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Legislative Assembly

27 February 2003
Second Reading


                                 Second reading

  Mr BRUMBY (Treasurer) - I move:
  That this bill be now read a second time.
The  purpose  of  the  bill is  to establish  the office  of the  Small Business
It is with great pride that I introduce this bill into the house, because  it is
a testament to the Bracks government's commitment to small business. It delivers
on  a  major commitment contained  in the government's  small  business election
policy, Growing Small Business: Getting on with the Job.

The Small Business Commissioner is an Australian first. With the passage of this
bill, Victoria's small  and medium businesses  will have ongoing protection from
being taken advantage of due to their size.
The activities of the Small Business Commissioner will be integral to building a
business environment that promotes competitive, innovative and vibrant Victorian
small businesses.
The Bracks government recognises the critical contribution of small business  to
the Victorian  economy.  There are over  270 000 small  businesses  in Victoria,
which  comprise 95 per  cent  of all  businesses.  Small businesses in  Victoria
employ a total of  811 000 people, which represents  43 per cent of the  private
sector work force.

A  supportive  business  and  regulatory environment is essential to encouraging
small businesses to invest and create more jobs.
The government has listened to  the  concerns of many small businesses about the
difficulties  of competing  in a  market in  the face of unfair conduct by their
major competitors.
We  recognise the need for a central point where small business  concerns  about
unfair market practices can be addressed in a timely and low-cost manner.
We have listened to the concerns of  retailers regarding retail leasing  matters
and have introduced a new regulatory framework that promotes certainty and 

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fairness in the relationship between tenants and landlords. We understand the frustrations of small businesses when dealing with a bureaucracy that does not appear to be responsive to their needs. Small businesses should be able to expect a similarly high level of service from government agencies as businesses provide to their customers. The Bracks government has listened to small business and is acting to address their needs. The bill establishes a Small Business Commissioner, who will be dedicated to promoting a fair and competitive market environment for small business. The Small Business Commissioner will encourage the fair treatment of small business in the marketplace, promote informed decision making by small business to minimise disputes, investigate complaints about unfair market practices by other businesses and promote initiatives that ensure that small businesses receive high-quality service from government agencies. The Small Business Commissioner will have the power to investigate breaches of industry codes of conduct that deal with small business concerns. For instance, the bill provides that the Small Business Commissioner will have the power to investigate breaches of the liquor code of conduct, which is currently being developed. The bill provides the Small Business Commissioner with the power to intervene in proceedings under section 8A of the Fair Trading Act 1999, which relates to unconscionable conduct in business transactions. This enables the Small Business Commissioner to run test cases in support of a small business that has been the subject of grossly unfair conduct by another business. The Small Business Commissioner will oversee the introduction and monitoring of small business service charters in all government departments. The functions of the Small Business Commissioner will include ensuring that any proposal to introduce new regulations takes into full account its impact on small and medium-size businesses. Monitoring small business access to government procurement processes will be another function of the Small Business Commissioner. To ensure the integrity of the position, the Small Business Commissioner will be a statutory officer appointed by the Governor in Council and will report to the minister on the impact that unfair market practices and government regulation is having on small business. The Small Business Commissioner is required to submit a report to the minister annually and that report must also be tabled in Parliament. The Small Business Commissioner will be resourced with officers from the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development. In conclusion, the bill is proof that the Bracks government is delivering on its commitment to promote a competitive and fair environment that helps Victorian small businesses to prosper. I commend the bill to the house. Debate adjourned on motion of Ms ASHER (Brighton). Debate adjourned until Thursday, 13 March.