Seeking external assistance
Most grievances and disputes can be resolved using internal procedures. Occasionally, these processes fail and a dispute can only be resolved using a process outside the association, usually by the Courts or an external mediator.
Professional dispute resolution services
An association can make use of professional mediation and dispute resolution services that are available. These services provide intervention in the form of negotiation, mediation and arbitration. This may avoid court action and the services are generally less time consuming and costly.
State Administrative Tribunal
Where a dispute between individual members or members and the association relating to the rules cannot be resolved through the dispute resolution process as set out in the rules, an application may be made for the dispute to be heard by the State Administrative Tribunal (the SAT).
The SAT has powers to:
- refer the dispute for mediation;
- give orders:
- directing for the rules to be followed.
- declaring and enforcing the rights and obligations between members.
- declaring and enforcing the rights and obligations between the association and member.
There are fees associated with applications to the SAT and more information about the application and hearing processes can be found at www.sat.justice.wa.gov.au or by calling 1300 306 017.
An application can be made to a court to settle certain disputes, for example, where a committee member has mismanaged association funds. Resolving disputes through court action is likely to be costly and may not have the desired outcome. Courts are generally reluctant to interfere with the internal management of associations, particularly where the members have the power to resolve matters themselves. You should seek your own independent legal advice about the avenues available.
Other government regulators
Depending on the nature of the concerns, some government departments may be able to provide assistance or advice. For example if the problem relates to:
- an employment issue, contact Wageline on 1300 655 266.
- a licensed premises, contact Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries - Racing, Gaming and Liquor.
- taxation or superannuation, contact the Australian Taxation Office.
If the association receives funding and your concerns relate to matters within the funding agreement you may wish to discuss the matter with the funding body.
Consumer Protection’s role is to ensure associations comply with the Associations Incorporation Act 2015. If there has been a breach of the Act, a formal complaint can be made to Consumer Protection. For example, if the association fails to present annual accounts at its Annual General Meeting.
It is highly recommended that members and committees make all reasonable attempts to resolve any complaints themselves, whether informally or through the dispute resolution process in the rules, prior to lodging a formal complaint.
Lodging a complaint
Consumer Protection will only investigate where it appears a possible breach of the Act or the Regulations has occurred and information about what the Department will investigate is also included at the end of this chapter. Anyone thinking of lodging a complaint against an association should read this information carefully before submitting their complaint.
Consumer Protection will not:
- Investigate a breach of the association’s rules.
It is not Consumer Protection’s role to resolve internal membership disputes concerning the application of the rules of association that are outside the requirements of the Act. The Association must deal with such matters using its internal dispute resolution processes.
- Provide interpretation of the association’s rules.
Consumer Protection cannot adjudicate on what an association’s rules mean. This should be dealt with as provided under the rules or otherwise is for members to determine.
- Investigate disputes between individual members of the association or an individual and the association.
Consumer Protection cannot adjudicate on disputes concerning individual grievances. If an association is unable to resolve the dispute using its own internal processes some matters may be considered by the State Administrative Tribunal.
If your concerns relate to a potential breach of the Act a Complaint Form for Incorporated Associations may be submitted along with copies of any supporting documents.
What to expect
Consumer Protection assesses all complaints against the requirements of the Act and considers whether there is sufficient information and documentation provided to investigate the complaint further. Priority is given to dealing with complaints according to the seriousness of the conduct identified. Consumer Protection will send acknowledgment of the complaint and may request further information and documentation from the person raising the concerns.
An association will always be given an opportunity to comment on any allegations made in a complaint.
Please note, even in cases where it appears after investigation there has been a breach of the Act, if the breach does not appear to be deliberate or fraudulent and the association agrees to comply with its obligations in the future, Consumer Protection may form the view that formal action is not in the public interest.
Key provisions of the Associations Incorporation Act 2015
If your concerns do not relate to any of the matters listed below Consumer Protection is not able to consider your complaint. Please refer to the other sections of this chapter for information about the avenues available to resolve such concerns.