Rules about dispute resolution

The CATSI Act requires the constitution of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander corporation to include a process for dealing with disputes within the corporation (s. 66-1(3A)). 

Example dispute resolution processes

ORIC’s ‘The Rulebook Condensed’ provides an example dispute resolution process. Research conducted by AIATSIS found that whilst a number of PBCs used this dispute resolution process as a guide, only a minority used this dispute resolution process without any changes or additions. 

Condensed rulebook dispute resolution process

  • If a dispute arises, the parties must first try to resolve it themselves.
  • If the dispute is not resolved within 10 business days, any party may give a dispute notice to the other parties. The dispute notice must be in writing and must say what the dispute is about. It must be given to the corporation.
  • The directors must help the parties resolve the dispute within 20 business days after the corporation receives the notice.
  • If the directors cannot resolve the dispute, it must be put to the members to resolve it at a general meeting.

Seeking assistance from the Registrar

  • If a dispute or any part of a dispute relates to the meaning of any provision of the CATSI Act or the corporation’s rule book, the directors or any party to the dispute may seek an opinion from the Registrar about the correct meaning of the relevant provision.
  • The Registrar’s opinion will not be binding on the parties to a dispute.

The right to request assistance from the Registrar does not create a right to request a formal mediation. However, in an appropriate case the Registrar may provide assistance in having the matter resolved. For more information on members’ rights see rule 3.3.

What changes or additions do PBCs make to this dispute resolution process?

  • Changing the amount of time allowed for each stage of the dispute resolution process
  • Including the use of independent mediation and/or arbitration
  • Using their NTRB to help resolve disputes
  • Using Elders Councils and/or other traditional advisory groups to help resolve disputes
  • Stating that disputes must be resolved ‘in accordance with Traditional Law and Custom’

Disputes over membership

Some PBC constitutions include a section dealing specifically with disputes over membership. These processes include referring the dispute to an Elders Council, a subcommittee or an NTRB and/or bringing the dispute to the next General Meeting for the members to decide on a resolution.


  • The Githabul Nation constitution includes a process where the PBC goes to the NSW Native Title Service Provider or another independent person to help them arbitrate disputes about membership.   
  • Gunarmu similarly utilises the NLC to help review their decisions about membership. If the NLC determines that a person is eligible for membership the PBC must approve the membership and in the opposite case the PBC must cancel the membership.
  • Gawler Ranges have established a Review Panel to deal with disputes over membership.  
  • Ilkewartn Ywel and Mer Gedkem Le both draw upon traditional decision making processes to deal with membership disputes. Ilkewartn Ywel refers unresolved membership applications to the senior apmerek-artwey and kwertengerl who then put their resolution on the application to the directors to vote.  
  • Mer Gedkem Le similarly use the Meriam Tribal Council to assist in making decisions about membership application.  

Some PBC rulebooks refer membership disputes to a general meeting and outline that an individual involved in a membership dispute has the right to appeal the decision and make their case for membership at a general meeting. The members then have the responsibility to determine or not the applicant is eligible for member. The right of the applicant to address a general meeting is not included within the CATSI Act model. 

Further reading