South Australia could become the second state to appoint a Small Businesses Commissioner, following the launch of a high-level steering committee on the issue.
The steering committee will be responsible for providing a ‘governance framework’ for an independent commissioner, who would monitor and resolve disputes involving small businesses, landlords and government agencies across SA.
Last month, SA Small Business Minister Tom Koutsantonis said his government would appoint a Small Business Commissioner to help mediate business disputes.
“The creation of an independent statutory officer to champion the cause of small business can only be beneficial to our state’s economy and places us at the forefront of the nation in promoting the rights of small business,” Koutsantonis said in a statement.
In light of the announcement, industry groups have been pushing for every Australian state to appoint a Small Business Commissioner, claiming the move would improve business efficiency.
Victoria is currently the only state to have a Small Business Commissioner. The state was recently named Australia’s most business-friendly jurisdiction in a report released by the Business Council of Australia.
The study assessed all Australian jurisdictions against four benchmarks: principles of regulation making, accountability, transparency of regulatory processes and review mechanisms.
Steven Wojtkiw, chief economist at the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says the Small Business Commissioner has played an important part in Victoria’s business-friendly status.
Peter Strong, executive director of Australia’s Small Business Council, says Victorian businesses are reaping the rewards of having a Small Business Commissioner.
“Victoria has implemented a very good model and as a result, there is increased confidence among Victorian businesses because of an increased ability to get things done,” he says.
“I’m confident the other states will eventually follow suit because the Victorian model has been shown to be so successful.”
Earlier this year, the NSW Business Chamber renewed its call for NSW to appoint a Small Business Commissioner following the WA Government’s announcement to appoint a Commissioner.
The NSWBC made the proposal in a bid to help small businesses deal with dispute resolution and promote the cause of small business within the NSW Government.
NSWBC chief executive Stephen Cartwright is disappointed NSW hasn’t led the way in this regard.
“NSW’s 300,000 employing small businesses are the engine room of the economy, providing more than half of private sector employment, yet they aren’t being properly represented within the government,” he says.
A Small Business Commissioner can be of major value to small business owners on the receiving end of unfair business practices by large corporations, and where the policies of government departments disadvantage the small business.
In these circumstances, and where there is a business-to-business dispute, an application can be made to the Small Business Commissioner to have the dispute mediated.
When a dispute is referred in Victoria, the following steps are taken:
- The Victorian Small Business Commissioner writes to the CEO or MD of the offending business, organisation or agency enclosing a copy of the complaint.
- The Commissioner’s letter makes preliminary inquiries in respect of the application in order to resolve the matter.
- The inquiries are made to seek the comments and assistance from the business or organisation the complaint was made against.
- These are done in a cooperative and consultative way to assist consideration of what further action the VSBC may take, including the mediation of the complaint.
- When the VSBC receives comments from the respondent, these are forwarded to the applicant for consideration.
- Depending on the applicant’s response to these preliminary inquiries, the commissioner may arrange mediation between the parties or investigate the matter further.
If the business or organisation the complaint has been made against refuses to enter into mediation, or refuses to follow a course of remedial action, the matter can be referred to the responsible minister.
In this case, the Small Business Commissioner can have the recalcitrant business or organisation named in Parliament, which can result in their reputation being damaged.