1st May, 2014

Small business ombudsman ‘will aid dispute resolution’

The federal government has announced plans to create a new small business ombudsman, with its potential functions and powers outlined in a recently released discussion paper.

Bruce Billson, small business minister, unveiled the details yesterday (April 30) and said the ombudsman is designed to help SMEs across the country in a number of ways.

One of the key responsibilities the agency is expected to possess is acting as a concierge for dispute resolution. While several states have some mechanisms in place to solve issues, this would provide Commonwealth-wide assistance.

Dispute resolution can be a costly and time-consuming endeavour, particularly for small companies that may not have the resources to tackle claims made against them. This is why many organisations invest in professional indemnity cover and other forms of business insurance, as they provide protection against a range of incidents that could befall small businesses.

However, the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman could offer additional support when companies face problems, including interstate and overseas dispute resolution.

John Osborn, chief operating officer of the Australian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said his institution welcomed the move.

“Small business is particularly happy to see the government’s plan to give the ombudsman stronger powers to help resolve disputes, and a capacity to shape policy at the Commonwealth level while fighting red-tape,” he said.

The ombudsman’s powers will extend further than dispute resolution to include:

·      Providing a single point of access for SMEs looking to learn more about available government services and policies
·      Offering advocacy for small businesses
·      Contributing to the development of small business-friendly policies at a national level

“Small businesses have told us that they often find it difficult to know where to go to get assistance,” Mr Billson said.

“We want to give time-poor small businesses the best chance of success by reducing the time spent accessing information and advice, resolving disputes and having their voices heard.”

Author: Murray Bruce