In August 2015 the Commonwealth Government announced the establishment of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman, as described in the legislation, will “advocate for, and give assistance to, small business and family enterprises and provides: for staffing matters; for other governance requirements; for disclosure of protected information; for review of certain decisions; and that state or territory laws are not excluded by the operation of this legislation.”

Put simply the Ombudsman will be a:

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

The Ombudsman will also work with business.gov.au to help small businesses easily find out about other government services and programmes, including general business advice.

The Ombudsman has now been officially announced.  Kate Carnell former chief Minister of the ACT and long-time small business owner herself has a mix of government, corporate and advocacy experience which should be valuable in her new role.  She was also the former head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where she strongly favoured small business.  Carnell admits that her focus on SMEs at ACCI was driven by the sheer weight of numbers with Australia estimated to have two million small enterprises.  It is good to know this business sector is getting the recognition it deserves.

Carnell added “If we want Australia to grow and for us to address unemployment rates we really need to enable the SME and family enterprise sectors to grow,” she says.  “We want them to get on with running their business and making it easier to employ and not letting government rules and regulation get in the way.”

This would be music to any SME owner, as for too long government regulations have only got in the way this sector’s growth, placing the same constraints on it, as big business which could easier absorb the impact.

Carnell says small business needs a “one stop shop” to go to with issues.  “I’d like to make sure that small business has a very strong voice inside all parts of government not just the small business minister’s office but more broadly.”  This has of course always been an issue, trying to find the relevant authority or agency to deal with in the first place took time and effort and the only result was frustration.

In an acknowledgement of what small business often faces, Bruce Billson, the Federal Minister for Small Business said “It can be frustrating for smaller businesses to make sense of the often complex information and broad array of services on offer.  “The Government wants to help businesses help themselves, and the Ombudsman will provide straightforward, honest advice that will help businesses understand disputes and how they can be avoided in the future.”

With 97% of all businesses in Australia being small business and exporting goods to the value of $1.3 billion in 2012-13, representing 42.7 per cent of all goods exporters and 0.5 per cent of the total value of all goods exported, this is a sector which punches above its weight in the economy.  Strong representation is what the sector deserves.

It also doesn’t hurt that Carnell is a woman, with 93.3 percent of Australian women business operators, around a third of Australia’s business operators working in small business.

Kate Carnell has the profile, knowledge of how government works, lobbying experience and the determination to influence real changes for SMEs.  One hopes that will translate into positive changes for the SME sector.