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NSW Government (finally) moves to formalise small business commissioner role

Thursday, 22 November 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

The NSW Government has introduced legislation to establish the state’s first small business commissioner as a statutory officer, more than a year after the role was created and filled.

 

According to the state government, which made the announcement yesterday, the legislation will give the commissioner a greater level of power to represent the interests of small businesses in NSW.

 

“In line with our election commitment, the NSW Liberals and Nationals government created the role in July last year,” Minister for Small Business Katrina Hodgkinson says.

 

“[The role was created] to give the state’s 680,000 small businesses a voice and, importantly, the powers to do the job properly.”

 

“The Small Business Commissioner Bill 2012 will enable the small business commissioner to be an independent advocate for small businesses.”

 

In July last year, the government appointed former ACCC associate commissioner Yasmin King as the state’s first small business commissioner, one month after it began the recruitment process.

 

According to the government, the legislation gives the commissioner enhanced powers to:

  • Make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to do business with government.
  • Give advice to meet the needs of small businesses.
  • Investigate complaints by or on behalf of small businesses in relation to unfair practices by other businesses or government bodies.
  • Help small businesses reduce their administrative burden.
  • Provide low-cost dispute resolution services.

Hodgkinson said the legislation not only brings NSW into line with the other states but, in some ways, is “leading the nation”.

 

“For example, the NSW small business commissioner will be able to utilise a ‘collective complaint’ mechanism for a group of small businesses complaining to a body, such as the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission,” she said.

 

The announcement comes after Adam Searle, shadow small business minister, said the government has “failed to deliver” with regard to legislation for the role of the commissioner.

 

Earlier this year, Searle introduced his own bill into State Parliament to give the commissioner “real teeth” to represent and protect NSW small businesses.

 

Hodgkinson has defended the time taken to introduce legislation, saying the government’s first task was to “clean out” the office of small business after being elected in March 2011.

 

“We had to completely overhaul the office of small business, and some draft legislation [was then introduced] to surround the role of the small business commissioner,” Hodgkinson says.

 

“We took that to the public… We had a lot of public consultation done on this particular bill.”

 

“Only when we were confident it had really good support – not just from third parties but on the ground – we took it to the cabinet.”

 

Hodgkinson says the Small Business Commissioner Bill will be up for debate as soon as Parliament resumes next year.

 

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, believes the government is justified in the time it took to introduce legislation for the role.

 

“For the last year and a half, Yasmin spent a lot of time consulting, speaking to people and making sure she knew what the real issues are,” Strong says.

 

“It hasn’t been quick – maybe it could have happened three months quicker – but I think they’ve done a good job.”