Member protection plays a significant role in ensuring that clubs and organisations have suitable policies and procedures in place to create an environment where members can participate in sport free from harassment, discrimination, abuse and other harmful behaviours.
It is mandatory for all sports recognised by Sport Australia to have a Member Protection Policy. The Member Protection Policy will detail the procedures for handling complaints, and a key component of this process is ensuring that the complaint or report is dealt with confidentially.
Raising a member protection complaint can be daunting. Confidentiality helps build a relationship of trust and confidence, and can encourage members to have open conversations with the Member Protection Information Officer (MPIO). It is important that people feel comfortable throughout the complaints handling process so that they can provide as much information as possible about the issue.
Member protection issues can relate to serious allegations of misconduct, so it is also very important to maintain confidentiality to ensure that the person responding to the complaint is afforded the opportunity to respond in a confidential manner.
Have a single point of contact.
The club or organisation’s MPIO should exclusively handle the complaint. The complainant should also identify who the MPIO can speak to about the issues; for example, a parent, guardian or club official. Having a clear line of communication reduces the risk of information being disclosed to another person without the complainant’s consent.
All documentation relating to the complaint should be stored in a place where no one else can access them. For example:
Whether you are meeting someone face to face or discussing the complaint over the phone, make sure that others cannot hear your discussions.
Avoid having discussions on the sidelines or in the clubrooms. Not only could it make people feel uncomfortable, it could also allow someone to overhear something they shouldn’t. If you need to meet to discuss the issue, arrange a time where a private room is available or at a location away from the club, and ensure that any telephone discussions are private.
There will be certain circumstances when an MPIO, club or organisation is required to disclose the details of a member’s complaint.
If the complaint needs to be investigated, details of the complaint and often the identity of the complainant need to be disclosed to the person responding to the complaint. A person may choose to remain anonymous, however this may make it difficult to resolve the complaint.
An MPIO, club or organisation may also be required by law to report the complaint to the relevant government authorities. The laws in relation to mandatory reporting differ from state to state. A detailed summary of mandatory reporting requirements can be found at https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/mandatory-reporting-child-abuse-and-neglect.
Disclosure may also be required if the matter is subject to police investigation.
Confidentiality in handling member protection complaints is essential to protect the interests of both the complainant and the respondent. Members need to be confident and trust that their MPIOs will put in place all reasonable measures to maintain confidentiality throughout the complaints handling process.
Brieanna Mercer, Lawyer, ANZSLA Member
Football West | Legal and Disputes Officer
Note: Details of MPIO training can be found at http://playbytherules.net.au/online-courses/mpio-online-course