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Handling disputes and conflicts

Understanding the law involved will help your organisation have the best outcome.

Content last updated 20/05/2022

Disputes with members

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Dealing with disputes and grievances with members in incorporated associations

All not-for-profit community organisations have to deal with conflict sometimes. Healthy debate is good for your organisation, but if conflict and disputes are preventing your organisation from achieving its goals, you need to know how to handle it effectively and legally.   

This page provides information on dealing with conflict and disputes involving members of a community organisation, and covers particular requirements for incorporated associations. 

Incorporated associations must have procedures for dealing with 'grievances' under their rules (or constitution). Typically, a 'grievance' arises where there is conflict between: 

  • a member (or members) of the organisation and the rest of the organisation 
  • a member (or members) of the organisation and the committee of management, or 
  • members of the committee of management (or board) 

For example, a member might complain that the annual general meeting was not properly held; tensions may arise about the use of funds; or a committee member may dispute whether another member of the committee was validly elected.  

Our fact sheets cover: 

  • what an ‘internal dispute’ in an incorporated association is and what to do when there is an internal dispute in your organisation 
  • how mediation can help resolve a dispute 
  • how closely you need to follow your organisation’s dispute resolution procedures, and 
  • other options if your organisation is in disarray and what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court 


Simply select the state or territory where your organisation is based and download the fact sheet:


Removing or disciplining a member

For incorporated associations, disciplinary procedures can allow an organisation to remove, suspend or fine a member who is acting inappropriately or damaging your organisation’s ability to operate.  

Our fact sheets for Victoria and New South Wales cover: 

  • when an incorporated association can remove, suspend or fine a member 
  • how an incorporated association can remove, suspend or fine a member, and 
  • how closely the law requires an incorporated association to follow its disciplinary procedures 
Fact sheet: Removing or disciplining a member VIC (335.3KB)
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Fact sheet: Removing or disciplining a member NSW (200.5KB)
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Removing a committee member from the committee

The committee of management (or board) of an incorporated association controls and manages the business and affairs of the organisation. Sometimes an organisation's ability to achieve its aims is disrupted because a committee or board member is behaving inappropriately.  

If this happens, your organisation needs to know: 

  • what to do before trying to remove a member from the committee  
  • how a committee member can be removed from the committee, and  
  • what happens once a committee member is removed 

Our fact sheets for Victoria and New South Wales cover this information. 

Fact sheet: Removing a committee member from the committee VIC (276.4KB)
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Fact sheet: Removing a committee member from the committee NSW (255.3KB)
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Going to court about an internal dispute

The law provides options for going to court about an internal dispute within an incorporated association. However, going to court is stressful, time consuming and expensive - it is a last resort.  

Before deciding to take court action about an internal dispute, think about what is really important about the dispute. Will going to court fix it? Also ask: 

  • who, if anyone, is likely to get what they want by going to court? 
  • how much has the dispute cost so far, and how much more will our organisation spend if it goes to court? 
  • what will the personal costs of going to court be (for example, time, impact on people's lives, relationships and stress levels)? 
  • are there other alternatives (for example, resigning or starting another organisation)? 

Caution 

Seek legal advice before making a decision about what to do. 

Our fact sheets for Victoria and New South Wales contain general information about: 

  • things to try before going to court about an internal dispute  
  • what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court  
  • what to do if someone takes legal action against your organisation 
Fact sheet: Going to court about an internal dispute VIC (236KB)
Download
Fact sheet: Going to court about an internal dispute NSW (254KB)
Download

More information


The content on this webpage was last updated in March 2022 and is not legal advice. See full disclaimer and copyright notice.


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