Members' access to the records
The rules of an association will set out the rights of members to access records such as meeting minutes, financial records and correspondence. Specific arrangements should be made for confidential materials such as staff or client files and the procedures for any access to this information by members should be clearly documented.
Members also have specific rights under the Act to access the register of members, record of office holders and rules of association.
Register of members
The Act requires associations to maintain an up-to-date register of members, which must include each member’s name and:
- residential address; or
- postal address; or
- email address.
An association’s rules may specify other information to be included in the register such as categories of membership or the date the member joined the association. Where any change in the association’s membership occurs the register must be updated within 28 days of the change.
The Act gives members the right to inspect the register of members and make a copy of any part of its contents. A member does not have the right to remove the register from the association’s possession. Alternatively a member may make a written request for the association to provide them with a copy of register.
The rules of the association may require a member who requests a copy of the register to complete a statutory declaration before the copy is provided. This can also be requested where a member inspecting the register wants to make a copy of the document. The statutory declaration must state the purpose for which the information is required and confirm that the purpose is related to the affairs of the association. A sample statutory declaration is included at the end of this chapter. Provided these requirements are met (if applicable) the association must grant the member’s request for a copy or extract of the register.
A person must not use or disclose any information obtained from the register for any purpose that is not directly related to the affairs of the association. For example the information cannot be used to send material for political, religious, charitable or commercial advertising purposes.
In some cases it may be necessary for a request to access the register of members to be referred to a committee meeting so that the committee can consider whether a statutory declaration should be requested (if allowed by the rules) or a fee imposed for the provision of a copy of the document. The committee may also need to agree who will be in attendance if a member has requested a time to inspect the register. If access to the register is required within a particular timeframe, such as prior to a particular meeting or event, the requesting member should ensure that the committee is made aware of the relevant dates.
It is easy to comply with the requirements of the Act, while at the same time minimising the concerns that people may have over their name and address being made available to other members, such as:
- ensuring the register contains only each member’s name, address and any information required to be included under the rules. Any other information the association wants or needs to keep about its members (telephone numbers, spouse’s details, etc) should be kept separately. This information should be kept secure and confidential as it could be subject to privacy considerations (see Privacy and confidentiality of records).
- safe guarding the privacy of under-age members by creating a ‘non-member’ category for them such as ‘players’ for juniors in a sporting club. By making them ‘something other than members’ means their details are not available to other members through the association; however an association should confirm whether these ‘non-members’ will be covered by insurance cover before implementing any changes. Creating a ‘non-member’ category may involve an amendment to the association‘s rules. This topic is dealt with in Altering the Rules.
Privacy laws and the member register
Some people have held a belief that the Commonwealth’s privacy legislation overrides the rights of members to access the register of members.
In the case of the register of members, the privacy legislation does not protect this information from other members and members do not need to give consent for another member to view the register. The Australian Privacy Principles allow for an organisation to disclose personal information when required or authorised under law. The Associations Incorporation Act 2015 is the law that enables a member to access the members’ register as discussed above.
It is a good idea to advise people of these legal requirements when they apply to become members. If someone raises a concern about their name and address being made available to other members, it can defuse some of the emotion by pointing out that this information can also be obtained through sources such as the electoral roll and the telephone directory. Alternatively members can give an email address or post office box address for the purposes of the.
Record of office holders
Associations are required to maintain an up-to-date record of the names and addresses of all current office bearers, committee members and those members who are authorised to use the common seal or act as trustees for the association. The address recorded in the record office holders may be a residential, business or post office box address or an email address.
As is the case with the members’ register, members are entitled to view the record of office holders upon request and make a copy of all or part of the record. They may not remove the record for this purpose. Furthermore the inspecting member must not disclose or use the information unless the purpose is directly connected to the affairs of the association.
Organisations run best when members can easily contact their committee and many groups make committee contact information freely available for this purpose.
Rules of association
Every association must have a set of rules, often known as a ‘constitution’, that govern the way in which an association operates. Changes to these rules may only be made by passing a special resolution at a general meeting. This process is explained in Altering the Rules.
The Act also requires a copy of the rules to be held by Consumer Protection as the 'official' version of the association’s rules. The rules lodged by an association with Consumer Protection (including any amendments) are the only effective rules of the association.
The association must give each new member a copy of the rules in force when their membership starts. The association can comply with this obligation by:
- providing a hard copy of the rules
- emailing an electronic copy of the rules to the member; or
- providing the details for a website where the member can download a copy.
Please note that if the member specifically requests a hard copy of the rules the association must provide the document in this format.
At any time a member can request to inspect and make a copy of the rules or ask the association to provide them with a copy of the rules or any particular part in force at the time of the request. (free of charge).