02/02/2016 6:08 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Ex-Pharmacist And ACT Chief Minister Appointed As First Small Business Ombudsman

Andrew Meares

Australian small businesses will have a dedicated advocate and go-to point for dispute resolution following the appointment of Kate Carnell AO as the country’s inaugural Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

In making the announcement in Canberra yesterday, Small Business Minister Kelly Dwyer said the new position would reduce the risk of expensive legal cases for small business in the event of disputes.

“The Small Business Ombudsman will be able to make sure that where there are disputes, those disputes can be resolved without costly litigation,” she said.

“So often, we hear from small businesses that when they have a dispute, often with a bigger business, they feel completely disempowered by that, and they don’t have the funds or capacity to take it to court.

“With our Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, we have someone who can ensure that those disputes are resolved without costly litigation and we can make sure there is a fair go for small business.”

O’Dwyer stressed that Carnell was the perfect choice for the job, which she would start on March 11 on a five-year term, because of her experience running her own pharmacy for 15 years, and her roles as beyondblue chief executive, with the Australian Food and Grocery Council and the Australian General Practice Network as well as her role as Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive since 2014, which represents more than 300,000 Australian businesses.

“She knows what small business is about and is absolutely the right person for the job,” O’Dwyer said.

Aside from dispute resolution, the ombudsman role will also involve advocating for small business at a Commonwealth level and helping to develop federal laws and regulations.

O’Dwyer said Carnell, who was the ACT’s Chief Minister for five years, was more than equipped to wrangle legislative issues.

“She will be a critical advocate for small business,” O’Dwyer told the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann. “We have given her additional resources to be able to be someone who can handle the disputes and complaints that small business make without having to resort to costly litigation.

“She'll also be somebody who makes sure that Commonwealth laws and regulations -- and some state laws and regulations -- make sure that they're not providing a disadvantage for small business but in fact providing the right settings for small business to not only survive but thrive.”

Described politically as a moderate Liberal, Carnell has openly shown support for slashing weekend penalty rates for workers.

Small business owners will now have a dedicated go-to point for dispute resolution.

O’Dwyer said the move to create the ombudsman position reflected how important small businesses were to the Australian economy.

“Today's appointment is a major win for small business owners who will have access to advice and support, and an independent advocate to ensure the Government creates the right conditions for small businesses to grow,” she said.

“The Government acknowledges small businesses make a substantial contribution to Australia's economy with over two million small businesses generating around a third of economic output.”

Industry groups and chief executives have reacted favourably to the announcement.

Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong said it was a huge victory for small business.

“We have been calling for an Ombudsman for our sector since 1977 when our association was first formed by concerned small business supporters," he said. “Kate Carnell is a great selection and will help develop laws that specifically help and not hinder small business.”

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said Carnell’s appointment was an excellent choice.

“Kate is a staunch supporter of small business, with a wealth of experience,” Zimmerman said.

“Kate has done a fantastic job over the last couple of years in her role as CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and we look forward to continuing our relationship with her as Small Business Ombudsman.”

MYOB chief executive Tim Reed also welcomed the appointment.

“This is a significant endorsement by the Turnbull Government to the importance of small business to the Australian economy. It’s great to see the Government smoothing the way for SMEs, in particularly when it comes to dispute resolution.

“We look forward seeing small businesses and family enterprises empowered by the presence of a Commonwealth advocate with the ability to influence changes to Commonwealth laws and regulations.”