Legal

The Federal Government’s short list for small business commissioner: Who’s on it and who’s not

Cara Waters /

feature-brendan-200This year’s federal budget didn’t deliver the promised company tax cut, but one of the panaceas to business was the Federal Government’s announcement that it would create the position of a small business commissioner along with $8.3 million in funding over four years.

Advertisements have gone out for the position and candidates have been interviewed. But with the small business commissioner set to start in only a few months’ time on January 1, 2013, at this stage no appointment has been made.

The appointment process

Federal Small Business Minister Brendan O’Connor told SmartCompany an appointment will be made in the next four to five weeks.

“We are close. We have got a process where the department has gone out far and wide and provided me with a list and I am in the process of going through that,” he says.

“I have to be happy with the people who have put their hand up.”

O’Connor says there is a shortlist of 15-20 people and he is “satisfied we have got some very outstanding candidates”.

For O’Connor, the appointment of a small business commissioner is one of the announcements the government has made which show its “bona fides in making small business our priority”.

“It will provide a voice for small business as it is a very large and disparate community,” he says.

O’Connor says a commissioner is needed as the Council of Small Business of Australia “does a very good job of advocacy but it has a very small budget”, while business groups such as the Australian Industry Group and Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry are “sometimes conflicted” as they must represent both small and big business.

The small business commissioner’s role

O’Connor is ideally looking for a small business commissioner with a glittering resume and says as it is the first time the appointment has been made it is particularly important.

He wants to appoint someone similar to the government’s Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, who was formerly the vice-chancellor of the Australian National University.

“I compare it with the Chief Scientist because of his standing. He fills the position in a greater way,” says O’Connor.

Also on O’Connor’s wish list is a candidate who has empathy with small business, an understanding of government and “who can speak eloquently and cogently on behalf of small business”.

The government hasn’t released many details about how the commissioner will operate.

O’Connor says he wants the candidate to have the flexibility to make the role their own.

“The commissioner will meet with me to see what the role is,” he says.

“There is no point calling the role independent then prescribing it to such a degree that there is no independence.”

What is clear is that the commissioner will be appointed by O’Connor and will not act as an ombudsman, as the state small business commissioners already fulfil that role.

“We don’t want to duplicate what happens at state level and don’t want people forum shopping,” says O’Connor.

O’Connor says he is looking for “strong advocacy” and for the commissioner to be an “adviser” to him “in a way that distinguishes them from the department advice”.

Continued next page.

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Cara Waters

Cara Waters is the former editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter for the Financial Times' website and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.

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