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OMBUDSMAN WELCOMES DESIGNATED-COMPLAINTS LEGISLATION

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman 2 mins read

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, has welcomed the introduction of legislation into Federal Parliament that will create a “designated-complaints” mechanism to fast-track serious disputes for small businesses to the ACCC.

“Vast numbers of small and family businesses every year are being compromised and, in some cases, profoundly damaged by unfair business practices and uncompetitive markets,” Mr Billson said.

“Sadly, some go out of business because it takes too long to identify the importance of their issues and the need for the issues to be examined and actioned by the regulator. We currently refer cases to the ACCC for its attention to help ensure that unnecessary time does not elapse, which may cause additional harm to occur, before they are investigated and action is taken.

“Anything that can help improve the responsiveness of regulators to tackle harmful conduct is a good thing and today’s announcement by the Small Business Minister, Julie Collins, and the Assistant Minister for Competition, Andrew Leigh, is an important step towards giving small and family businesses greater confidence that the regulator has the best possible awareness and understanding of anti-competitive and harmful market conduct and practices.

“Small businesses suffer in real time when concerning conduct occurs so obviously a vital test of the new system will be the effectiveness of timely enforcement to combat needless and unnecessary harm.”

The legislation would enable designated small business advocates, such as the Ombudsman to have formal powers to submit a complaint about significant and systemic issues with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for investigation.

Once a complaint is lodged, the ACCC will be required to rank, assess and publicly respond to the complaint within 90 days. The ACCC must state what further action, if any, will be taken.

“This is an important reform to help ensure that the ACCC receives and promptly acts on critical intelligence,” Mr Billson said.

The Ombudsman noted that ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb today said a number successful compliance and enforcement outcomes have come about from informal referrals by organisations such as ASBFEO.

“Under our legislation we can make referrals to appropriate regulators, where patterns of disputes give to rise to concerns about non-compliance or unlawful conduct. But there is no requirement for a timely investigation and follow-up of these referrals,” Mr Billson said.

“We have been championing the creation of a super-complaints mechanism and this legislation establishes a formal mechanism with a formal response to enhance the current informal arrangement.

“We are often well-placed to know about emerging problems and we take this responsibility seriously.”

Mr Billson said he supported extending the designated-complaints power to other relevant regulators such as the Australian Securities & Investments Commission and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

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