The West

Eaton set to champion minnows
Eaton set to champion minnows

WA's new Small Business Commissioner is a former State manager for Australia Post who cut his teeth in the manufacturing sector during the tariff wars of the 1980s.

The Barnett Government will today announce David Eaton is the State's small business champion - a role born out of the political fistfight over the deregulation of retail trading hours.

The ALP had insisted on the creation of the role of Small Business Commissioner as a quid pro quo for the party's support for new laws allowing shop owners to open their doors until 9pm midweek.

Commerce Minister Simon O'Brien yesterday trumpeted the new position as a win for the minnows of the business community.

"If you are a small business operator and you have a problem, for example, with getting your new retail tenancy contract sorted, or having trouble receiving payment for goods, you do not need to take time to go to lawyers or courts, where sometimes you have to wait 12 or 18 months, that's not real-time stuff for our small business people," Mr O'Brien said.

Mr Eaton, who will head the Small Business Development Commission, will mediate disputes between businesses and between business and government agencies. It is to be a cheaper, quicker and less legalistic way of resolving conflict.

But the position has teeth - businesses will not be able to go to the State Administrative Tribunal without first being heard by Mr Eaton's staff and getting a mediation certificate.

Business owners who refuse to mediate in good faith will have their recalcitrance noted on the certificate - something the SAT will take into consideration during subsequent hearings.

Mr Eaton anticipates an initial surge in retail tenancy disputes, which the ALP predicted would result from a deregulated framework as small traders in shopping complexes were pressured by centre owners to stay open longer.

When a similar position was created in Victoria eight years ago, 94 per cent of the 527 disputes were about retail tenancy, with the remainder about unfair market practices. Last year, the number of disputes rose to 1350.

The West Australian

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