“Big shoes to fill”: Who will succeed Kate Carnell as Australia’s next small business ombudsman?

Kate Carnell

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell.

There will soon be a very important job vacancy that is of vital significance to the small business community in Australia. This is the role of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), which is currently held by Kate Carnell. 

Kate departs her role at the end of March 2021 after finishing her five-year contract, and leaves big shoes to fill at a critical time — a time when small and family businesses are striving to recover from the COVID19 economic downturn.

That is not to take anything away from the sterling job that has been done by Small Business Minister Senator Michaelia Cash and the Morrison government in supporting small business in recent times. Yet, the ASBFEO is a unique role solely dedicated to shining a light on issues that are of vital importance to SME owners.

Kate understands the very psyche of small business, having previously owned and operated a small business herself. As the very first ASFBEO, Kate has single-handedly moulded the office of the ASFBEO. All of us in small business associations have grown to understand how the office operates and to deeply appreciate and respect Kate’s outstanding – and often fearless – advocacy for small and family business in Australia.

At some point in the near future we will take a moment to celebrate Kate’s outstanding performance and achievements. But, for now, the critical question is who will replace Kate as the second ASFBEO. Given the substantial momentum that has been built under Kate’s leadership, we need a high calibre individual that can continue to build and grow on the strong foundations that have been established.

So, exactly what type of person do we need?

First, this person must understand that small businesses are not just economic entities – they are everyday people who have taken risks to create their own livelihood and, in doing so, created jobs. The new ASFBEO should have run their own business at some time and employed people if they are to understand the issues we face.

Second, they must be able to communicate effectively with policymakers and small business folk. They must know how government works and be able to argue cogently and forcefully on our behalf. They should also have a good knowledge of the industry association sector and be able to devise and advance action for change where necessary.

The new ombudsman has to be someone who is readily accessible and connected — not an academic who is effectively hidden away developing lengthy desktop research reports that go nowhere because the ombudsman is nowhere to be seen.

The new ombudsman needs to get around the bookkeepers and accountants. They need to understand the small business finance sector and the small business software to gather the information needed to inform policy. 

The new ombudsman must be willing to fearlessly stand up to government when needed.

Small and family business people are the key to an innovative, efficient and flexible economy. They are a key to our way of life, to our sports community and to our charities. They make communities different from each other and good places to live and work.

Whatever happens let’s make sure we get the right person, not a dud.

Now is not the time for farewells to Kate Carnell — that’s for next year. It’s time to find the next ombudsman.

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