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Managing association disputes

Sometimes disputes arise within incorporated associations.

The Office of Fair Trading cannot make orders or decide disputes for you.

You should put internal processes in place to manage disputes.

The Dispute Resolution Branch can provide mediation services.

The Supreme Court can make orders about disputes.

Watch our video below to learn more about managing disputes within incorporated associations.

Duration 4:34 |

People are involved in incorporated associations because they are passionate about sports, hobbies, their community with specific issues or interests. There are about 23,000 registered associations in Queensland. While most operate smoothly, disputes within associations occasionally happen. Here's what you should know about managing an association and dealing with disputes within your group.

The Association's Incorporation Act 1981 provides non-profit groups with a method of registration, which gives an association certain legal advantages in return for accepting certain responsibilities. Community groups that become incorporated are set up under a constitution and become a legal entity.

The Constitution puts a contract in place between the association and its members. Groups can write their own constitution as long as it meets legal requirements.

Alternatively, they can use the model rules published by the Office of Fair Trading. The members of the group democratically elect a management committee and approve the constitution. The management and day-to-day activities of the group are the responsibility of the management committee. Interpretation of the association's constitution and its application to situations that arise are also the responsibility of the management committee.

Incorporated associations are often made up of people with diverse backgrounds, opinions, ages, and beliefs. Having a broad spectrum of views is a benefit for associations, but it can occasionally mean differences of opinions may arise which can lead to arguments and division within the group.

Disagreements can be about many things that come up within a group. Some examples include how the group is being run. Different interpretations on the constitutional rules. Whether decisions made will contribute to the aims of the group. Arguments about meetings, budgets, expenditures, fees or processes. Cancelling the membership of people involved in the group. Refusing to accept new members to the group. And the rights of members.

Associations should always try to resolve disputes internally. Communication is important and associations should make sure all people involved in a disagreement have had the opportunity to raise their concerns and be heard. We suggest discussing the issue at an informal meeting, encouraging the impacted members to attend and participate. Ideally, this meeting should resolve the issue.

When members of an association remain unsatisfied, they can take steps to advocate for the activities or changes they seek. These steps will be outlined within the association's rules.

If a dispute hasn't been resolved through an informal meeting, you can call a special general meeting to resolve the issue. It's important to remember that the Office of Fair Trading is unable to intervene in disputes within associations.

While we are responsible for the administration of the Associations Incorporation Act, we do not have the power to interpret an association’s rules; oversee the decisions or day to day business of an association; or intervene in internal disputes.

How associations conduct themselves is up to the members through the actions of their elected committee.

If associations or their members are unable to resolve an issue internally, we recommend organising free mediation through the Department of Justice and Attorney-General's Dispute Resolution Branch. Taking part in mediation can save time, legal fees and court costs for you and the community as a last resort.

If a member believes the association is not being operated in accordance with its rules and has been unable to resolve the dispute within the organisation, they have the option to pursue the matter through the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can make orders about association disputes. This can be extremely time consuming and costly, so you should strongly consider finding a solution before pursuing this option.

Managing disputes can be difficult. We encourage associations to have an internal dispute resolution procedure in place as it can help resolve disputes quickly and fairly.

For more information about managing associations, visit our website or check out our Incorporated Association's guide.

Internal processes

To strengthen your association's ability to manage disputes, we recommend that you:

  • appoint a member to be in charge of receiving and dealing with complaints
  • set up a system to record, track and monitor complaints
  • keep a record of any complaint that goes to mediation or court.

You should also consider adopting a grievance procedure. If you do not have a grievance procedure, the OFT has a draft example which you can use.

Responsibilities

The main purpose of the laws governing associations is to provide a way for non-profit community groups to become registered.  Being registered brings advantages to the organisation and to its members, however it also brings responsibilities.

While the legislation has penalties for some breaches of the incorporated association laws, the laws do not give the Office of Fair Trading powers to oversee or intervene in an association’s day to day affairs. How an association conducts itself is up to the management committee, a group of members democratically elected by the association’s members.

We recommend management committees put in place grievance procedures to manage any disputes that may arise.

External agencies

If you can't resolve an issue internally or via mediation, only the Supreme Court can make orders about how association is run.

You can get free mediation from one of our dispute resolution centres.