The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has admitted it has not always been smart in its dealings with small- and medium-sized businesses, but its new chairman Rod Sims says the competition regulator can be a champion of small business.
In his second public outing since taking on the position seven weeks ago, Sims said that the ACCC is exploring the use of social media to boost its communication with SMEs.
It also supported the establishment of small business commissioners, particularly a federal commissioner, who could specifically offer formal mediation for disputes, Sims said.
"You will understand the ACCC is not a dispute resolution service. This is commonly where there is a disconnect between the expectations of small business and the mandated role of the ACCC," Sims told a dinner for the Council of Small Business of Australia in Canberra.
"Many small business complaints to the ACCC about their dealings with larger businesses such as landlords or suppliers are really about contractual or commercial disputes, rather than the types of anti-competitive or misleading conduct we are authorised to address under law."
"I see the small business commissioners being able to deliver a formal mediation function, which we do not, that would address those matters more effectively."
"That would be particularly helpful and effective in business-to-business or franchisor/franchisee disputes. The ACCC could then be freed up to focus on systemic issues across the market."
On social media, Sims said the ACCC was considering developing a Facebook page, as well as Twitter accounts and iPhone and iPad applications, so SMEs can "access relevant information when and how it suits".
Sims said the ACCC was also reviewing its publications for readability, "particularly for mum-and-dad businesses that have neither the time nor the inclination to delve through dense publications" and will be reviewing its website "to consider providing a small business landing page that has relevant information right there for you, rather than you having to navigate through what has become a very large and information-heavy site."
The ACCC is working with small business advisers such as accountants and the national network of Business Enterprise Centres, Sims said, and co-operating in the establishment of a one-stop shop linked to the business names register so start-ups could gather information about legislation and compliance.
COSBOA executive Peter Strong said the business body was heartened by Sims' appearance and his speech and answers to the audience were "very encouraging".
Strong said Sims had his "head around a whole range of issues", despite his self-confessed lack of expertise with the sector, and "listened more than he spoke."
"The council was very pleased with what we heard," Strong said.