What recourse do I have if my club refuses to give me the information I want?

Borthwick Chris Jul2019lg

In this help sheet series, Our Community’s resident agony uncle, Chris Borthwick, offers answers to frequently asked questions about issues not-for-profits are facing.

Dear Agony Uncle,

Can my club refuse to give me the name of our insurance company? They only say “We have one” and not the name when I ask them.

Also, I know that the board must give you the auditor’s report but that is where the real problem lies. I have reported the organisation to the Office of Fair Trading after years of trying to get it. Now the board wants to kick me out of the club because of so-called "misconduct". What can I do now?

Agony Uncle's answer

Yes, your club can refuse to tell you almost anything.

The board is obliged to give you a financial report once a year, and that’s about the full extent of their responsibilities.

The board manages your organisation in much the same way that the board of BHP does theirs. If you’re a BHP shareholder and you ask the company to tell you who’s insuring a mine, they’ll politely tell you to go jump; commercial confidentiality, etc.

Your state’s Associations Act will contain something saying that you’re entitled to see some records, but

a. It’s not at all clear what that covers (other than an annual report)

b. If they stand firm you’d have to take them to court to challenge the decision, which is something I would in almost all circumstances advise against.

A member of the board, or at least the board as a whole, would be entitled to ask such a question; a simple member is in a much weaker position.

My experience with organisational disputes is not, I am afraid, at all positive. The problem lies not with rules or constitutions or laws, but rather with a pervasive lack of enforcement. The board is obliged to give out a financial report, and they haven’t done it; so what happens then? As you’ve already noticed, it’s very difficult to get the regulator to care.

Neither the ACNC nor the regulator has any involvement in disputes resolution. The constitution is a contract between members, as individuals, and other members and the board, and if anyone wants a constitutional provision enforced they’ll have to take it to court as an individual, which is expensive and ineffectual.

Best wishes,
Agony Uncle.

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