Dispute resolution procedures

In many cases, associations can resolve complaints and disputes internally and successful outcomes are usually achieved when the association has a well-publicised and simple procedure. The primary purpose of a dispute resolution process is to set out the steps to be followed in dealing with a grievance or dispute internally and to ensure a fair and timely response.  

The process does not need to be complex and a fair process can often avoid having to resort to more drastic measures such as calling general meetings or the suspension/expulsion of members. Given the potential expense, not just in monetary terms, but in time and effort as well, it is worth taking the time to develop a dispute resolution process that encourages people to use it as a first step.

Some disputes may be subject to procedures set out in existing awards, employment agreements or contracts.  This may apply to internal disputes either in conjunction with, or instead of a dispute resolution procedure. 

What to include in the rules

The Act requires that an association’s rules include a procedure for dealing with any dispute under or relating to the rules.  It is up to the committee and members to decide on the procedure to be adopted but care should be taken to make sure that the chosen process gives each party to the dispute an opportunity to be heard on the matter and ensure that there is an unbiased decision maker.

At a minimum it is recommended that the rules include procedures that:

  1. inform the member or association of the complaint including details of the issues along with copies of any supporting materials. Information about the possible outcomes of the complaint should also be included;
  2. invite the member or association to respond to the issues raised (this may include opportunities to make written submissions or speak at a meeting called to decide the issue);
  3. inform the respondent of the outcome of the complaint and any consequences or penalties; and
  4. inform the respondent of any rights to appeal the outcome and how these might be exercised.

If an association is unsure how to develop its own process it may wish to adopt the procedure included in the Model Rules. Rules 17 to 25 of the Model Rules outline the procedure for dealing with disputes and include:

  • a requirement for the parties to try and resolve the dispute themselves first;
  • powers for the committee to consider and determine the matter if a resolution cannot be reached by the parties; and
  • opportunity for a mediator to be appointed to assist in the matter.