Cooperative dispute resolution the preferred choice for small business

Since the introduction of a dedicated business dispute resolution service in 2012, the Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC) has seen an upward trend in small business owners seeking alternatives to court proceedings as a way to solve business to business and business to government disputes.

Small Business Commissioner David Eaton, says the combination of sound business advice and guidance, intensive case management and voluntary mediation has proved highly successful in resolving disputes and getting businesses back on track.

“Feedback from clients who had taken part in mediation during 2014-15 shows 83 per cent saved time and 89 per cent saved money by opting for alternative dispute resolution,” Mr Eaton said.

“Small business owners throughout WA are recognising the benefits of working cooperatively and playing an active part in the dispute resolution process.

“By voluntarily taking control of their dispute and exploring creative solutions, both parties are more inclined to cooperate, reach agreement and finalise the dispute.”

As further recognition of the value of mediation, many commercial contracts now include clauses requiring mediation as a first step in the event of a dispute.

Mr Eaton says there are several reasons why mediation can be the best choice when dealing with business disputes.

“The private nature of mediation and the protection of commercially sensitive information is very important to businesses in dispute,” Mr Eaton said.

“Once a dispute goes to Court, there is a very real possibility that sensitive details could be made public.”
Mr Eaton says the impartiality of the SBDC advisers and independent mediators facilitating workable and durable solutions also makes intensive case management and mediation credible options for many small businesses.

“With a high success rate from our alternative dispute resolution service including an 80 per cent agreement rate following mediation, the results speak for themselves,” Mr Eaton said.

“Where there is a willingness to compromise and work cooperatively to find a solution, disputes are resolved quickly and all parties walk away satisfied with the outcome.”


  • In 2014-15, 490 clients received intensive case management through the SBDC alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service. 
  • 451 cases with an estimated value of $14.6 million (based on client estimation), were finalised this year.
  • Of these 451 cases, 181 referred to commercial tenancy issues.
  • The remainder related to parties in conflict over contractual obligations, non-payment issues and the non-performance or non-supply of business-related goods or services.
  • There has been a recent increase in internal small business disputes within partnerships and companies.
  • The SBDC’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service is also available for regional businesses.