ACCAN was formed as a peak body for consumers and consumer organisations on communications issues, including telecommunications and the internet. ACCAN has a central role in advocacy, research, training, consultation, the provision of policy advice and consumer education. One specific function of ACCAN is to administer the distribution of funding previously allocated by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (section 593 grants).
Individuals and organisations joining ACCAN retain their identity and are able to advocate on their own or their members’ behalf. ACCAN is an important forum in which consumer concerns and views can be debated and shared and, as much as possible, resolved.
The overarching objective guiding ACCAN isto ensure that communications are available, accessible and affordable for all Australians.
The ACCAN constitution was created in 2008 and amended in 2012.
2. Overview of the ACCAN constitution
ACCAN was established as a company rather than as an incorporated association. As a national body, it is more appropriate that it operate under Federal law, rather than under the various state-based legislation governing incorporated associations.
The provisions of the Constitution are, for the most part, standard and non-contentious. Constitution rules are usually written at a high level because, if the provisions are too specific, they may restrict the Company from responding in a timely manner to new circumstances. Any change to the Constitution requires a special resolution of the Company passed by 75% of eligible voters.
The sections that are specific to ACCAN, and define both what ACCAN does and how it will be run are:
- Definitions - Consumer
- Section 3: Objects and Powers
- Section 7: Membership
- Section 20: Directors
- Section 31: Committees
3. Definitions – consumer
The definition of consumer covers all end users of telecommunications services and ACCAN recognises a range of sectors including:
- people with disabilities;
- people on low incomes;
- Indigenous communities and their representatives;
- culturally and linguistically diverse peoples;
- people from regional, rural and remote areas of Australia;
- people representing emerging technologies;
- seniors; and
- general consumers.
There are many consumer protection issues that cover micro and small businesses, particularly for people who operate from their home, and people in regional, rural and remote Australia. A definition of consumer has been adopted that specifically includes small business so that ACCAN has a specific mandate to address those issues.
4. Objects and activities
The objects and activities broadly set out what ACCAN is and does. The main objectives for consumer advocacy are in clause 3.1.2 – availability, accessibility and affordability of communications for all Australians. There was some consideration of including a more detailed section on consumer objectives in the Objects section. It was decided, however, that the Constitution should contain high level principles, but leave more detailed objectives to a Mission Statement and Strategic Plan that are developed through consultative processes within the ACCAN membership.
There are three categories of membership: Voting members, Associate members and Life members. Voting members includes both organisations and individuals – each having one vote. The eligibility criteria for organisational Voting members is that their purposes align with the ACCAN objectives and that they are both non-party political and not for profit. Individual Voting members must also subscribe to ACCAN’s objects. Associate members are those who are interested in working with ACCAN but are not eligible for Voting membership. Members of the telecommunications industry, such as carriers, carriage service providers (CSPs), content service providers and equipment manufacturers, are not be eligible for membership. Life membership is conferred by a special meeting of ACCAN on someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the area.
The criteria for the selection of Directors are that they have experience and/or expertise in company governance and have understanding of or experience with a particular consumer sector(s). The Board size can range from nine to twelve Directors, with up to nine elected members. The Board may co-opt three additional Directors to ensure broad representation of the consumer sectors and/or to recruit for particular skills in corporate governance.
There are three types of committees. The first type is established by the Board and can be a standing or ad hoc committee or working group as deemed necessary. Such committees must have a majority of Directors as members, but can include expert advisors at the Board’s discretion. An example of such a committee would be a finance and audit committee.
The Company CEO appoints the second type of Committee which, again, can be a standing or ad hoc committee, to undertake specified tasks in accordance with the Company Objects.
The Independent Grants Panel is the third committee category. This is the Panel that will be charged with the allocation of funds to administer, in accordance with Company Objects, funds made available to the Company through government grants. While the Board appoints members of this Panel, no Director can be a member of this Panel. This is because it will be the Panel that makes recommendations to the Board on the allocation of funds, and the Board makes the final decision on grant allocation.