Australia`s First Small Business Ombudsman

by | Jul 27, 2021

The new Small Business Ombudsman in Canberra, Kate Carnell [right], pictured here with

Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer [left]

Thursday 28 January 2016.

Photo: Andrew Meares

Congratulations to Kate Carnell – Australia’s first Small Business & Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

But what does an Ombudsman do?

“Ombudsmen are independent, impartial and provide a free service. They investigate complaints that haven’t been solved by the organisation complained against. Ombudsmen investigate complaints when something has been handled badly or unfairly, making someone suffer as a result. This is sometimes called maladministration”.  Ombudsman Association

According to the Federal Government’s Small Business website, the Small Business Ombudsman will be a:

  • Commonwealth-wide advocate for small businesses and family enterprises;
  • contributor to the development of small business friendly Commonwealth laws and regulations; and
  • concierge for dispute resolution.

The Small Company, Big Business Program actively promotes the advantages of winning contracts with large organisations as the most effective path to growth for small businesses.  And it most certainly is.

But we also know that when there are two parties in a relationship where there is a big difference in power, that things don’t always go smoothly.  Not all large organisations have an enlightened and proactive approach to building their supply chains on the principles of mutual benefit, trust and sustainability.

[Tweet “The Small Business Ombudsman will help fill the power gap between #smallbiz and big customers”]On a practical level, the Small Business Ombudsman will have two broad areas of responsibility:

The Advocacy Function

The Small Business Ombudsman will act as an advocate for small business when legislation, policies etc. are considered.

The Assistance Function

The Ombudsman will provide assistance to small business when they request assistance with a “relevant action”.  A ‘relevant action” is anything that “that affects, or may affect, a small business or family enterprise”, so that should capture most issues.  No doubt the definition will be tested by the courts as time goes on.  The assistance may include referring the issue to another agency (State or Federal), or using a dispute resolution process.

“It’s also to focus on alternate dispute mechanisms, so small businesses don’t get caught up in lengthy and expensive court cases.” Kate Carnell

Click here to see the full legislation.

A long time coming

Congratulations to COSBOA on finally achieving this step – first advocated in 1977.  Patience really is required some times!

Who is Kate Carnell?

Kate Carnell is already a well-known Australian in business circles.  To take up this appointment, she has stepped down as the head of the business lobby group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry[ACCI],.  Kate is a former ACT chief minister, and has a personal history as a small business owner herself.  I hope she remembers all those days of running her own pharmacy when she makes decisions in her new 5 year role.

Written by Bronwyn Reid

2nd February 2016