The federal government has announced the appointment of ACCI CEO Kate Carnell as the inaugural Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, a decision welcomed by business organisation stakeholders including even ACCI’s competitor organisation COSBOA.
However, while the motives behind the creation of the new position may be noble, it is another example of the uncontrollable growth of government.
Many States already have small businesses commissioners, following the lead of Victoria in 2003, who started largely as statutory officials that oversee a low cost dispute resolution service for that state’s small businesses.
But when in 2012 the Gillard government decided to create a new national Small Business Commissioner, it led with an advocacy and information role. This was something further built on by the Abbott government’s small business minister Bruce Billson in 2014, who wanted a more powerful Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. This is now backed by legislation, to enable the Ombudsman to act as an advocate for small and family businesses, provide feedback on Commonwealth small business laws and regulations, and provide assistance on dispute resolution.
So what started in Victoria is 2003 as a voluntary mediation service for small businesses has become another government bureaucrat, but one that dangerously mixes regulatory, advocacy and quasi-judicial powers and further confuses the distinction between the public and private sectors.
It is the responsibility of the private sector to tell a government what the private sector wants. In turn, if a government wants to consult with businesses, then it should go and talk to them, rather than just take a lift downstairs.
Co-opting whole sectors to be part of the organs of state blurs the line between public and private interests. Why should taxpayers pay for what businesses should pay for themselves?