Proposed Small Business Ombudsman ‘with teeth’ welcomed by industry groups

Small Business Minister Bruce Billson has released a discussion paper, outlining the proposed creation of a Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman with real power to resolve disputes.

According to the discussion paper, the ombudsman’s new role will be to provide information and advice to small and family run businesses.

In addition, the ombudsman will likely have the power to investigate small business disputes, refer the dispute to other regulatory bodies and compel the parties to attend mediation.

In the discussion paper, Billson said small businesses are a vital part of the Australian economy and the establishment of a Small Business Ombudsman would help represent their interests.

“Providing a fair operating environment and conditions is one of the best ways to help this engine room of our economy prosper,” he said. “When small businesses and entrepreneurs prosper, so does the rest of our country.”

Business groups have welcomed the move, saying a small business ombudsman will minimise compliance burdens and help the more than two million small businesses in Australia thrive.

Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong told SmartCompany he was happy with the announcement.

“Since 1977 when we were first formed one of the things we wanted to see was an ombudsman so we are pleased,” he said. “They are going to give the ombudsman good powers, although I suspect they won’t need to use them very often.”

Industry groups have long campaigned for a small business ombudsman with powers to resolve disputes between SMEs and Commonwealth agencies. While the states and territories have mechanisms to mediate these disputes, the Australian Small Business Commissioner and state small business commissioners have no formal powers to settle disputes.

ACCI chief operating officer John Osborn said in a statement small businesses would benefit from a “one-stop-shop” where they could access Commonwealth assistance.

“The absence of a small business ombudsman with teeth has been a frustration to small business people for a long time,” he said. “Small business is particularly happy to see the government’s plan to give the ombudsman stronger powers to help resolve disputes, and a capacity to shape policy at the Commonwealth level while fighting red-tape.”

The Australian Retailers Association also welcomed the recommendations in the discussion paper. ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman said in a statement smaller retailers are looking forward to an ombudsman who can best meet their needs.

“Small businesses have certainly faced a rough trading environment over the last few years,” he said. “The ARA is positive, however, that the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman is certainly a step in the right direction to getting the industry on the road to recovery.”

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