According to Queensland’s Minister for Employment and Small Business, Shannon Fentiman, the new small business commissioner will be appointed until the end of 2020 to provide “much-needed dispute resolution support during this crucial time”.
Queensland has been the only state without a small business commissioner to date.
The role will be temporarily filled by the part-time Small Business Champion Maree Adshead, who has been responsible for promoting and protecting the sector since taking up the role in 2017, until a permanent appointment is found.
Ms Fentiman commented: “Our thousands of small businesses are struggling due to the COVID-19 crisis, and now more than ever they need assistance.
“We know that dispute resolution can come at a significant cost for small-business owners in terms of legal services, time away from their business, lost productivity and income, as well as additional expenses and stress.”
“The commissioner’s role will meet the needs of small business and provide them with valuable advice and assistance in relation to resolving disputes.
“Establishing a single point of contact for small businesses handling leasing disputes will result in time, money and resource savings for business owners and government.”
Ms Fentiman added that the new commissioner will assist with Queensland’s implementation of the National Cabinet Mandatory Code of Conduct - SME Leasing Principles during COVID-19.
“During this time of crisis, the recovery of the vital small-business sector needs a full-time role with increased powers,” she said.
“We know it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term effects on the Queensland economy and the small-business community.
“We need to provide the business community with as much support as possible as soon as possible.”
Work on establishing the office of the Queensland Small Business Commissioner will begin as soon as the legislative amendments are passed, she added.
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), Kate Carnell, has welcomed the news.
Noting that Ms Adshead will be filling the role in the interim, Ms Carnell said: “Maree has done fantastic work as the Queensland Small Business Champion, and she’s certainly the right person for this important job.
“Many small businesses are reaching out for assistance with disputes over commercial lease arrangements because of the financial hardship they are experiencing during this difficult time.
“By creating this role, small businesses in Queensland will have the support they need to negotiate a fair outcome with their landlord, under the guidance of the Mandatory Commercial Tenancy Code of Conduct.
“It’s vital, especially in this time of crisis, there is a full-time small business commissioner with the necessary powers to meet the needs of small businesses.”
The ASBFEO continued: “Alternative dispute resolution is far more cost-effective, time and resource-saving for small businesses than the court system, so I would encourage Queensland small businesses to access these free services if they need to.
“While this small business commissioner role is only temporarily in place for the remainder of the year, my office believes there is good reason to make this an ongoing service to the small business community in Queensland.
“In the meantime, we congratulate Maree Adshead on taking this role in the interim.”
Government bodies on both a state and federal level have been keenly focused on supporting small businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, with the Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announcing yesterday (23 April) that the major banks will be prioritising bridging finance applications from businesses awaiting JobKeeper payments.
The Treasurer outlined that the banks have now “agreed to set up a dedicated hotline for their customers to call and receive the bridging finance necessary to pay their staff ahead of receiving that money from the JobKeeper program”.
“Importantly, they have also agreed to expedite the processing of all of those applications to the front of the queue,” he revealed.
The Treasurer concluded: “If you are a business or a not-for-profit operation eligible for the JobKeeper payment, as required, you need to pay your staff ahead of receiving the money from the tax office.
“Go to your bank, ring their hotline, ask for that support, and that support will be forthcoming.”
While the hotline has been announced, when contacted by Mortgage Business for further information, none of the major banks were able to yet comment on what this hotline number is nor provide further details on the hotline.
Annie Kane is the editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business.
As well as writing about the Australian broking industry, the mortgage market, financial regulation, fintechs and the wider lending landscape – Annie is also the host of the Elite Broker and In Focus podcasts and The Adviser Live webcasts.