Anyone who follows my blogs will know that I’m a great fan of Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and the work carried out by her office. Recall the Unfair Contracts Inquiry, which resulted in legislation that makes certain contracts between big and small businesses illegal?

Ms Carnell’s office now has the issue of access to justice for Small Businesses firmly in her sights, and has launched an inquiry.

As most of us who own Small Businesses know, there can be a huge imbalance in the power relationship between themselves and their big corporate customers – or Government customers.

A (reluctant) Royal Commission

As an example, last week’s (reluctant) announcement of a Royal Commission into the financial services industry is a direct result of the vastly different access and paths to justice for small and big business. Small companies have been placed into receivership without notice, or been the victim of unethical banking practices.

But how many of them have had the financial resources (and stamina) to seek justice in the Courts? Approximately none. This inquiry is about redressing that imbalance.

There are mediation services available, but as Ms Carnell points out, “… if the dispute can’t be mediated, it starts to get expensive. The current legal system puts small business in no-man’s land.”

No long delays

As usual, Ms Carnell is not letting the grass grow under her feet with this inquiry. ASBFEO will start collecting information in early 2018, and will summarise their findings and propose some policy options by the middle of that year.

The information collection phase of the inquiry will examine:

  • The nature and incidence of small business disputes in Australia, identifying patterns and trends;
  • The level of awareness of options available to small businesses, particularly alternative dispute resolution;
  • Actions taken by small businesses when faced with a dispute;
  • Reasons for decisions made throughout the dispute resolution process, and
  • Developments and trends in similar jurisdictions overseas.

Have your say, and make your voice heard

As with all the other ASBFEO Inquiries, input from Small Business owners will be keenly sought, so watch the media and this blog for your opportunity to have your say.

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