30 March 2023

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson has launched an Inquiry to examine the impact of reforms to Commonwealth procurement rules on small business.

The Inquiry was referred to the Ombudsman by the Minister for Finance, Katy Gallagher.

In 2021-22, the Australian Government awarded $80.8 billion in procurement contracts, of which 30.8% or just under $25 billion by value, was awarded to small and medium sized enterprises.

“It’s great to see the Australian Government’s commitment to be a bigger customer for small businesses,” Mr Billson said.

“But for many small and family businesses, identifying and securing Commonwealth procurement contracts can be complex, costly, confusing and time-consuming.

“Supporting the opportunity for small and family businesses to compete for and fully participate in supplying the goods and services the Australian Government needs helps to ensure full value for money, vitality in the economy, support for local businesses to scale and can enable innovation.

“Where there are procurement impediments, it can diminish opportunities to encourage entrepreneurship and competition and means the taxpayer and the nation may not be getting the most value for money.

“It is timely to examine how the system is working for small and family businesses, the role procurement rules are playing to support small business participation and what lessons and improvements can be made.

“We want to identify those departments and agencies who are exemplars in providing procurement opportunities to small businesses and celebrate this success and help others to emulate it.

“Similarly, we seek to shine a light on those whose dealings with small business are poor.”

The Ombudsman will review the implementation of the 1 July 2022 changes to Commonwealth procurement, and the impact these changes have had on small businesses that participate in Commonwealth procurement activities.

The Ombudsman intends to release an issues paper and invites written submissions from small businesses and other interested parties which should be sent to inquiries@asbfeo.gov.au by 1 July 2023.

A final report with recommendations will be given to the Australian Government in December.

Mr Billson said the review will seek to identify additional changes to Commonwealth procurement rules and processes to boost small business participation.

The review will also examine the effectiveness of AusTender, the Commonwealth Contracting Suite, methods for identifying small businesses, and other measures to enable small businesses to join together to bid for larger and multi-faceted contracts and how accessible rolling short-listed provider ‘panels’ are for smaller businesses.

Mr Billson said a particular concern frequently raised by small businesses was how to know about, and tender for, government contracts.

“We want to look at what support is given to small businesses to navigate what can be a complicated procurement process,” he said.

“In some cases, small businesses are deterred by a feeling there is a ‘closed shop’ while in other cases they simply don’t know about the opportunities available, or the size of the contract can be simply too big.

Mr Billson said he particularly wanted to determine whether capacity-building contracts were being offered that would enable smaller businesses to really benefit from the contracts to grow their business.

Terms of Reference.

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