Inquiry launched into fairness of SMEs' access to legal justice

By Addie Thomes

Australia’s Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman has launched a review into how SMEs access justice.

Kate Carnell is looking into what is being described as a power imbalance in how smaller enterprises and big business and government interact. The report and resultant policy suggestions are due to be published by the middle of next year.

Carnell said: “Consumer protections don’t always apply to small businesses, who have limited options in seeking resolution. There are mediation services provided by my office and state Small Business Commissions, but if the dispute can’t be mediated it starts to get expensive.

“The current legal system puts small business in no man’s land. The court system is expensive and takes a lot of time. If there are two things that small business operators don’t have it’s time and money.”


Carnell said the federal government’s new one-stop shop to deal with banking disputes, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), was a positive step. However, the AFCA is an industry-funded scheme and won’t be able to deal with non-financial matters, the Ombudsman added.

The first step of the review process will see Carnell taking feedback from academics and legal experts, before moving on to survey small businesses.  

She commented: ““I’m particularly interested to learn more about overseas experiences. If there are practical models elsewhere that work we’d like to evaluate them for potential application in Australia.”


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