoption of the proviso, was aware of the potential mischief that could be caused by senators putting matters on the Notice Paper, not intending to discuss them themselves but with the express intention of preventing other senators discussing those matters.[1]

The rule against anticipation in paragraph (1) has always been interpreted very liberally. Otherwise, the standing order could be exploited to restrict the rights of senators.

Several early rules limiting allusions to recent debates in either House did not survive the 1989 revision. They had never been strictly applied and were seen as too restrictive in an age where a session extended for an entire Parliament.