Resolving disputes internally
Informal communication is the most common method for resolving a problem. However if informal discussions fail, then it may become necessary to use the formal dispute resolution process outlined in the association’s rules.
Try to resolve the concern informally
- The person making the complaint approaches the chairperson or a committee member to discuss their concerns and outline the outcomes being sought. It is often useful to put this information in writing to help ensure the issue is clearly explained.
- The person receiving the concern may need to obtain further information in order to evaluate the issues and explore options for resolution. They may be able to provide an explanation or direct the person to additional information which addresses the concern. Alternatively, the committee might decide that the issue needs further consideration and look to make changes to how the association conducts itself.
- The person making the complaint should be advised of their right to use the dispute resolution process in the rules if they are not satisfied with the decision and outcome of the informal process.
Using the process in the rules
It is important that the members and committee utilise the association’s dispute resolution procedures where the issues cannot be resolved informally. All incorporated associations are now required to ensure their rules contain a procedure for dealing with internal disputes involving members and the association (associations have until 1 July 2019 to update the rules to meet this requirement).
If the association’s rules don’t include a dispute resolution process yet the committee may wish to consider using the procedure in the Model Rules as an interim measure. This is better than delaying the complaint until the rules are updated but the agreement of both parties should be obtained first if this approach is taken.
If the dispute resolution processes in the rules are exhausted and the complaint remains unresolved it may be necessary for the parties to explore other options such as making an application to the State Administrative Tribunal for orders or calling a special general meeting of the membership.
Calling a special general meeting
The rules of an association may provide for members to call a special general meeting of the association. The rules will set out the minimum number of members that need to sign a request for a general meeting and you should also check the rules of the association to see if there are any specific timeframes to be followed. The request must state the purpose of the special meeting.
Upon receipt of a request for a special general meeting the committee should confirm that it meets the requirements of the rules and make the necessary arrangements to convene the meeting. If the request is deficient in some way, the committee should advise the requesting member of the deficiencies and provide guidance on the steps to be taken to correct the request.
If there is a collective grievance or dispute, the group should nominate a representative to present the grievance and represent the group at the meeting. Normal meeting procedures should be followed at the special general meeting in accordance with the rules of association (see Meetings).
Removal of a management committee member
Grievances and disputes may arise as a result of the conduct of one or more management committee members. For example, a committee member may not be acting in the best interests of the association or a committee member may be causing discontent amongst the committee, making it difficult for the management committee to operate.
An association may generally remove a committee member by means of a resolution in a general meeting or a special general meeting. If a member is to be removed, the chairperson (unless the chairperson is the one being removed, then the deputy chairperson), must inform the member of the motion to have the member removed and the reasons for the removal.
The committee member must be given the opportunity to submit a written response, giving reasons why he or she should not be removed. The response is sent to all the members of the association or is read at the general meeting. The resolution is put to the meeting and voted on. The process for removing a committee member should be set out in the rules of the association.
The association should then take steps to appoint another member. This may be done by a vote of the members at the same meeting or the committee may fill the position using the casual vacancy process (the procedure to be used will depend on the association’s rules).
Suspension and expulsion
In some situations, it may be necessary for an association to suspend or even expel a member including a member of the management committee. Members may be expelled for a number of reasons such as serious criminal conduct, failing to comply with the rules of the association and bringing the association into disrepute. Expulsion should be seen as a last resort, when all other options to resolve the problem have been exhausted.
The process for suspension and expulsion are normally set out in the rules of association and must be followed precisely. Courts have on occasion ruled expulsions invalid where the process is not followed. As a matter of natural justice, the member being suspended or expelled must be given a fair opportunity to be heard (to state their case) and to appeal against a decision.