Review calls for the Small Business Ombudsman’s name to change to “reduce confusion”

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Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson. Source: AAP/Tracey Nearmy

The small business ombudsman could have its name changed if the federal government acts on a recommendation put forward by an independent review, released yesterday.

The review of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) assessed the effectiveness of ASBFEO’s assistance and its administrative and legal organisation. The fourth recommendation states that ASBFEO’s name should be changed to the Australian Small Business Commissioner or the Australian Small Business Advocate to better represent its role.

Conducted by independent reviewer Carmel McGregor, the report states that a new name would “reduce confusion over the nature of ASBFEO’s assistance role” and “support the value of ASBFEO’s advocacy work”.

A period of consultation informed the review, which involved meetings, submissions and surveys. The consultation phase focused on ASBFEO’s role and strategy, its influence, use of data and administrative capabilities.

Notably, the review recognises ASBFEO’s vital role in assisting small businesses in their disputes with larger businesses.

But while ASBFEO does provide pre-mediation assistance to small businesses, it does not have the powers to compel larger parties into mediation.

To resolve this issue, the review recommends that the Treasury and ASBFEO should improve gaps in the dispute resolution services to improve outcomes for small and family businesses.

While McGregor would like to see ASBFEO consider the gaps in its assistance functions, she also recommends for Treasury to examine the legislation that is causing so many disputes to go unresolved.

The review also calls for ASBFEO to leverage its relationships to help address the high-priority issues small businesses are facing, such as access to justice and finance. It states that ASBFEO should publish an annual charter to highlight these key priorities.

Also recommended is the strengthening of ASBFEO’s advocacy role through improving its independence function that advocates for legal reform.

The final recommendation is to align ASBFEO’s operations and funding to its purpose. The review states that this could be achieved if Treasury commits to the ongoing independence of the Ombudsman and adopts a funding model that meets the increasing demand for ASBFEO’s assistance.

ASBFEO was established in 2016, after the federal government passed legislation that also requires the office to be reviewed every four years.

Since it began, ASBFEO has existed within several federal portfolios. Currently, ASBFEO sits within the Department of Treasury and reports to Minister for Employment, Workforce, SKills, Small and Family Business Stuart Robert.

In March, Bruce Billson was appointed as the second small business ombudsman following Kate Carnell’s five-year tenure. 

SmartCompany has contacted ASBFEO for comment.


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