The NSW Opposition has introduced a bill to give the state’s small business commissioner “real teeth”, amid criticism from both sides of politics that the role at state and federal levels is virtually meaningless.
Adam Searle, NSW shadow minister for small business, has introduced a bill into State Parliament to give the state’s small business commissioner “real teeth” to represent and protect NSW small businesses.
According to Searle, central to the bill is the power to provide measures to protect small business from unfair commercial practices, and provide a comprehensive legal framework for the role and functions of the commissioner.
The move comes after Bruce Billson, the federal shadow minister for small business, described the establishment of a national small business commissioner as a “token effort” by the Gillard government.
“The Gillard government is just giving a mirage that they are trying to help small business,” Billson said in a statement.
“It appears as though the commissioner will simply handball off issues to other state and federal government departments around the country.”
Similarly, Senator Scott Ryan, shadow parliamentary secretary for small business and fair competition, said the government’s proposal is “all bark and no bite”.
“The small business commissioner looks poised to become a glorified help desk, referring small businesses to other agencies, with no powers of its own.”
In July last year, the NSW Government appointed former ACCC associate commissioner Yasmin King as the state’s first small business commissioner.
The appointment was part of an election promise by NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to provide additional support to the small business sector.
King is responsible for protecting the rights of NSW small businesses by providing a low-cost dispute-resolution mechanism, essentially acting as a “one-stop-shop” for small business complaints about unfair market practices.
But according to Searle, the O’Farrell government has “failed to deliver” with regard to legislation for the role of the commissioner.
“Before the last election, the Coalition promised to create a small business commissioner to advocate for small businesses, provide a low-cost mediation service and cut red tape,” Searle said in a statement.
“They appointed a commissioner… but neglected to provide any legislative basis for her role or her functions… That is why I have acted.”
Under his bill, Searle said the commissioner will have a “comprehensive” role including:
- Receiving and investigating complaints, and resolving through mediation or advocacy, and providing information to small businesses to assist them in making decisions about their commercial dealings with other businesses or government agencies.
- Monitoring, investing and advising the small business minister on market practices that may negatively affect small businesses.
- Reporting each year to NSW Parliament on ways to slash red tape and the regulatory burden on small businesses, as well as laws that burden small businesses and recommendations for alleviating it.
“We will be consulting widely on this bill with small business operators, representative organisations and other interested persons,” Searle said.
The NSW Government could not be reached for comment.
A spokesperson for Federal Small Business Minister Brendan O’Connor, who today launched the official application process for the federal commissioner, says the Liberals “took small businesses for granted” for the 12 years they were in government prior to Labor.
“They failed to introduce a small business commissioner, even after the Victorian Labor Government established the first commissioner in 2003,” the spokesperson says.
“The Australian small business commissioner will give Australia’s 2.7 million small businesses a strong voice in Canberra by reporting directly to Cabinet through the Small Business Minister.”
“The commissioner’s precise role will be finalised in coming months in consultation with the state commissioners and the Small Business Advisory Committee.”