Rules about members

Members of PBCs have more PBC rights and responsibilities than native title holders who are not members including the right to attend and vote at general meetings (ORIC - membership). Although there are legal requirements in the CATSI Act that specify PBC membership structures and processes, there are a number of replaceable and exemptible rules through which PBCs can adapt their membership structures and processes, such as membership application and eligibility.

Membership structures

CATSI Requirement

Whilst providing rules about how individuals are to apply for membership, the CATSI Act does not provide specific legal requirements about how a corporation must organise and structure membership.

Most PBCs have an ‘all-inclusive’ membership structure whereby all eligible native title holders can become members of the PBC. However, a small number of PBCs have ‘representational’ membership structures where there are a limited number of members who work to represent the interests of the other native title holders.

Where PBCs employ representational membership they do so by limiting the number of members within the corporation. They might also limit the length of time that membership is held for. Representational membership structures might occur when a PBC represents the native title interests of more than one group in one determination.

Membership rule - Nyangumarta Karajarri Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

Nyangumarta Karajarri has a limit of 40 total members with no more than twenty members from the Nyangumarta PBC and no more than twenty members from the Karajarri PBC. A person cannot hold membership for longer than four years but can be nominated to continue for a further term by their nominating group.

PBCs in areas where people live in close proximity to each other might benefit from all-inclusive membership to ensure everyone has the opportunity to attend meetings and actively participate in the running of the PBC, whereas, if native title holders are geographically dispersed, representational membership may be more practical.

Classes of membership

A few PBCs have different classes of membership. This might include having a membership category for,

  • members under 18; and/or
  • individuals who have a strong connection to the group such as the spouses of members, but are not native title holders themselves.

Membership rule - Tatampi Puranga Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

Tatampi Puranga have two classes of membership.

  1. Ordinary Members which shall comprise all Members 18 years of age and over; and
  2. Youth Members which shall comprise all Members aged at least 15 years and under 18 years of age.

Member applications

Division 144 of the CATSI Act (s144.5, and s144.10) requires that individual native title holders must apply to the directors of the corporation for membership and that it is then the directors’ responsibility to assess and decide on membership applications. Directors must only accept membership applications if applicants apply in the correct manner and if they are suitable for membership as determined by membership requirements.

Whilst most PBCs follow the application process for membership outlined within the CATSI Act, some PBCs have made changes to this rule within their constitution by including extra rules about membership application approval. This change is included in the constitutions in several ways, such as by:

  • Requiring applicants to be nominated by existing members;
  • Having directors approve new members by consensus;
  • Having members to approve new applications for membership at a general meeting; and
  • Requiring new members to have Elder approval.

Membership rule - Dunghutti Elders Council (Aboriginal Corporation) RNTBC

To become a member a person must:

  • be eligible to apply under rule 3.1; and
  • submit an application for membership in writing to the corporation signed by the applicant and two existing members nominating the applicant for membership.

Membership rule - Ilkewartn Ywel Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

How to become a member:

  • A person applies in writing;
  • A person is eligible under rule 3.1; and
  • The directors agree by consensus.

Membership rule - Patta Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

Each nominated member is to be admitted by the current members of the Corporation by consensus at the annual general meeting. Current members may only object to a nomination where they are of the opinion that the person is either:

  • Not a Native Title Holder; or
  • There is a provision in these Rules or the Act that makes the person ineligible to be a member of the Corporation.

Membership rule - Dhubbi Warra Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

A member must be:

  • At least 18 years old; and
  • A native title holder; or
  • Recognised by the Dhubbi Warra Elders as being a Dhubbi Warra person.

Member responsibilities

The CATSI Act does not detail a list of responsibilities or obligations for members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations. However, s 147.5 states that corporations may attach additional obligations for members of their corporation in their constitutions.

PBC constitutions include a range of different membership responsibilities. Most constitutions include the responsibility for members to:

  • Follow the corporation’s rules;
  • Let the corporation know if they change their address; and
  • Treat other members with respect.

A number of PBC constitutions have added additional member responsibilities. These include things like:

  • Members must follow the code of conduct;
  • Members must act in accordance with tradition and culture;
  • Members must attend meetings;
  • Members must not to make improper use of information or opportunities received through membership of the corporation;
  • Members must comply with any dispute resolution or other policy adopted by the corporation;
  • Members must not purport to act with the authority of the corporation or any trust of which the corporation is trustee other than in accordance with these rules;
  • Members must not make any public statement on behalf of the corporation unless authorised by the board of directors;
  • Members must not bring the corporation into disrepute; and
  • Members must treat other Members, employees of the Corporation and the Directors with respect and dignity and not engage in personal attacks or abusive behaviour.

Removing members

Division 150 of the CATSI Act provides a model for membership cancellation that PBCs can choose to adopt. This section deals with the cancellation of membership on the grounds of ineligibility for membership or failure to pay fees. Whilst this is a set law within the CATSI Act, PBCs are able to apply to the Registrar for exemption from this rule.

Some PBCs constitutions have expanded the list of reasons for which members can be removed from the PBC. These additional rules include that members can be removed if they,

  • Act in a threatening or abusive manner toward staff;
  • Provide third parties with confidential documents or information;
  • Consistently disrupt the operations of the corporation; and/or
  • Engage in conduct that undermines the objects of the corporation.

In some PBCs, members can be removed if they no longer observe, or commit serious breach of cultural laws and customs.

The Malu Ki’ai constitution, for instance, states that members can be removed if they breach alian kustom or the protocols of Boigulgal. Members of the Karajarri PBC, can similarly be removed if, in accordance to Karajarri law, the Karajarri people cease to recognise that person as Karajarri.

Several PBCs have adapted the process of cancelling membership. These changes include referring membership cancellation to Elders Councils or general meetings.

The constitutions of Wintawari and Western Desert PBC's stated that directors must consider memberships cancellations in accordance with ‘Law and Customs’ and the process to cancel membership requires either 80 per cent (Wintawari) or 100 per cent (Western Desert) of directors to vote in favour of the decision.

Further reading