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Access to Justice Inquiry

Small business owners experience a power imbalance in their dealings with big business and government. This can stop them from pursuing the court system because of the cost, time and resources. On 4 December 2017, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman launched a two-part inquiry into access to justice for small business.

Phase I

Phase I examined the nature and incidence of disputes, actions taken by small business when faced with a dispute and the factors that influence whether a small business continues to seek resolution of, or abandoned, a dispute. More than 1,600 small businesses across Australia were surveyed.

The Access to Justice: Where do small businesses go? research report found:

  • the average cost to resolve a dispute through formal pathways is over $130,000; double of that a decade ago
  • payment times and terms remain the biggest cause of disputes
  • time and cost are the most significant factors when determining how far to pursue resolution of a dispute
  • 22% of small businesses surveyed were involved in a serious dispute in the last five years
  • 62% sought legal advice either from a lawyer or another legal service
  • when escalated through a formal process, half of small business owners considered the amount of time and effort required was unreasonable.


Access to Justice: Where do small businesses go? report (PDF 3MB)

Terms of Reference (PDF 18KB)

Media announcement


Phase II

Phase II will look at the formal and informal pathways, our court system, explore emerging ideas for streamlining processes and make recommendations to improve access to justice for small business owners.

The final report of the Access to Justice Inquiry will be provided to the Minister upon completion.


Terms of Reference (PDF 348KB)