Sir Peter Cosgrove and Jennifer Westacott interview with Simon Marnie, Weekend Mornings ABC Local Radio

16 February 2020

Simon Marnie, Host: There's a massive movement of demountables on the outskirts of town and they'll be set up just behind the main street to help Mogo rebuild, and two of the people who are sharing this vision are Jennifer Westacott, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, but also a name you'll know very well - General, The Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, AK CVO MC. To both of you, welcome to the Weekend Show.

Sir Peter Cosgrove, BizRebuild Chair: Thank you very much, and Jennifer and I been talking just before we came on air, and this is very important. I hope you don't mind me saying it, but the ABC network, the radio network has played a wonderful role in supporting the community. Not just now in the recovery, but urgently and critically during the unfolding of the bushfire drama, because it was the source of information for people as to stay, to go, to dig in, to evacuate, and I want to say in public that the ABC can be extraordinary proud that not only did you inform people, you saved lives during this national emergency. Well done.

Simon: It means a lot for us, and the people here behind the scenes to hear that. Because Jennifer, I guess with the Business Council, like the ABC, so many organisations, we're just all charging in to ensure recovery?

Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive: Yeah, we have to, because we can't leave these towns without jobs, without people getting wages, without people being able to run their businesses, and that's what we're doing today. We're setting up a kind of pop-up mall, if you will, of the Canadian Company, ATCO's demountables and that'll allow Roman Leather to open, Mogo Mutts to reopen, and that's what keeps towns going. We as Australians, surely, want to make sure that we don't just survive this incident we recover and rebuild, and that's what we're all about.

Simon: Interestingly, on Monday we're going to do a special focus programme from the Bega studios looking at how do we get help from the various organisations, the NGOs, the government, the Insurance Councils, but interestingly, your organisation can tap into not just financial support but in-kind as well?

Jennifer: Oh, absolutely. That's what BizRebuild is about. It's not just the cash that companies have given, which is of course, quite substantial, but it's also, well okay, who can do the trucking, who can do the demountables, who can help with laptops, who can help with tools, so a lot of companies have lost their tools. A couple of weeks ago down here in Bateman's Bay, we gave a company called Beach House Stairs, 12 new toolkits so they could keep their apprentices on. It's all those little things that I think when you say to a big business like Bunnings, when I rang them up and said, "Hey, can you give some toolkits?" They said, "Yeah, sure. We'll be there this afternoon." That's what business can do, and we've got to make sure that we do more of this. Our point is we're in for the long haul here. We've got to rebuild this for quite a few years.

Simon: Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council. I'll go through the logistics of what's actually happening here, but I think of all the places you've been, I saw you when you took the troops off to Timor from the Port of Darwin, the cyclones that you've covered. One thing we know now, is it's all right to come into a community with all these things, but we have to engage with the trades people, and the infrastructure within the community to make it work.

Sir Peter: Absolutely. This has got to be a community led recovery, and that brings us to another important point. The first step in the recovery after the devastating bushfires had subsided in any particular area, were the residents, the business folk, looking at one another and saying, "We're not defeated, we will get through this." Now, our job is to help them do that, and engagement with people, and quick delivery of aid is exactly what we're about, so these teams that we have going up and down through the bushfire ravaged areas, their job is to actually speak to people and deliver aid really quickly.

Simon: I've seen the blue mountains fire, I've seen the floods around Wagga Wagga, and the recovery there. You sir, have seen far more than I, from Cyclone Tracy, Larry, as I mentioned, East Timor. Is there a common story of resilience in the community that you see through all of this?

Sir Peter: There is. Local communities come together more strongly than ever before. The difficulty they have is they've been pushed to the back of the queue, so to speak. While the rest of the nation is relatively unscathed, and getting on with life. You have people who have been pushed back several centuries in terms of amenity and expectation. Our job is to reconnect them back to normal life. This place is a beautiful place, Mogo, where we are today, this is a holiday centre, a beautiful place with great people. At the moment, it's taken a knock, and our job is to help people to get back to where they were, and even better than before.

Simon: You're no stranger to this patch. Are you?

Sir Peter: I'm not. No, I've got a nephew who's a fireman at Ulladulla, and he's been out and about with his community, up and down this stretch of the highway looking to fight fires. I'm looking forward to seeing him at some stage.

Simon: On ABC Radio Sydney and ABC Radio across New South Wales, at 10:15, on this Saturday morning. We're in the main street of Mogo with General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Chair of BizRebuild. Jennifer Westacott, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. So what's actually happening today?

Jennifer: Well, we're bringing ten trucks, the demountables down. There's three already here and there'll be for the Aboriginal Land Council, which was destroyed during the fire, and we'll have a welcoming of the trucks. We're going to have a bit of a community get together, trucks will arrive, and we really want to kind come together and to celebrate that those trucks are here, and that's going to give people some help and get their business up and running. It's great to have Nancy Southern, who is the global head of ATCO, who are providing the demountables. She's here, she'll be on the ground talking to locals, and it's just a great example of the community kind of reaching out, getting their act together. Us saying, "Okay, how can we help?" Then a great company say, "Okay, we can do that," so we'll be celebrating those trucks as they come in and we start getting those demountables up.

Simon: Sir Peter just explain BizRebuild for me?

Sir Peter: Well, it tries to tell a story that without a thriving business community no wider community can actually expect to go on. There has to be commercial activity, people supplying other people's needs. In that sense, we spotted the fact that this was a role for wider business in Australia to get in and rebuild the business operations, so that there were successful, viable, durable, and looking to improve. That's how communities can recover the quickest.

Simon: And it's not just those huge infrastructures like the semi-trailers and the demountables, I believe that there are vouchers for business to see their accounts going?

Jennifer: Yeah, look, we've given out vouchers this week so that people can go to a lawyer, go to their local accountant, get some help. "How do I get back up and running?" And we've got teams on the ground that'll be starting to work with small businesses saying, "Well okay, what do you need over the next few years to really get back on your feet, and to be stronger? Now, how do we tap you into all of the kind of support that you can get?" Some people just need some laptops, they need some stationary, they need some tools. Just some of the really practical things, as well as helping people with what, I guess is technically called the business planning, that's going to say, "Well okay, how do I get my cashflow back? How do I keep employing my staff?" Also, to help them get the very generous government's assistance that's being put out there. Some people don't know how to get it, so we're going to try and help them get it.

Simon: You tap into an area of frustration there, which I've gathered in all my journeys through. In Bilpin for example, an orchardist who leaves school in the year eight, has damage to 370 trees, a million dollars worth of netting, 160 kilometres of fencing, and he says to me, "Not only did I not learn at school how to do these forms, but I just don't simply have the time to do it." What is the message to people like that who are finding that they don't know where to get help?

Sir Peter: We know that the span of the problem isn't confined to just a few things here and there. It is the whole of the person's life when they find themselves in a needy situation. Forms are part of it. We understand that, because I guess some part of it is taxpayers money, and we must be careful to ensure that that's used wisely and there will be some bureaucratic things going on, and we will help with that. Our own delivery of aid though is designed to be rather more targeted, direct, and immediate.

Sir Peter: Now, one of the things that we're very proud of is that we're getting lots of young people from the big cities and big accounting companies, volunteering to come and do that sort of help with business folk in the fire affected communities.

Simon: I guess the Business Council is not just stopping at Mogo, this is a, we all know, recovery is not just a two month, six months procedure?

Jennifer: Look, Simon, we're in this for the long haul. We see this as a five-year initiative. We've got to keep going back to communities because sometimes people will say, "Look I need this," and then two weeks later they'll say, "Actually, you know, I needed this," and then three months, maybe even a year later they'll say, "Look, what I really need..." We've just got to keep working with community so that they don't just rebuild what was there. We rebuild something better, and we make these communities more resilient, economically more resilient, environmentally. We've got a long-term plan here, and Sir Peter has agreed to do this for five years, which is incredibly generous, and one of Australia's great people,but we have to be on the ground and make sure that people don't leave these towns. We'll be going to all these affected areas, and over the next few months trying to deal with those crisis things first, and then the rebuilding process.

Simon: Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia, alongside General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Chair of BizRebuild. Sir Peter, I don't mean to get too tricky about this, but when was East Timor?

Sir Peter: Oh, 21 years ago, I think.

Simon: 21 years ago, I saw you at the Port of Darwin there in your role.

Sir Peter: Yes, that's right, and there was something said at that stage, if memory serves me, that you were going to buy me a beer, and I still haven't got it.

Simon: You seem to remember it the other way round Sir Peter.

Sir Peter: Let's shout each other a beer.

Simon: I'll see you at the Tathra Pub, but for the moment, to both of you, thanks for joining us on the Weekend Show.

Sir Peter: Simon, it's been a pleasure to be with you.

Jennifer: Can I just echo Sir Peter's comments, thanks to the ABC for the incredible work you've done, particularly helping people who are frightened and scared, to turn onto the ABC and know that they can get real time information that's really accurate. So I thank you.

Simon: Thank you. It's great to hear that.


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