Ensuring small businesses have access to justice, particularly in cases where there's an imbalance of bargaining power, is one of the key principles outlined in the ASBFEO’s small business reform agenda, released just last week.
"It's certainly pleasing to see all sides of politics are hearing our message on the need for low-cost and timely access to justice for small business owners, whether it be in relation to anti-competitive behaviour, or regarding a dispute with their financial lender,” Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell said.
"Our recent inquiry into small business bank loans found there to be significant gaps in access to justice for small businesses who are involved in a dispute with their financial lender. As the report states, many small businesses in such circumstances have nowhere to go but the courts to have their case heard, but the problem of course is that they have little money to pursue what would no doubt end up being a protracted legal battle.
“Our inquiry findings have been incorporated into the Ramsey Review of the financial system’s External Dispute Resolution framework, and we will contribute to the panel’s ongoing work to ensure there’s a low-cost mechanism in place to address past, present and future cases of small business mistreatment by their bank lender.
"Regarding anti-competitive behaviour, the ASBFEO office remains committed to ensuring small businesses have every opportunity to compete on a level playing field. Labor's proposal regarding a ‘no adverse costs order’ has merit, and deserves serious consideration by all sides of politics. We will certainly be examining the details of the legislation closely.
"In addition to this, it's our firm view that the Government's proposed ‘effects test’ legislation is important for the long-term viability of small businesses, and will provide much needed reform to address the misuse of market power by some businesses.
“Small businesses are critical drivers of competition and diversity so it’s vital Australia has a strong legal framework that allows smaller operators to compete on their merits.
“The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission therefore needs effective tools to be able to deal with instances of misuse of market power, and the ‘effects test’ will help achieve this,” she said.