Exclusive Interview: WA Small Business Commissioner; David Eaton

Australian Dispute Resolution service for small businesses in WA

David eaton, WA Small Business Commissioner


Exclusive Interview with WA Business Commissioner; David Eaton

By Zeeshan Pasha

A must read interview if you operating a small business in WA

David, thank you for your time.  I am sure the past four months in this role have been exciting and challenging in many ways. Please give us an insight into your role and the journey so far.

Since becoming Small Business Commissioner mid-January, my first priority was to deliver an effective and affordable Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service for small businesses in WA. This service came on stream on 26 March and has been very well received. With the ADR service now in operation, I have turned my attention to meeting with small business stakeholders and listening to their successes and concerns. During April and May I travelled to the Great Southern, Mid-West, Goldfields and South West regions where I had the opportunity to meet with many small business operators and key stakeholders from WA’s regional small business sector.

SME Challenges

Would you say that the challenges being faced by small business operators now are similar to when you operated your business a few years ago?

While technology has certainly evolved and given the small business operator of today better equipment to work with, the basics of running a business remain the same.

Understanding your customers and providing them with value and service, finding and keeping good staff, understanding your financials and keeping an eye on cash flow and of course when signing contracts or leases, ensuring you understand what you are signing, as well as the long term implications, are all still very important.

Main focus

What would you say is your primary focus as a Small Business Commissioner in WA?

As Western Australia’s first Small Business Commissioner, I have a number of areas of focus which promote a competitive and fair operating environment for small business. There are several elements to this including:

  • Investigating complaints about unfair market practices affecting small businesses; and
  • Providing a new Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service for small businesses

I am also the CEO of the Small Business Development Corporation, a major provider of information and advice to small business operators in WA. In this role my focus is to ensure that we are providing relevant information and support services for the small business sector, as well as representing the interests of small business to governments at all levels.



What sort of issues can business owners bring to your attention when they need help?

Through the ADR Service, business to business disputes, business to government disputes and retail tenancy disputes are all brought to my attention, but in my role as CEO of the SBDC, a broad range of issues come my way.  The SBDC advisory team can provide assistance and guidance on many business areas from cashflow and business planning to franchising and leasing.  They can assist small business operators at all stages of business development, with specialist advice and guidance.

Accessing the services

A business owner wanting to access the Alternative Dispute Resolution Service could be concerned about how the process works and the amount of time and resources it could take. Could you please explain how the ADR Service works?

The first phase of the ADR service involves the business operator contacting us on 131 249. Through this first point of contact, one of my advisors would help to clarify what the issues are, clarify for them their rights and responsibilities and then give advice on methods by which the operator could resolve the dispute themselves . The advisor may, in some cases, contact the other party to find out the same information, with the aim of assisting the parties to resolve the matter.

If unsuccessful, the process moves to formal mediation where the two parties are asked to meet with an independent mediator to attempt to negotiate a workable outcome. Mediation is subsidised by the State Government through the SBDC and costs $125 for each party involved.  It is the only cost involved in the entire process and it is anticipated that most disputes will be resolved with one mediation session to achieve an outcome. If mediation is unsuccessful, the parties will then have the voluntary option of taking the matter forward to the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT).


How can small business operators provide feedback and request help with other challenges they face?

Small business operators can contact us by emailing info@smallbusiness.wa.gov.au or by calling 131 249 and speaking with a business advisor.

Our Ready Response Network is also a great opportunity for small business operators to voice their opinion on small business issues that may affect them. It’s confidential, involves answering questions on typical business issues and is conducted regularly by email. To join the Ready Response Network, send an email to readyresponse@smallbusiness.wa.gov.au with ‘subscribe me’ in the subject line.

Dispute Resolution

Could you give the readers your Top 5 tips on dispute resolution before contacting SBDC?

If a small business operator can settle the dispute themselves, they will have control over the outcome. Before contacting us for assistance to resolve a dispute, they should consider the following tips:

  1. 1.       Think about what you want to say and achieve before you speak with the other party and make some notes.
  2. 2.       Find out about your rights and obligations. It might help you reach a settlement if you know your entitlements and your responsibilities.
  3. 3.       Make a list of possible solutions to the dispute to discuss with the other party. Be realistic.
  4. 4.       Try to understand the position of the other party from their point of view.
  5. 5.       Speak with the other party – listen carefully to what they have to say. You will often find that the distance between your positions is not as great as it may have initially appeared.

If they are unsuccessful at resolving the dispute themselves, they can contact the SBDC advisory team on 131 249 for assistance.

What are some popular SBDC services currently being used by small businesses?

SBDC provides workshops including Biz Basics and Succeeding Online, and other services that are relevant to Western Australia’s small business sector.

The Biz Basics workshop is a fantastic resource for people who are thinking of going into business for themselves but are not sure where to start.   It is a free two-hour workshop, run weekly, which gives an overview of how to start and run your own business.
The Succeeding Online workshop is very relevant in today’s digitally advanced environment and is a beginner’s guide to the online medium. This two-hour workshop is presented by an SBDC specialist business advisor and covers the topics of online marketing, search engine optimisation, creating a website, social media and email marketing .

The SBDC also produces a number of free booklets and business briefs which provide small business operators with current information about starting and running a small business. These publications are located in our Business Information Centre at Level 2, 140 William Street, Perth.


Any words of wisdom for small business operators in Perth?   

In Western Australia, we are fortunate to be enjoying a stable economic environment that is strong against challenging global conditions. Small business makes an enormous contribution to the State’s economic wellbeing and to the high standard of living we enjoy.

My advice for potential small business operators is to ensure they access all the information and assistance available to them, prior to making a long term financial commitment. Running a business is not a nine-to-five job and while it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, it can be a very worthwhile experience, providing a rich and rewarding lifestyle.

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