The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel has reportedly told staff he will pursue “other interests” when his term finishes on July 31.
Samuel had served for eight years in the role, deemed as one of the most powerful in the country.
The email took staff by surprise as there had been reports that Samuel was lobbying for another term.
While some people are pointing out that the email is ambiguous and casts doubt over Samuel’s intentions post July 31, insiders say it is a clear indication that Samuel plans to go.
“Since the commencement of my current term of office in August 2008, it has always been my wish and intent to pursue other interests following the expiry of that term in July 2011,” the email says.
“That remains my position and the Federal Government has long been aware of this. While I have no present plans for my professional career after my retirement from the ACCC, I intend to remain active in public and corporate life.”
The ACCC confirmed a staff email had been sent but did not confirm the content of the email.
Sources say that the process of appointing a replacement is likely to take some time.
First the Federal Government has to nominate names that are sent to state governments to agree. The states have 30 days to lodge an objection.
After that the name has to wind its way back through Federal Government channels before being announced.
“That process could take months,” says a source.
Favourite names tipped to replace Samuel include Peter Kell, deputy chair of the ACCC and former CEO of Choice who is touted as the SME’s first choice. He has been at the ACCC almost three years and is seen as an inclusive leader who likes to work closely with his team.
Second favourite is Ross Jones, deputy chair of APRA, who was a former commissioner at the ACCC. Close behind is Rod Sims, who also did a stint as an ACCC commissioner and now works at Port Jackson Partners.
Insiders say the last few years the SME sector had issues with Samuel.
Peter Strong of small business lobby group COSBOA told SmartCompany that small business is looking for somebody “who’s willing to take on the big end of town in court” after years of neglect.
Strong says the departure of Samuel will lead to “significant” cultural change at a regulator he believes is the least engaged with small business.
“We’d like to see them up to the level of the Tax Office,” Strong says.
Strong would like Samuel’s successor to better communicate with SMEs, as well as “embrace change” and understand how technology is changing business.
Strong says the ACCC should improve its tech systems to better enable small business to contact it with complaints and concerns.
“Let’s hope they [the successor] know that small business is a big part of their work,” Strong says.
“If they can’t change the rules, let’s hope they improve the way they communicate with us.”