Australia may not have a bank that caters to small business like the UK but for the first time we will have a commissioner/ minister whose responsibility is to focus on the needs for small business owners. In this post GFC era where every country needs to create jobs, enable governments to collect more taxes and help provide a more competitive economy, small business is a key source for achieving these needs.
Meet Australia’s first small business commissioner: He wants SMEs to work smarter not harder
The Federal Government has named former Victorian small business commissioner Mark Brennan as the country’s inaugural federal Small Business Commissioner, saying his experience in building the first state-based role of this kind will help create a similar role at the national level.
Brennan told SmartCompany in a face-to-face meeting this morning he’ll be bringing a significant amount of experience from his time as the Victorian commissioner – along with a strong emphasis on alternative dispute resolution and advocating for businesses to “lift their game”.
“Every participant in the business community needs to look at the way it conducts business,” he said.
The appointment comes after months of speculation, with the government having announced the role earlier this year. It will be the first role of its kind, as small business commissioners have only existed at the state level until now.
Asked about the upcoming and as-yet undefined role, Brennan said he sees his position as one to “instil the virtues of dispute resolution”.
“I see the role as being an advocate for small business. And not just advocating to government, but to business about what they can do to improve the business environment.”
“If we see small businesses and big business working together, you’ll find the incidence of things like disputes will decrease.”
Brennan became the first commissioner in 2003, and served in the role for seven years. He’s now working on the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.
Federal Small Business Minister Brendan O’Connor said the experience Brennan gained in that role gives him a good framework on which to build an entirely new role at the national level.
Brennan says he doesn’t want to be “too prescriptive” about the role, considering it starts on January 2 and he’s currently finishing up his current position, but he has already set some goals for his first few months in the job.
“One of the key things I’ll be looking at is identifying key stakeholders,” he says. “That will be identifying representatives of small business, and also looking to consult with big business as well.”
“I’ve found in the Victorian role it’s important to find the way big business operators work. Because small business is so downstream from big business, and yet they need each other to get a good understanding of the business environment by consulting with both groups.”
Brennan also says he’ll be taking a leaf from his time as Victorian commissioner, pointing to his 80% success rate in commercial disputes. That’s higher than the international standard of 60%, he says.
“That was an outstanding success,” he says. “And while I won’t have a specific dispute function, I will have a representative role.”
Brennan says he wants to see small business “avail themselves to alternative dispute resolution”.
That includes conducting business in a competent fashion, Brennan says, which is something he believes businesses avoid investigating within their own walls. While he said cashflow may be the biggest problem facing small businesses, he also believes “management competency” may be the second biggest.
“There’s no doubt about work ethic, and you find people are prepared to work over 100 hours a week. But they wonder why their business isn’t going well, because they’re not working very smart.”
“Sometimes, they’ll often point the finger at government about red tape. But red tape can be outside of government as well…and they put it all together as being red tape.”
While Brennan was quick to point out the role hasn’t been created yet and his approach is still being formulated, he did say he wouldn’t necessarily like to be seen as a public figure. Asked whether he’d prefer to work behind the scenes or be out in the open, he said “I want to be seen as an effective figure”.
“But my natural inclination is not to be out there, in your face. I prefer to help people get to where they want to get. Results should speak for themselves rather than the office being out there.”
O’Connor also mentioned the fact Brennan knows all the state commissioners will be a big tick in his favour, especially as the national role won’t have a dispute resolution service.
“I believe Mark will be seen as a very significant leader in this field because of his history, and certainly bring together the other commissioners.”
The test in the success of the office, O’Connor says, will be the speed at which the government responds to the commissioner’s recommendations.