Michael Schaper, the champion of small business, to step down

The Australian, September 23, 2017

Most regulators tell you what you can’t do but retiring ACCC commissioner Michael Schaper prefers to tell small business what it can do and, more to the point, what its rights are under the law.

He steps down next year after nine years as the designated Small Business Commissioner.

For many, the concept of a sector-specific commissioner at the ACCC is an anathema because it is meant to be an economy-wide regulator promoting competition.

The 2015 Harper review ­recommended abolishing the post and argued for commissioners to be part-time, but the government ignored the recommendations in its response.

Not surprisingly, Schaper firmly believes in the role and argues Australia’s 2.1 million small business need a voice in government.

Over his time at the ACCC that is exactly what it has had.

There is more interaction between the ACCC and other federal regulators like ASIC, the tax office, Fair Work Australia and Ombusman Kate Carnell to make sure small business is considered in decisions. Four states now have small business commissioners.

The sector is a moving beast with 300,000 going out of business every year and 15 per cent either starting up or ceasing every year. Some two-thirds of the sector are so-called microbusinesses that employ five people or less and often based at home.

There are only 7000 businesses that employ more than 200 staff.

All of which makes the sector vulnerable under the law, but more specifically to digital disruption with many riding the wave, like part-time Uber drivers, only to lose on the next wave.

Schaper is happy with the new abuse of market power provisions in section 46, the extension of unfair contact provisions to small business and the legal backbone to the franchise code.

The key now is to use the law as the ACCC is doing already in unfair contracts with its actions against JJ Richards and Servcorp.

The government is canvassing for a replacement. Potential candidates include Australian Unity director and Harper Committee member Sue McLuskey, Victorian Small Business Commissioner Geoff Brown and University of NSW professor Jenny Buchan.

Having helped put small business on the government agenda Schaper is considering his options for his next job.