POSITIVE POLICY

Small Business Ombudsman – Access to Justice

Small business owners and operators want an even playing field when they are competing in the market place. Feedback and surveys consistently show this is amongst the leading concerns of small businesses.

Anti-competitive behaviour damages the economy, jobs and future growth.

Small businesses know this better than most. A new idea to provide goods and services can disrupt a market, competing against established businesses. The constant change driven by small and growing businesses across Australia is one of the most important factors for productivity and growth. Research shows young, small businesses are one of the most important drivers of new net jobs in the labour market.

Small businesses play a central role in the economy. Over 2 million businesses – sole traders, partnerships, trusts and small employers – have helped underpin 25 years of economic growth. Practical support for competition policy is a priority for Labor.

Labor will ensure a more even playing field for private litigants, so that small businesses and their industry representatives can better use existing legislation to prove the abuse of competition under Part IV of the Competition and Consumer Act.

At an early stage of the court case, the private litigant will be able to request a ‘no adverse cost order’, preventing large legal fees of the defendant being transferred to the litigant. The judge will then weigh up the initial arguments and decide whether there is merit to the case. If merit is established, any liability for the defendant’s legal fees will be waived.

To assist in this process, a Labor Government will fund the Small Business Ombudsman to provide an initial assessment on whether a private litigant is likely to be granted a no adverse cost order. The representatives of small business private litigants will be able to submit their proposal to the Ombudsman and receive a professional opinion on the likelihood of success. While this will not be legally binding, the Ombudsman will assist small businesses better understand their prospects of successful action under the Competition and Consumer Act.

Further information is available here.