The conference process is an opportunity for people involved in a dispute (called parties) to meet face to face, where possible, and discuss the issues in dispute with a view to reaching agreement. The process might require more than one meeting and additional information to be obtained.
This process might be called a conference, conciliation conference, settlement conference or mediation, all of which are different types of 'alternative dispute resolution' (ADR). In each case the parties will be assisted by a mediator to help explore options for reaching agreement. The mediator will most often be either a tribunal member or deputy registrar with skills and experience in helping parties reach agreement.
The mediator will guide you through the process. Most often the parties involved will sit around a table and informally talk about the dispute with the help of the mediator. If you need an interpreter, SACAT will provide one (to request an interpreter, contact SACAT, or include your request in your application).
In general, each party will be asked to tell their side of the story. You should lodge any relevant documents or materials with SACAT before the conference. When you attend the conference, make sure you bring the lodged documents as well as any additional documents.
It is important that you attend the conference. You may be assisted by an advocate in some circumstances. Support persons may also be allowed to accompany you to the conference.
If you are unable to attend in person, subject to obtaining the permission of SACAT, you may be allowed to participate by video link or telephone. These arrangements will apply to conferences in regional areas where a mediator is unable to conduct a conference in person.
The mediator will tell you about the level of formality of the conference, what is expected of all the participants in terms of behaviour and involvement, and about the role of the mediator.
The mediator is likely to ask questions to clarify the issues in dispute and to identify any issues on which the parties agree. The mediator may speak to each party privately about possible options for resolution of the dispute.
The role of the mediator is to guide the parties in their discussions about the dispute.
The mediator is not an advisor or advocate for any of the parties. The mediator will not impose a decision on the parties. Whether an agreement is reached is within the power and control of the parties themselves. The mediator has the power to terminate the conference if an agreement has not been reached within a reasonable time. If that occurs then it is likely that the dispute will be referred to a hearing.
Parties must act in good faith
SACAT requires that all parties involved in the conference act in good faith and make a genuine effort to participate and resolve the dispute.
Any party who obstructs or delays the process, fails to attend a conference or fails to comply with a Rule or Order of SACAT may have the case decided against them.
Conferences will generally be conducted in private, with anything said and done not being able to be relied on or referred to in subsequent proceedings, except with the consent of all parties.
An agreement must be consistent with the law and one that all parties can live with. Any agreement reached is binding on the parties and will be recorded by SACAT. In an appropriate case, an Order may be made by SACAT that reflects the agreement reached.
The conference might resolve the dispute completely or resolve some of the issues in dispute.
If the dispute is not completely resolved, the dispute will be referred to a hearing. A different tribunal member will conduct the hearing, which may be on the same day or on a different day.
Contact SACAT for further information, including:
- if you have any questions about the SACAT conference process
- for assistance in arranging an interpreter to attend the conference with you
- to discuss whether you can bring an advocate or support person.