Judge, Jury, or Dispute Resolution Service for Small Business?

BEC Managers and clients, you have the opportunity to contribute towards the development of a very important policy decision being considered by the Gillard Government.

Small Business Minister, Senator Nick Sherry, has released an options paper designed to generate comment on ways to help small businesses resolve disputes. We know this is a topic very dear to the hearts of the small business operators we talk to all the time.

The paper is the result of 2010 research by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) which found around 20 per cent of surveyed small businesses had experienced a dispute with another business in the previous five years.

Senator Sherry has put four options up for discussion:

1. A phone and web-based national information and referral service directing small businesses to available dispute resolution assistance and guiding them through their options.

2. A national dispute resolution service similar to option one, but with an additional mediation offering.

3. A national small business tribunal specifically set up to deal with small business disputes. The tribunal would be both a national network and a one-stop shop for small businesses in dispute.

4. A small business advocate to provide independent representation of small business interests and concerns within the Australian Government.

Your views and those of your clients on these options will be very important in determining how the Minister proceeds. So leave your feedback and we will consolidate and submit it to the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research on behalf of the whole BEC movement.

I encourage you to give us your opinion. We have the opportunity to influence Government thinking on this important issue and to achieve an outcome favorable to the small business owners we support. Let’s make sure our opinions are heard in Canberra!!

Jack Hughes

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14 Responses to “Judge, Jury, or Dispute Resolution Service for Small Business?”

  1. Scott Ballantyne Says:

    In a perfect world, small business owners would have sufficient skills to seek appropriate advice prior to entering contracts, be strong enough to demand security deposits on transactions and would have the financial strength and flexibility to be able to accept a small loss and move forward. Unfortunately we know this is not the case.

    In my humble opinion I think we should explore option 2, with the aim of achieving a speedy and cost effective resolution to small business disputes.

    Dispute resoltion service providers would be known to banks, accountants, advisers etc in order that disputes get resolved early.

  2. John Todd Says:

    Because of Costs I would prefer option 2(have a phone service available, but a mediatator would also be available). People option need basic info only most of the time, but on occassions a face to face interview is required. This could be covered under the Business Enterprise Centres funding utilising the Solicitors vouchers available. This would save on some of the costs involved.

  3. Jack Fraenkel Says:

    I believe strongly that a small business advocate is needed irrespective of this paper. therefore, I would like to see Option 2 implemented AND I’d like Option 4 as well.
    As a Small Business Owner as well as Deputy Chair of ESBEC, I see and work with SME’s and fortunately, after 13 years of business ownership, I rarely get into dispute. However, over my years in Small Business I have run foul of a number of time wasting disputes the Option 2 would/could deal with very effectively.

  4. Tony Watts Says:

    Given the prevalence of B2B disputes, and the tangible and intangible costs to business operators, I think both 3 & 4 are the ideal fully-costed options. These together would cover all the bases as far as I can see. To disregard them on a cost basis before the benefit is assessed would be a mistake. On balance I think they would complement the current programs of Small Business Support well.

  5. Evan MacRae Says:

    I think number two has a high degree of merit. Qualify the problem quickly throught the telpephone and web service and refer as required. When SME is placed under pressure they need to speak with someone immediately. There is enough pressure on them out there at the moment.

  6. Bruce Buchanan Says:

    Because of vast distances in regional areas and Costs associated I would prefer option 2 but agree with John Todd that a mediatator would also be available. When it comes to disputes information on a potal does to not cut it. face-to-face is the most effective and personable way of resolution. The BEC already handles minor dispute resolutions mostly between tenants and landlords or suppliers and I have found that sitting down togehter people will be more civial, less options for people to infer or misinterperet email and far more amicable and professional manner.

  7. michelle kolk Says:

    I’m in the same opinion as Tony watts. Options 3&4, a fully cost funded resolution service should be made available. I like the set up the Building Disputes we have here in WA and ALL sides would benefit from an independent hearing and mediation, based on the relevant Retail Acts involved. With the BEC ideal to cover one on one mediation before going to the tribunal.
    However, each state is different so a Federal Commissioner would be ideal.

  8. Marty Frame Says:

    I Agree with Tony Watts. ” I think both 3 & 4 are the ideal fully-costed options. These together would cover all the bases as far as I can see. To disregard them on a cost basis before the benefit is assessed would be a mistake. On balance I think they would complement the current programs of Small Business Support well.” Especially 4 as a miniumum to support the backbone of our economy.

  9. Roger Joyner Says:

    ‘Tea or coffee sir’ dosen’t deter the thinking person from requesting another option. Senator Sherry might like me to choose one option but he has to have another think comming.
    Disputes will range right across the board and best solutions will be met by differing outcomes. Going overboard on one will not resolve some issues or be too cumbersome for others.

    Online information is easily available to all once set up and will set the guide for most routes to resolution (Perhaps added to the BEC sites). With a simple case contact point to confirm appropriateness of action 1 and 2 should cover most occurrences without undue delay, cost or lost time.

    However the system would be letting down those with serious disputes that could provide the direction to legislators for future reforms if left under the radar in a self help system and would certianly not produce best outcomes for those involved. 3 clearly has relevence in csome cases and precident may improve outcomes for many down the track.

    It would be a very poor show if 4 were to be left out of the equation and is an essential ingredient to any democratic system of governance.

    So in responce to Nick’s ‘Tea or coffee sir’. I’ll be saying, “NO! I’d like to see the menu” and “I’ll have everything please”.
    BUT! Remenber to KISS, sift out the simple stuff with self help info or a ‘chat over coffee’ and only make a meal of the hard stuff.
    It has to be horses for courses, not one size fits all!

  10. Diana Foster Says:

    As a small B&B owner / operator prefer option 3 & 4, possibly2 but definately not 1. An approach orientated to small business, with representation &/ormediator.

  11. Alison Carroll-Jung Says:

    I have to agree with Tony Watts, Marty Frame and Michelle Kolk. Certainly works for the majority. It’s not about the cost it about the benefits and value.

  12. Rod Richards Says:

    One size or option never suits all. If data indicated a regular or particular high occurance type of dispute then the process and mechanism of dealing with those disputes could be best developed.
    An important consideration is the dollar amount in dispute where a 50k dispute process may require a differnt resolution approach to 5k disagreement
    The other consideration in dispute resolution is prevention being better than cure. Upskilling busines operators to ensure Invoices, Delivery Documention and the actual Transaction process are defined, clear and tight reduces openings for dispute.
    We have building industry clients who supply to Construction companies and have successully and fully resolved non payments
    for 30k using the BSA style resolution process.
    Small business would benefit from a similar process or entity with teeth and credability that was as much a deterent as a resolver

  13. Belmont BEC Says:

    A national dispute resolution process is needed. The concept of a one-stop shop works well from our experience, so our support is for Option 3 provided it
    incorporates a mediation service. Option 4 is also supported to give
    small business issues a higher priority to government.

  14. Wayne Gates Says:

    Small business in times of dispute need face to face assitance as it very often is an emotional as well as financial burden. Independance is essential and after discussions we wish to endorse options 3 as the priority and 4 when it is related to issues of Government policy.

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