Five things SME leaders want to see from Small Business Commissioner Mark Brennan in 2013

It’s only been a few weeks since Mark Brennan stepped into his role as the inaugural Australian small business commissioner, following the announcement of his appointment in October.

Prior to this role, Brennan served for seven years as the inaugural Victorian small business commissioner; the first such position in any jurisdiction in Australia.

In 2011, he was named National Small Business Champion by the Council of Small Business of Australia for his work in guiding and developing the VSBC role.

Brennan has also owned and operated his own small business as principal of MA Brennan and Associates, which provided advice to government on legislative reviews and policy issues.

StartupSmart spoke to five different industry associations about what they would like to see from Brennan this year, before talking to the man himself:

1. Greater clarity on the role itself

“The main concern we have from the FCA is the number of small business representatives we seem to have around the country,” says Stephen Giles from the Franchise Council of Australia.

“Not only do we have the ACCC with an office in every state, we have state small business commissioners and a federal small business commissioner.

“These organisations are doing largely the same thing. We would like the government and the opposition to focus a little bit less on appointing more public servants.

“If you’ve got a small business minister and you’ve got the office of small business and you’ve got the ACCC, what exactly does the role of the state small business commissioners and the federal small business commissioner [involve]? What do they actually do?

“I think the small business minister has an important role but the jury’s out in terms of the long-term value of the state and federal small business commissioners.”

2. More power

“We would have liked to see the commissioner have power when it comes to resolving disputes,” says Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia.

“We’d like to see that position have a strong voice within government. Maybe not a voice we’ll see outside, but one in government where the commissioner works with agencies or senior people who don’t get the small business issue.

“I’m sure he’ll be tough and strong like we know he can be, but in a strategic way.”

3. A consistent definition of small business

“A useful early outcome of this new office could be the establishment of a consistent definition of small business,” says Steven Fanner from the Australian Hotels Association.

“Currently, small businesses are defined by governments in many ways including annual turnover, number of employees and number of FTE employees.”

4. Harmonisation of state laws

“If you’re a business and you’ve got two outlets sitting in two different states, there are lots of things that become difficult,” says Russell Zimmerman of the Australian Retailers Association.

“You have to go back to two states to get approval [for the same things]… OHS laws are one of them, workers compensation would be another, and tenancy could be another.

“There is a lack of harmonisation around some of these things. We would like to see national harmonisation on a whole lot of state regulatory issues.

“Even with insurance, there are different rules and regulations. If those things are harmonised and made simpler, it makes the business of doing business much better.”

5. Better incentives for new entrants

“Our focus is always on ensuring the businesses are high quality and the standard of service delivery is high,” says Dianne Smith, chief executive of the Victoria Tourism Industry Council.

“At the same time, you want to encourage and enable, and get people participating in the industry. In certain states, there is a better proposition to go into mining than to go into tourism.

“[However,] there are very few barriers to entry for tourism apart from getting a bus licence or national park licence. Pretty much anyone can run a tourism business.

“We want to have authentic Australian services but there are lots of people who say they did not open a business because it was too expensive.

“We would like to see greater incentives for young people to work in tourism as well as to invest in tourism… We would encourage and support a range of measures assuming the standards of delivery were maintained.”

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