Sir Peter Cosgrove interview on 3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell

Event: Sir Peter Cosgrove interview on 3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell

Speaker: Sir Peter Cosgrove, BizRebuild; Neil Mitchell, Host

Date: 25 February 2020

Neil Mitchell, host: Now Sir Peter Cosgrove, former Governor General, former head of defence, is now chair of a group called BizRebuild, started by the Business Council to assist businesses rebuilding in affected areas. And we've been trying to run here, a little campaign and get people to visit these areas as tourists. He's on the line now, Sir Peter good morning.

Sir Peter Cosgrove, BizRebuild Chair: G'day, how are you Neil?

Neil: I'm well, thank you for your time. What are your people saying? What is happening on the ground at the moment?

Sir Peter: Well, I termed it a little earlier as a race, there's a race make sure that small businesses in particular that are dotted around in the bushfire affected communities don't get to that point of marginality or even despair, where they just shut up shop, draw stumps and go somewhere else to live or just quit their idea of business. If that happens small communities start to fragment and no longer have that sort of viable cohesion to be there as a beautiful little place.

Neil: Is that happening?

Sir Peter: Well, in some cases I’m getting told that people are just shutting up shop and saying, "that's it." We want to get there first, if we can, before that event and help them out. We give them, actually we give them money. We give them vouchers to spend in their local community. The vouchers are there for them to rehabilitate their business. It might be that they go to an accountant, it might be that they go to a lawyer, it might be that they buy new tools, it might be that they re-equip some the part of their operation. So we are in there, in a race against what I might call the onset of despair on behalf of the small businesses in the bushfire damaged areas.

Neil: And what do you mean by disaster fatigue?

Sir Peter: I think the wider community is, as I heard you say in the preamble, exercised mightily when they see the terrible thing has just occurred, in this case bushfires but might be a cyclone or floods. But after a while they say, "oh look, change the channel, you know, is there another program? I want to watch a quiz show." We move on. It's human nature and unfortunately the recovery effort needs to be long haul because we think these most recent bushfires, in those settlements, it'll be five years or so before they can take a deep breath and say, "we're back in business."

Neil: Well, obviously through BizRebuild, you're committed to that. Is there sufficient support going in from government levels? Because I remember having, I think I even had the discussion with the Prime Minister, it's a long term thing. Is there enough support going in?

Sir Peter: I think there is. I mean, there's a caucus of money that could make your eyes water, there's a huge amount of money washing around but necessarily when you're dealing with taxpayers' money you've got to have some level of accountability, that you're not just throwing handfuls of cash out the windows. So, there has to be some process. What we're doing though is, because we realise that there's an immediate vulnerability, we're visiting on the ground. We're using the chambers of commerce and the local government people who know what's happening in their area to help us to know this is a business that's reputable but very shaky at the moment, so please help them. We're doing that by having almost cash in the back pocket. We use a voucher scheme, we've spent, well we're spending a lot of money, six figures on vouchers. Typically a $500 voucher, which is, we have some proofs we need that it's being spent on what we hope will be good for the business but people haven't let us down. They've done the right thing and we're able to do that on the spot.

Neil: Any idea how many businesses you've helped?

Sir Peter: Yeah, I've got a list but this list is only accurate as of this morning. We've been to businesses in Marimbula, all up and down the Eden area. Here we go – Whiters’ Butchery, Eden Antiques and Wares, Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre, Eden Gas and Gear, Pickles Fishing and Outdoors, Finny’s by the Wharf Cafe and the Heritage House Motel. But at the moment we're at Cobargo, Bega, Mallacoota and Lakes Entrance so that list will grow.

Neil: You were quoted as saying, not so much in loss of life, but that this was the greatest disaster in overall impact in your lifetime. As you get closer to what happened are you convinced of that?

Sir Peter: Yep. Look, I think what I see what I see is morale took a hell of a hit but I think it was protracted nature of it, it went on for months and we all thought, "oh well, a bushfire," and our expectation here is that that'll be news for a few days and then it'll burn out or people will get on top of it. But it just seemed to grow and then transmit itself to a new area and it was just a rolling disaster that stretched from November, possibly earlier, all the way through to through to, well it was just the other day that some of the Victorian bushfires were finally snuffed out.

Neil: Yeah. Did it disappoint you that it turned into a political issue. Oh you know, “is it climate change, is it not climate change?” It seemed to get political very quickly?

Sir Peter: Well, I think we're in that age, I think people seize on issues. If it plays into a particular agenda they have, then they're all over it. The pity of it is that we don't want people's emotions to become the football. You know, people are devastated enough in a fire ravaged area without having, I suppose, people dog whistling about the higher agenda, the reason this has happened. I don't think that's very honest of people. I think that the fire is a present phenomenon that ruins lives and takes lives.

Neil: Why not…

Sir Peter: No, I think I've just about made my point there. It's a modern syndrome that we will turn an issue to the advantage of an agenda.

Neil: I couldn't agree more. Now, I know you're very busy, thanks for your time. How are you enjoying retirement?

Sir Peter: Well, this was one of those things where the bugle blew Neil and I just had to respond and I'm glad I'm involved because it's something that I've had some experience about over the years. I was up here in Darwin soon after Cyclone Tracy, when Santa didn't make it into Darwin, so Santa didn't but the Australian Defence Force did, we were here for weeks and weeks.

Neil: Thank you so much for your time Sir Peter.

Sir Peter: Thank you very much Neil. All the best.