Western Australian subbies and small businesses will have greater protection against mistreatment with the passing of new laws in State Parliament today.
Under the new laws, the Small Business Commissioner has greater powers to investigate improper behaviour such as price gouging and late or non-payments of insurance claims or denial of claims.
The new laws have been put in place to respond to the growing number of insolvencies and payment disputes in the construction industry.
They will also provide an extra layer of protection for small businesses as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the SBDC’s current dispute resolution service, the Commissioner will now have the authority to compel government entities, companies and businesses to provide documents during the course of investigations.
The Commissioner will also be able to shield complainants who lodge complaints from retribution by protecting their identity.
The reforms come into place immediately.
As stated by Small Business Minister Paul Papalia:
“At a time when small businesses confront incredible challenges, the likes of which have never been seen in modern times, it’s more important than ever that we provide greater powers for an authority that supports the little guy.
“These reforms demonstrate the McGowan Government’s continued commitment to supporting subbies and other small businesses.
“In the past, there were many highly publicised cases of insolvencies and disputes over payments owed to small businesses especially in relation to government projects.
“Behind those headlines were the stories of real people with cautionary tales of mismanagement, deceit, intimidation and grief.
“Now the COVID-19 pandemic has made small businesses even more vulnerable.
“The Small Business Commissioner can now conduct inquiries based on industry and inter-agency intelligence and complaints from small businesses.
“A specialised investigations and inquiry unit within the Small Business Development Corporation is now up and running and is aimed at improving corporate and government processes and identifying unfair practices.
“These new powers come after years of advocacy by both myself and the Small Business Commissioner and strengthen the role of the SBDC in maintaining good business relationships throughout WA.”
As stated by Small Business Commissioner David Eaton:
“These reforms support the existing role of the SBDC, which has been offering information and support services to small business owners and operators throughout Western Australia for more than 35 years.
“The SBDC is independent and impartial, so the legislative changes will not alter its service culture nor will it compromise the voluntary nature of its highly successful dispute resolution service that has the support of large and small businesses.
“In the current environment, businesses large and small need to work together to secure cash flow and employment.
“However if that does not occur, then these new tools allow my team to investigate poor behaviour and bring it to the attention of the most appropriate body.
“Once a complaint is lodged, we will seek to validate it through robust investigations before pursuing or rejecting a claim.
“My objective is to establish facts and not target any particular company or industry.
“Ultimately my goal is a fair operating environment for all businesses across Western Australia.”