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Assoc. Incorp: fiddling at edges while Rome burns
Posted by Tony on 14th March 2013 at 13:10:49
Life may not be long enough for more than one rant on this, provoked by the latest round of efforts to impose deadlines on volunteers which the salaried professionals responsible themselves have been unable to get close to with their wrong headed aims.

Voluntary groups are diversifying in ways that singular adherence to the basically American imperialist notion of corporation as legal person has rendered less and less sane. When Victoria belatedly introduced Association Incorporation in the 1970s, even then it was primarily a defence against fear of legally-abetted misconduct which could never have been countenanced without the legal cabal's seduction of way too many otherwise talented youngsters and consequent need for empire building in any vulnerable backwater of social system resource flows.

Yes, it was briefly nice that volunteers acting overwhelmingly to the benefit of other members of their community felt personally protected from unintended consequences, but ever since that protection has been being eroded through confounding it with obligations being placed, with a lot more justification, on the highly remunerated directors club which maintains notional responsibility for larger for-profit enterprises.

Today's voluntary association reality is tripartite with a rich mixing of colours in between. At one pole is the area that was initially comfortable with incorporation until it gave lazy policy makers an excuse to corrupt what were then arguably over-protections from the real dangers of gambling and alcohol by drip feeding special entitlements to community/junior sporting organisations, encouraging those potentially health-promoting organisations down the opposite more slippery slope. Such clubs and associations have objectives which can be understood unambiguously from their name alone, as well as operational requirements which made regular committee and annual member meetings sensible. The other two corners are very different.

Next came what I'm not being uncharitable in calling "feel good" groups with civic interests in protecting, preserving and promoting local history and environmental concerns. These could be shoehorned into the 1970s Associations Incorporation model, though they remained then, and even more now as their membership visibly ages, people whose timetables and effectiveness were linked to events with precious few repetitive elements. They really needed to be there and able to be mobilised to ensure communal resilience after the much older model of resident caretakers had been largely phased out. I expect similar stories can be told by groups formed to help build community resources that would later be subsumed as state assets and by franchised "service" clubs, though I have limited personal experience to draw on in those and other areas.

Much more recently, the interweb catalysed the rapid formation of what I have long described as virtual organisations, a process more recently facilitated by the likes of Meetup which can be pushed closest to the Associations Incorporation model and now the dreaded Facebook which bears no relation, save a slightly greater sense of continuity that ever in-the-moment Twitter. These are tip-of-iceberg examples with correspondingly even more slippery slopes and for which any notion of formalisation under territorial jurisdictions is beyond absurd.

Amongst the latest round of "reforms" the "Statement of Purposes" which I have previously cited as being a valuable concept, albeit one hard for feel goods and virtuals to get right, has been relegated to just another component of an Incorporated Association's rules.

What could they do better, at least short of a complete review of the overreach of government and legalism in particular? Yes, transparency and mutual obligation are great principles, but nowadays they are much more practical to deliver online and continuously than by fractured documents from inconvenient meetings held in bottom drawers. Time to get with the new millennium.

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