Government boosts contract protection for small business

The Commonwealth Government has announced an extension of the unfair contract protections currently available, a move to further protect the nation’s small businesses from imbalanced agreements brought on by big business.

During a joint doorstep interview, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Small Business Minister Bruce Billson said the Government was determined to level the playing field for small businesses wanting to grow, invest and create jobs.

“Unfair contract terms protections are crucial for small businesses that are foisted on them a take it or leave it contract by a bigger, more powerful business that has in those contracts terms that are completely unfair, unnecessary, that don’t have any purpose in protecting a legitimate interest of the stronger party or seek to only strengthen their powerful position at the expense of small business,” Mr Billson said.

“We made a commitment that we’d extend those protections currently available to consumers to small businesses and that’s exactly what we are doing today; giving unfair contract term protections, familiar to consumers, not previously available to small business, now available to small business. We’ve put to the states and territories our plan. We hope to hear by the middle of next month that all of them are on board and I urge them to get behind this important initiative.”

The Government says small businesses often lack the resources to fight big business enforcement and that the Australian Small Business Commissioner has seen instances of misuse of market power in various industries, including telecommunications, real estate, and retail.

The new protections will see courts given the power to void specific terms within contracts that they deem to be unfair, such as a term enabling a big business to tweak terms during a contract’s course.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is receiving an extra $1.4 million from the Government to ensure businesses comply with the added rules and Bruce Billson has asked state and territory consumer affairs ministers to support the changes.

Mr Billson took the opportunity to reveal other moves, including an upcoming small business tax cut, that the Government was making to boost the country’s small business sector.

“A new jobs and small business package will also be announced over coming weeks. It will include a small business company tax cut on July 1 – at least as big as the 1.5 per cent already flagged,” Mr Billson said.

“This week, the Government held our third Red Tape Repeal Day. To date, we have made decisions to decrease the regulatory cost burden by $2.45 billion, well ahead of our target to reduce red tape by $1 billion each year.”

John Osborn, the ACCI’s Director of Economics and Industry Policy, called the Government’s decision to boost contract protection a “win for small business.”

“Small businesses are the backbone of the economy, and they deserve the same protections against unfair contacts as everyone else,” Mr Osborn said.

“The extended protections will give small businesses greater certainty over their contracts. This will give them more confidence so they can make investments and hire staff.”

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