Peter Strong: Here are the people who could replace Michael Schaper as the ACCC’s small business advocate

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper. Source: ACCC

There will soon be a very important vacancy at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The excellent Michael Schaper is moving on and will leave a big hole that needs to be filled.

He doesn’t leave for another nine months but ACCC commissioner jobs take a long time to fill as the states have to approve any appointment. So, we have to make sure the right person gets that job.

I believe there are four pillars of support needed for the small business community: a dedicated small business minister in Cabinet; a small business ombudsman and state commissioners; an effective peak body unambiguously representing small business; and dedicated small business commissioners appointed to our regulators.

We have an excellent small business minister in Michael McCormack but he must be in Cabinet to have full effect on behalf of small business people.

We have a very effective Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, and highly performing staff to match. We have a great small business association called COSBOA (thank you) and we have Michael Schaper at the ACCC, for whom we now need to find a worthy replacement.

To add more good news, we have well regarded and effective small business commissioners in four states and a small business champion in Queensland.

We also need small business commissioners at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Fair Work Commission and the Reserve Bank of Australia.

So who is there who could fill the fancy Italian shoes of the stylish Michael Schaper?

Whoever it is must understand small businesses as people, as well as businesses. They must be able to communicate effectively, know how government works, be able to argue forcefully on our behalf and know the competition environment.

Whoever it is must not fall under the evil spell of laissez-faire economists and must remember why the position of ACCC deputy chair (small business) exists. The ACCC must focus on competition and consumer needs, and this position was created to make sure a small business person is also considered a consumer is in decisions and processes.

There are some worthy names that come to mind. This includes:

Craig Latham, the current deputy to Kate Carnell who knows our sector and has the professionalism and experience needed;

Jenny Buchan, a noted lecturer at the University of New South Wales with the experience necessary to get the job done;

Ben Kearney from Tasmania who may be considered a dark horse but is fully professional, understands competition and is connected deeply with the small business community;

Su McCluskey of the Harper competition review who, when SMEs are considered, is one of the most qualified, capable and experienced people in Australia;

Geoff Browne, a past Victorian Small Business Commissioner who would quickly fit into the role; and

State commissioners who would be admirable deputy chairs.

There are others I have probably missed but whatever happens let’s make sure we get the right person.

Many of the above names would also suit similar roles in the RBA, ASIC, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and even the Human Rights Commission.

So, on that note we also must not lose Michael Schaper to some sinecure in a dusty corner of academia. The RBA would be well placed to recruit Michael to its board and indeed any of the banks would also be better off with Michael as a director.

No farewells for Mr Schaper yet but let’s find a worthy replacement.

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