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The company structure has a long history in Australia. Today, a company’s constitution can govern the internal management of a company. If your company does not have its own constitution, the replaceable rules in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) will automatically apply. Some companies choose to use a combination of the two. 

Before the Corporation Act, each state and territory had separate legislation which governed how companies operated in that location rather than the national system in place now. Moreover, the company constitution was split into two separate documents. These documents are:

  • the memorandum of association; and
  • the articles of association. 

These documents still govern many companies incorporated before 1998 – this is entirely valid. This article explains the memorandum of association and articles of association and the general law today.

Memorandum of Association

A memorandum of association typically lists the objectives of the company. Previously, a company could not perform any activities that fell outside of this scope. Doing so was considered ‘ultra vires’, or beyond the company’s power to do so. If a company performed an ‘ultra vires’ action, it became void, even if it was legal. This rule is no longer the case. 

The memorandum of association also sets out:

  • the name of the company;
  • its share capital structure;
  • the registered physical office of the company; and
  • the relationship between the company and shareholders, including the liability of the shareholders.

Articles of Association

The articles of association cover everything to do with the operational framework and internal governance of the company. They also confirm the contractual relationship between members by setting out the powers, rights and obligations of the company’s members and senior officeholders. 

Further, the articles govern operational matters such as the:

  • appointment and powers of directors;
  • appointment and powers of the company secretary;
  • conduct of the board and general meetings; and
  • issue, rights and transfers of shares.

Before the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), most state company legislation contained model articles of association. Companies had the choice of adopting some or all of these provisions into their articles of association.

The Corporations Act

The Corporations Act flooded the corporate governance space with changes. Now, a single document – the company constitution – replaces the memorandum of association and articles of association. 

If your company was incorporated before 1998, it is entirely valid to still rely on both documents rather than a company constitution. However, if you registered your company after 1998, there is no longer the requirement to have any written document that outlines your company’s corporate governance framework.

Additionally, the Corporations Act’s replaceable rules now govern companies who choose not to adopt a company constitution. These rules automatically apply if a company’s constitution is silent about a particular issue covered by one of the 39 replaceable rules. Therefore, it is now possible to govern your company through a combination of the replaceable rules and your own company constitution. 

Other Jurisdictions

Companies in other countries continue to use memorandum and articles of association. Each country has its own set of documents regarding the internal governance of a company. Likewise, such documents may have different purposes or content, depending on the particular legal requirements of each country. The documents may also go by different names. For example, articles of association may sometimes be known as articles of incorporation. You might be interested in incorporating a company overseas or have questions about corporate governance documents for an overseas company. In this case, it is best practice to seek legal advice from a legal practitioner in that jurisdiction. 

Time for an Update

If your company still uses its memorandum and articles of association, it might be worth having these updated. They may not correctly or adequately reflect how your company currently operates. Further, some rules may no longer apply because they do not reflect modern corporations practice and law. In this case, it would be best to update your memorandum and articles of association with a more modern constitution. However, keep in mind that such an update usually requires a special resolution of all shareholders to approve the change.

Key Takeaways

Before the Corporations Act, it was common to govern a company’s internal management through a memorandum of association and articles of association. If such documents are still relevant to your company, you might want to consider getting these updated to reflect modern company law. Today, the Corporations Act’s replaceable rules automatically apply to companies incorporated post 1 July 1998. Likewise, there is no longer a requirement to have any corporate governance documents. 

If you have any questions regarding your business or your corporate governance documents, contact LegalVision’s business lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a memorandum of association?

A memorandum of association is a document that sets out important details of a company. Such details include the company’s name, its share capital structure and the registered physical office of the company. It also lists the relationship between the company and its shareholders.

What are the articles of association?

Articles of association cover everything to do with the operational framework and internal governance of the company. They confirm the contractual relationship between members by setting out the company’s members’ powers, rights, and obligations and senior officeholders.

How does the Corporations Act affect the importance of these documents?

If your company was incorporated before 1998, it is entirely valid to rely on both a  memorandum and articles of association, rather than a company constitution. Today, the general rule is that there is no longer a requirement to have any corporate governance documents. However, you can still choose to adopt a company constitution. If not, the replaceable rules apply.

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