Creating Independent Advocates for Entrepreneurs within Government: Some Reflection on the Small Business Commissioner Model
Journal of Enterprising Culture, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 299-309, 2008
Posted: 8 Dec 2009
Date Written: September 2008
This paper provides a critical overview of a recent attempt to create an independent statutory "voice" for small enterprises within the formal government bureaucracy in one Australian jurisdiction. It discusses the creation and eighteen months of activity of the Small Business Commissioner of the Australian Capital Territory.
In 2003 the ACT government foreshadowed that, as part of its strategy to create the most small-business-friendly location in Australia, it would establish a Small Business Commissioner as a statutory appointment. The Legislative Assembly passed the Small Business Commissioner Act in 2004 and activity began in March 2005.
The key activities of the Commissioner have been to examine small business complaints about ACT government agencies; to promote the use of mediation and/or other alternative dispute resolution tools for the settlement of disputes between small enterprises and other businesses; to provide independent advice to the Territory government about laws, regulations and policies that may affect small firms; to oversee the introduction of small business service charters within government agencies; and to establish a more "business friendly" service culture within ACT government agencies.
On one hand, it is clear that a Commissioner role has a potentially significant strategic importance for small and medium-sized enterprises, principally through the provision of independent commentary, pushing for red tape and regulatory reduction, and by providing mediation services and investigative functions. However, there are also some current problems with the role. These include potential overlap with other regulatory and investigative bodies; lack of formal compulsive powers; its dependence on political support for its effectiveness; insufficient resources; and the nature of the relationship it has with other government entities.
Keywords: Australia, Canberra, Australian capital territory, entrepreneurship, small business, public policy, service charters, mediation, Ombudsman, small business commissioner, advocate, SME, envoy
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