Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission

Applicant permitted to inspect the books

The Commission has issued an order granting the applicant, who is a member of the organisation of the respondent, the opportunity to inspect the books pursuant to the association rules of the respondent (the Rules). The respondent is an organisation of employers registered under the Industrial Relations Act 1979 (WA) (the IR Act). The applicant sought inspection of the respondent’s books, namely their management accounts, 2017 and 2018 debtor and creditor invoices and copies of agreements with suppliers and contractors pursuant to Rule 8.15(c) of the Rules. The respondent declined the request for a number of reasons.

Rule 8.15(c) states that:

Any member and person who has an interest in the funds may inspect the books and register of members at any reasonable time.

Chief Commissioner Scott determined that the objections raised by the respondent to the applicant’s request to inspect the books were without substance. Scott CC considered that although the application form that was completed by the applicant did not comply with the Industrial Relations Regulations 2005 (WA) the correspondence attached to the form clearly identified all the required information. Further, although the applicant did not file a list of the documents that it sought to inspect, in accordance with a direction from the Commission, the documents were listed in the correspondence and this list of documents was subsequently filed by the applicant. The Commission also held that the respondent would not be prejudiced by the lateness of the confirmation of this information.

Scott CC found that the applicant had a right to inspect the books under Rule 8(15)(c) of the Rules. Acknowledging that neither the IR Act nor the respondent’s Rules defined “books” Scott CC was guided by a number of definitions, including by section 63 of the IR Act which sets out the records that an organisation is required to keep; the Macquarie Online Dictionary definition of “books” and definitions of “books” found in section 3 and part 5 of Associations Incorporation Act 2015 (WA) and schedule 2 of the Associations Incorporation Regulations 2016 (WA) that are almost identical. The Commission concluded that there was no doubt that the definition of “books” included management accounts and debtor and creditor invoices and that copies of agreements with suppliers and contractors was a record of information also covered by the definition of “books”.

Scott CC considered whether there was any good reason why the applicant should not be entitled to inspect the books. It was noted by Scott CC that the respondent’s written submissions identified that both their agreements with suppliers and contractors and invoices from legal advisors contained privileged information. The applicant provided an undertaking that they will ensure the privacy and confidentiality of the books and not use the information for any commercial purpose that is not associated the applicant’s role as a member of the respondent.

The respondent agreed to provide the applicant with the invoices, but that information which might identify legal advice would be redacted, and this was acceptable to the applicant.

The Commission ordered that the documents sought by the applicant, with the agreed invoices redactions, be provided by the respondent within two days of them being returned to the respondent from the auditors, and, following this, upon two days’ notice by the applicant.

The decision can be read here.

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