The Small Business Commissioner

25 Sep 2011 |

Owners of small businesses can often feel alone with no one to support them. This was the case in Victoria until 2003 when a Small Business Commissioner was appointed. The good news for small business owners in the rest of Australia is that other states are now considering creating the same position.

The roles and duties of the Victorian Small Business Commissioner predominantly flowed from the need to protect small business tenants from unfair practices of large corporate landlords. The primary responsibilities of the Small Business Commissioner are:

  • to facilitate and encourage the fair treatment of small businesses in their commercial dealings with other businesses in the marketplace;
  • to promote informed decision-making by small businesses in order to minimise disputes with other businesses;
  • to receive and investigate complaints by small businesses regarding unfair market practices and mediate between the parties involved in the complaint;
  • to make representations to an appropriate person or body on behalf of a small business that has made a complaint; and
  • to encourage the development and implementation of small business service charters within government to ensure small businesses receive high quality service;

Of the responsibilities stated above the most valuable is the alternative method of settling disputes. Most small business owner that have either initiated or been dragged into legal proceedings will realize that ultimately the only winners are the lawyers.

It is also a legal fact of life that when a small business has a dispute with a big business, the chances of getting justice are extremely small. Unfortunately under our adversarial legal system the people and organisations with the most money often are the only ones to receive the most justice.

This service is also of major benefit to small business owners on the receiving end of unfair business practices by large corporations, and where the policies of Government departments disadvantage the small business. In these circumstances, and where there is a business-to-business dispute, an application can be made to the small business commissioner to have the dispute mediated.

When a dispute is referred to VSBC the following steps are taken:

  • the Small Business Commissioner writes to the Chief Executive Officer or Managing Director of the offending business, organisation or agency enclosing a copy of the complaint,
  • the Commissioner’s letter makes preliminary inquiries in respect of the application in order to resolve the matter,
  • the inquiries are made to seek the comments and assistance from the business or organisation the complaint was made against,
  • these are done in a cooperative and consultative way to assist consideration of what further action the VSBC may take, including the mediation of the complaint,
  • when the VSBC receives comments from the respondent  these are forwarded to the applicant for consideration,
  • depending on the applicant’s response to these preliminary inquiries, the VSBC may arrange mediation between the parties or investigate the matter further.

If the business or organisation the complaint has been made against refuses to enter into mediation, or if after mediation refuses to follow a course of remedial action that came from the mediation, the matter can be referred to the responsible minister. In this case the small business Commissioner can have the recalcitrant business or organisation named in Parliament, which can result in their reputation being damaged.

The original Commissioner for small business in Victoria recently moved to another position and there is an acting commissioner at the present. Small business owners in other states should contact their local member to keep up the pressure to have a small business commissioner of their own.


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