Introducing the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman

The government recently introduced into Parliament a bill to establish an independent Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. If passed by the Senate, it will replace the existing Australian Small Business Commissioner as an advocate and assistant to the sector.

The government first announced details of the Ombudsman in 2013, intending that it would be:

  • Commonwealth-wide advocate for smaller enterprises
  • single entry point agency for small business to access federal government small business programs and support
  • contributor to making federal laws and regulations more small business friendly, and
  • “concierge” for dispute resolution.
  • The Ombudsman will also lead collaboration efforts with state small business commissioners, other state and territory officials, and peak industry bodies.

The bill’s explanatory memorandum has said the Ombudsman’s advocacy and assistance functions will be kept entirely separate, so as to create actual and perceived impartiality.

As part of its advocacy function, the Ombudsman will undertake “research and inquiry” processes into legislation, policies and practices affecting small enterprises. In doing so, it will be supported by statutory powers to gather information and conduct hearings.

The Ombudsman’s assistance function will involve responding to business assistance requests by referring requests to, or working with, other Commonwealth or state or territory agencies. It will also make alternate dispute resolution (ADR) recommendations and will have the power to facilitate its own ADR processes.

Further, the government has set out the kinds of activities the Ombudsman may undertake to make things easier for smaller enterprises, such as:

  • reducing administrative burdens, for example by suggesting simplifications and amendments to administrative forms and processes
  • minimising the costs businesses incur in complying with regulations
  • providing advice on matters affecting the interactions of small businesses and family enterprises with Commonwealth agencies
  • conducting investigations into industry sectors, in which small businesses and family enterprises face particular problems, and
  • making recommendations on practical solutions to reduce burdensome regulation.

The Ombudsman’s starting date is yet to be proclaimed, but small businesses and family enterprises will likely see it installed within the next financial year. Time will tell if its mandate will effect the desired changes to the regulatory landscape in its care.

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