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Meet NSW’s First Small Business Commissioner

Yasmin King was appointed by the NSW Government as the State’s first independent Small Business Commissioner at the end of August. Her office will report to Small Business Minister Katrina Hodgkinson, putting a female Sydney powerhouse in charge of small business affairs.

Having grown up in small businesses, run her own small businesses (like Hodgkinson) and with a strong background in negotiation, King certainly seems an excellent candidate for the job, assuring me she is empathetic to the frustrations and grass roots challenges of small business owners.

She is an economist by training, and also a Fellow of the CPA. Most recently her professional career has been focused on negotiation. Her last job was as an accredited coach with Scotwork, who train people in negotiation skills. King has extensive experience in leading complex negotiations and providing strategic and business consulting services, particularly in tendering and procurement in the private and public sectors. She is also a former Associate Commissioner for the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC), has worked as the Economics Advisor to the Premier of South Australia, and been a member of a range of boards and committees.

King wanted the role because she had a unique set of experience that seemed a great fit. “I’ve been involved in small business. My family were all in small businesses. Nobody had a job, you made work for yourself. I’m very familiar with the kind of challenges they have. I’ve also run my own small business and I known what it’s like to be up doing the BAS statement at 2am, managing superannuation, WorkCover etc!”

She adds: “I think I can really add some value. I’ve long complained from the sidelines and I thought if you want to actually do something, there’s your opportunity. It was clear to me the State Government was really committed to this, it’s not just window dressing. They’ve recognised the need for something like this in New South Wales.”

So why is the role needed? “There’s been no focus on small business in New South Wales prior to now.” She says. “The fact is we have 650,000 small businesses here and if you could get even half of them to employ one person that’s a huge impact on the economy. To achieve that, it’s not about handing out grants or whatever. It’s more about understanding the environment small businesses are operating in and how we can make it better. That will have a much broader impact.”

She’s not really keen on grants, which small business owners often get very caught up in. “If you’re of the mentality that if you just had a few thousand dollars it would solve all your problems, that’s just not sustainable. I’m not a big supporter of that kind of welfare as I’d call it. There are much more effective ways than just handing out money. If I can make the climate right for small businesses to operate in, that’s better for everybody.” Speaking to the big banks about small business access to finance will be high on the agenda though.

“Work has been done around deregulation at a very high level but I’m interested in the practical, grass roots things. For example, sometimes it might not be a case of changing a regulation, just how it’s administered. I understand how Government works but I also have complete empathy for the challenges small businesses face. Making something faster can have a huge impact on a small business for example, but a bureaucrat might not see that.”

King predicts a lot of the things people will complain to her about will be Federal Government issues she can’t influence. That said, at a State level, she says there are definitely things she can improve. Retail will be a big issue. “There is enormous structural change in retail and some people are still hankering for the old days. It’s a completely different paradigm now and we have a responsibility to help people deal with that change,” she says.

“Advocacy will be a really important part of my role. There are plenty of people out there who just don’t know where to go for help or understand the stricture of Government. It can be very frustrating when you get put through to the seventh person who still can’t help you. A big plus is they can now come to us first. There’s a phone number where you can actually ring and speak to a human being! If we can help then we will tell you and if we can’t then we will guide you.”

A point King laboured on several times was her desire to get Government thinking about “the unintended consequences” of their actions. “Will I be able to fix everything? No. But having someone in the system who can advocate for small business will be a really good thing.”

She said she intends to use social media and her Office’s website is currently being built. Displaying a very forward-thinking attitude, King says she wants that website to be friendly to all formats, whether it’s being viewed on a laptop, tablet of smartphone.

In mid October she will embark on a ‘listening tour’ of regional NSW, getting out there and asking small businesses for their views on a variety of things. “I want to get some real feedback.” And if she’s convinced that certain issues need bringing to the Minister’s attention, she won’t hesitate in raising them.

Roles and responsibilities

The Office of the Small Business Commissioner will:

  • Provide a one-stop-shop for small business complaints about unfair market practices
  • Assist small businesses in their commercial dealings with other businesses
  • Help small business resolve disputes with other businesses
  • Examine complaints by small businesses regarding unfair market practices and arrange mediation
  • Make representations to third parties on behalf of small businesses that have made a complaint
  • Monitor and report to the Minister on any emerging trends in market practices that have an impact on small businesses
  • Review NSW law and regulations to ensure small business is not unnecessarily hampered
  • Work collaboratively with private and public sector agencies to ensure unfair market practice issues that impact small business are addressed
  • Work with other Government agencies to ensure a focus on small-business-friendly market practices; and
  • Promote informed decision-making by small businesses in order to minimise disputes with other businesses.

Contacting the Commissioner

Call 1300 795 534

Email we.assist@smallbusiness.nsw.gov.au

Contact the Commissioner’s office if:

  • Your are a small business and you are experiencing unfair practices against your business
  • You have a dispute with a landlord/tenancy arrangement; another business; Government (including non-compliance with the NSW Government 30 day payment policy for Government agencies)
  • You are burdened with unnecessary ‘red tape’ preventing your business from growing and want someone to advocate on your behalf.

The Office can provide information, guidance and, if necessary, a low-cost dispute resolution service.

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Jen Bishop

Jen Bishop

Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.

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